Verizon's Chattanooga iPhone launch was slowed by snow and freezing temperatures, though some of the Apple faithful braved the cold to be among the first to get their hands on the iPhone 4, which became widely available Thursday for the first time from a non-AT&T carrier.
A few customers at Verizon's Cleveland, Tenn., and Gunbarrel Road locations camped out overnight, store employees said, despite the impending snowstorm.
But only a trickle -- most of whom waited in their heated vehicles for stores to open -- walked inside at 7 a.m. to find that they were outnumbered by employees 5 to 1.
The Gunbarrel Road store saw 25 customers in the first wave, while a dozen braved the cold in Cleveland, according to Chris Humphries, Verizon's district manager. Nine customers, some of whom decided to purchase non-Apple phones, were greeted at Verizon's Ooltewah store by 20 employees and hot coffee from Beef 'O' Brady's.
Best Buy, which also opened at 7 a.m., saw fewer than a dozen customers come through the door after the first hour and a half.
Still, Best Buy employees said they expected to sell each of their 85 iPhones by day's end, as the thermometer inched above freezing.
* Both versions of the iPhone are nearly identical, save for a few key features:
* simultaneous data and voice
* faster data rate
* more international roaming options
* better call quality, fewer dropped calls
* unlimited data plan (for a limited time)
* no SIM card
* shifted antenna notch and button locations
Source: Engadget, Gizmodo
"I didn't even know Best Buy was selling them," said Brandon O'Dell, who bought a phone at the Gunbarrel Verizon store.
He waited outside the Verizon store from 4:45 a.m. until the store opened at 7 a.m., he said, because "I've always wanted an iPhone, but I wanted to stick with Verizon because they get service where others don't."
James Higginbotham was the first customer at Verizon's Ooltewah store.
"I've had dreams about the iPhone," Higginbotham said.
He upgraded from an LG Dare and is most excited about the iPhone 4's push e-mail feature, as well as playing the reportedly addictive mobile game, Angry Birds.
Verizon is confident that many of its 94 million customers will upgrade to its version of the iPhone, along with a few from other mobile network providers, Humphries said.
"We're fully prepared to take care of them," he said, noting that the company's prelaunch sale was the largest in company history.
Apple retooled the popular smart phone to take advantage of Verizon's $60 billion CDMA network, which most tech-focused publications cite as more reliable than competitors' networks.
Verizon in January announced plans to launch its new 4G LTE network in Chattanooga by the end of 2011, though current iPhone models only support 3G.
While users of the Verizon device may experience fewer dropped calls, customers cannot access voice and data features at the same time, according to tech blogs Gizmodo and Engadget, though GSM networks like AT&T's can support both concurrently.
Verizon set aside a limited number of preorders for online purchase beginning at 3 a.m. Feb. 3, and had to shut down the portal that same evening in the face of what the company called "unprecedented" orders. The company again began selling the phone online Thursday at 3 a.m.
The carrier will offer unlimited data plans for a limited amount of time, which are not available through rival AT&T.