Killian Bell, writing at Cult of Mac:

It is believed Apple will have just 2-3 million iPhone X units available at launch, which is why initial supplies will have sold out so quickly. That doesn’t explain why some customers could pre-order before others, however.

I have an explanation why some customers can pre-order before others: it’s because the website works for some people before it works for others, which means that the perculation of the deploy reaches some people faster than others. The Internet isn’t like TV, where you either catch the signal or you don’t. The Internet is distributed. There isn’t one single server that’s “the Apple website.” Rather, there are many servers, and depending on a lot of factors, some people are going to get access to those servers sooner than others are. Deploying a set of changes to a website in such a way that those changes perculate to everyone in the world at the exact same time is an incredibly difficult problem to solve. Most deploys are staged, and that’s usually not a problem; this situation with the iPhone launch is one of the few exceptions I can think of.

Here’s the part that nobody ever talks about. Even if Apple could solve this problem perfectly, it would still have the problem of people having to wait 2-3 weeks out. If people could access the site at exactly 12:01 AM PDT and place their order immediately, the number of people who would have to wait multiple weeks to get their iPhone X’s would be the exact same.1 Instant perculation wouldn’t change the number of customers nor the number of available iPhone X’s. This isn’t a technological problem. This is a supply contraint problem, and that’s a testimony to the success of the iPhone X. Calling that “a complete nightmare” as Killian does is not a fair description of what transpired last night.

  1. A tempting retort to this proposition is this: “Sure, the number of people would be the same, but it would be a different set of people. Why should I be the one punshed (by having to wait 2-3 weeks for my iPhone X) when I got up just as early as the customer who successfully completed their order right at 12:01 AM?” My answer is this: if we were to get everyone in a room together who got up at midnight to pre-order the iPhone X and gave them a button to tap as soon as an overhead light turned green, there would still be people who had to wait 2-3 weeks. With a couple million people in the room, speed wouldn’t really be the determining factor. You’d have thousands of people who pressed the button at the exact same millisecond. The system would be forced to prioritize some orders ahead of other orders based on what to the outside appeared to be arbitrary assortment. The orders that were successfully placed before yours would be by by people who were just as eager and just as fast with the trigger as you. In short, if you’re frustrated with your ordering experience, be frustrated with your lost 9 minutes of sleep that you would’ve enjoyed if Apple had a perfect deploy system and servers that could process orders faster. Having to wait 2-3 weeks is not Apple’s fault. It’s a necessarily emergent property of this sort of product launch and supply constraint, as demonstrated in my thought experiment. Frustration with necessarily emergent properties is a poor use of energy. ↩︎