'Golden gate': Why was the iPhone 5s launch day plagued by a critical lack of gold?

Gold iPhone 5s supplies critically low: What happened to cause 'golden gate'?

Apple launched the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s today and while the pop-art inspired iPhone 5c - thanks to it being an easier-to-manufacture branch of last year's iPhone 5 with an even easier-to-manufacture polycarbonate shell - was, by all accounts, in plentiful supply despite pre-orders starting a week ago, the higher end iPhone 5s was not. Especially the gold version. My Apple Store had 7 and no 16GB models. Other stores we've heard about had 2 to 10. We haven't heard of non-Apple retailers having many, if any gold stock either. By any measure, they were incredibly, ludicrously constrained. And the reaction by die-hard, line-up-overnighter customers has been loud.

Beyond the allusion to San Francisco, it's interesting to me personally to see gold, which when iMore reported it was resoundingly called chintzy and tacky, suddenly becoming so popular. There were some, it seemed, whose opinion of it changed as reports of its scarcity spread. In other words, they didn't want it, they just had to have it. People are funny that way.

Second, it's just as interesting to see people who wanted it all along try to assign reason to their disappointment. The three most common accusations are a) Apple deliberately withheld stock to artificially create scarcity and drive demand (i.e. they put their business ahead of their customers), b) Apple completely misjudged the demand for the gold model and didn't make enough (i.e. they were logistically incompetent), c) some manufacturing problem led to a shortage of gold iPhone 5s (i.e, they were were manufacturing-ly incompetent), or d) something that hasn't been considered yet (container fell off a boat or got misrouted, batch got ruined, etc.).

The last one, manufacturing problems, happened with the white iPhone 4. It failed to launch on schedule and took Apple 8 months to get right and ship. That's a precedent, but it's also something they should have learned from. Simple gold anodization is one of the easiest processes. It's a chemical reaction. It's unknown however what exactly Apple is doing, and it may well be more than that. But Apple did manage to ship the gold iPhone 5s, only in very limited quantities. Unless yield rates were tragically low, manufacturing process doesn't seem likely.

Misjudging demand by this degree also seems unlikely. Apple probably knows how popular aftermarket gold color changes have been, and how popular gold iPhone cases have been, and even if they wanted to hedge against gold, hedging this much against gold is hard to understand.

Artificially limiting supply to increase demand is a classic marketing strategy, but a risky one. You make an object desirable in hopes of attracting more attention while not risking alienating the larger pool of potential customers. It's smart business, but not always smart customer relationship management. It's also hard to prove. (Nintendo was accused of artificially limited the supply of Wii consoles for months if not years.) And it's not like the iPhone 5s was ever in danger of not being in demand, gold or otherwise.

Apple says they're working hard to increase the supply of the gold iPhone 5s, meanwhile stores are sold out and online orders are pushed back to October already.

Unless Tim Cook addresses it on the next earnings call, whether or not, one or a combination of factors or not, caused the scarcity we may never know. Likewise, whether this ultimately results in even more iPhone sales for Apple, will also likely never know. Humans aren't only funny and covetous, we're forgetful.

I managed to get a gold iPhone 5s shipped to me, so I should have it soon, and am not personally affected by this (other than being chronically sleep deprived!). However, if you waited in line overnight for a gold iPhone 5s, did you get one? Either way, how do you feel about the experience?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

'Golden gate': Why was the iPhone 5s launch day plagued by a critical lack of gold?


Getting a Gold was a must for my wife so waiting in line was too risky. Especially after reading the articles on iMore about Australia and UK shortages. Therefore, I set the alarm for 2:55am and ordered a silver and gold from VZW that are to be shipped by 9/24.

I want the gold, but I am waiting a couple of weeks to have the cash ready. It's nice to know that I probably wouldn't have been able to get a gold 5s this morning anyway.

Further proof that the iphone is the favorite phone of chicks. I can't imagine any heterosexual man, who wasn't a rapper, wanting a gold one.

Actually, rappers are not a race - and associating them with one would make you racist, would it not? ;)

Wrong. That's simply naive. It's what's commonly called racial coding. When people want to single out a group without being overt they use other code words, proxies.

I dislike most rap (though some are pretty intelligent and not just noisy), love women, and am looking forward to a gold iPhone 6 next year. There is something about carrying around and using a block of gold.... kind of like a Corvette in the hand. And it's not the bright garish rapper-gold-necklace, either.

So what red-blooded American male would not want to have one?

Humor aside, the color only matters to me in the store. Then it goes in a case, and I pretty much never notice it again.

I would side with (a) and always have. They have known the demand for iPhones are high at launch yet every year it is the same old "sold out", sans last year where it wasn't as bad.

I'm a little happy they are in short supply, gives me time to think. Maybe I will skip this one like I did the iPad 4.

I was surprised that were no white at all at my AT&T store...so I am rocking black again...going to give it 10 days or so....if I miss the white, I will take it back and pay 36 restocking fee and get a white/silver.

I got up at 3:30 this morning to catch the first BART train to SF to stand in line for the gold iPhone. Many, many people were ahead of me; probably 20 or more waited overnight. Around 5:30 Apple employees were coming around to check on us, as they always do and I voiced my concerns about the shortage. I was told they were handing out tickets for each phone and would come around to let people know when each model was sold out. The one I wanted (gold AT&T 64 gb) sold out around 6:15 or so. Sad dndgirl is sad. And sleepy.

SO I waited in line since 3am, manager comes to t-mobile at 6:30 to go in building and get ready,, on her way in I asked did they have it in stock, she responds with yes, at 8 am im the first one in the door, and they say, you have to order it because we dont have the 5s in the store at all. I said no!, which store does have it? she says Staples Mill, so I fly from Hull St. to Staples Mill only to be told I have to order it, and I will have it Monday, I am so pissed! By the time they ordered mine I had to get Silver and not gold, and 32GB instead of 64!!!!!

First in line at my ATT store. No gold at all. I went with the black only because I already sold my 5. Putting a case on this ugly thing and waiting til next year.

My theory is simply that they made the majority of the stock available in China and Japan where it launching on launch day was a bigger deal, esp China. So the other parts of the world where it launched just had less stock to go around as a result. I don't think it's a purposeful withholding of stock to gauge demand or whatever, I just think the majority was intended for China to make their official launch a HUGE success. I was someone who wanted the apparently least in-demand model, 64G Space Gray, but I wasn't interested in getting in line so I just ordered online.

No gold at my Verizon and the few silvers were gone before 8am. So I ended up with a Space Gray 32 since I didn't want to wait till the end of October to get a new iPhone!

I was #7 in line in Bethesda, MD (DC suburb) at an Apple store starting at about 8:55 pm last night. I did get my gold ATT 5S, but a 64gb, not the 32gb I wanted. There was only one gold 32gb ATT 5S, and the first guy in line grabbed it. I wasn't able to get the silver 32gb ATT 5S my husband wanted - they only had 16gb left. So he settled for a space gray 32gb. He's okay with that. But everyone in line loved the silver once they actually saw it. We chose our phones before they took the curtains down, and a couple of guys in front of me wanted to change from gray to silver, but it was too late.

It was frustrating not to be able to get exactly what I wanted, but I still had fun, and would do it again.

Best of all, the power for the entire block went out at 7:57 a.m.! Fortunately they got it back at 8:07 a.m., but at that point all I could do was laugh.

The Apple store folks were terrific, and really tried to manage expectations, but of course a lot of people were disappointed.


Oh cool, i usually go to that store for ipad releases ( i'm in Silver Spring). This time for the Iphone i just ordered it online, really didnt have the energy to camp out.

My city ONLY had space gray 16 gig. Every where I checked only had stock of space gray. My wife wants a silver so I ordered from Apple. 7-10 day.

Sent from the iMore App

I showed up at my ATT store at just before 11pm last night. I was second in line. They had zero gold and zero 64 gb which is a must for me. So sadly I left empty handed but did order it from direct fulfillment. That gave me a 1-3 day delivery time. Way better than 7-10 which is what the apple store app gave me at 3 am. Can't wait for that delivery next week!

I find it amusing that everyone panned the gold version and color yet it seems it's popular with the average consumer. One more example that there is sometimes a variance between the opinions of the phone enthusiast and the opinion of the non enthusiast consumer.

^ this.. when I first saw the Gold version I was like, wow that's what I want. Then online all I saw from the nerds was hate. Now it seems to be a rather popular choice and people are complaining that it was in short supply :P

I'm switching carriers so I'm waiting till next month to get my iPhone 5S. Both the wife and I are getting Gold.

Could it not simply be because the six million inventory they have made is split across so many enormous markets at launch day? How can they even manufacture enough phones to sell to the Chinese in one weekend, let alone the whole world?

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I slept in, waited until noon and walking into the Beverly Center Apple Store in LA and picked up a 16gb white 5c. I'm very fortunate that no one wanted my first choice... Took a look at the gold one on display. Looks MUCH better in person. Not bad at all.

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I'll admit, I hated the idea of a gold iPhone. I thought it would be shiny and gaudy like grandma's jewelry. After seeing the official version however, it's classy. Still not for me, but I can understand the sudden love for it.

I lined up at midnight and was 7th in line at my local Apple store. They only had 6 32gb gold models. I showed up for a blk but left with the gold;) I have always chosen bulk but am VERY glad I picked up a gold!

I was told by an apple employee at the apple store off Riverside in Sherman Oaks, CA that they had so few Gold iPhone 5S's is because all the corporate people took them first apparently NBC Universal and others had first dibs and they all wanted the Gold iPhone. It was rediculous this Apple store only had like a dozen or so Gold iPhones when the door opened, like I was probably around the 40th person in line and I didn't get the Sprint Gold iPhone 5S 32GB I wanted.

Good news is they confirmed I could check back in everyday before the 14 day return policy until they have it and just swap it put for the same exact phone but in Gold.

Got in line at my local Apple Store at 3:00 am with about 60 people ahead of me. By the time they got to me both the silver and gold were sold out.

I would really like to know what decisions were made that there were so many more grey made than white and gold combined and based on what data.

Was it that the silver and gold supply was more directed toward asia as opposed to the west? I wonder what the split between black and white for the 5 was last September, did this lead Apple to believe that everyone in the US would go black/Space Grey again? I have about 12 friends family with the 5, only one got a white one.

Was there manufacturing delay's related to the white faces on the silver and gold model's. The fingerprint sensor has been rumored to have been constrained for weeks now, I wonder if Apple had issues coloring the sapphire home button which further limited the white sensor above and beyond the yield in the fingerprint sensor itself.

Perhaps some, all of these theory's or none. All that I know is as a lover of Apple I'd like to know the back story on the 5s product launch, don't know if Apple would give that interview in the days or weeks ahead.

Looking forward to receiving my silver 5s next week.

I think that Apple shipped most of them to China. Because they knew that it would sell faster than water during a drought

I got to my local Apple store (University Village, Seattle) at 5am and was about 150th in line. By about 30-50 people deep into the line they were already announcing that they were sold out of the gold iPhone for all carriers. I was disappointed, but ultimately was there on a mission and ended up getting the 32gb SPACE GRAY AT&T. I am very happy, even though my phone isn't all bling bling.

I think Tim Cook should do the right thing (like with maps) and make an explanatory statement about the lack of supply. Everywhere their advertising said order online on the 20th or if you want one on the day go to your Apple Store at 8am. It didn't say: but only if you want grey and by the way we won't have enough stock.

This is the first year that I haven't had a new iPhone on release day. I ordered online, but planned to line up until I heard there was no gold left. For an Apple Store to only receive 10 gold phones is ridiculous.

This is a disappointing, rather than a fun customer experience for me, so I can't imagine how disappointing it was for people who lined up for hours. Perhaps Apple could offer a swap for people who didn't get what they wanted (beyond the 14 or whatever days) to show some goodwill.

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Waited in line all night at AT&T store here in Las Vegas, only to find out that they did not have one gold or silver iPhone 5 S. Since I sold my iPhone five the previous day and was phone less, I was forced to buy a space gray one

I ordered a 32GB Gold at 12:01am, and I got a 7-11 day ship date. I took a risk because I hadn't actually SEEN the gold phone in person.

I stopped by the local zoo (aka Apple Store) this evening to check it out. It's really nice.....bloody nice. It's definitely more champagne or white gold looking than bling bling gold. It's actually classy looking, not that I am surprised coming from Apple.

I was talking to a man in blue, and they still had a lineup at 7PM for the 5s, and still had stock of the 16GB and 32GB in Space Grey. They only received around 20 gold ones, and they were snapped up first thing this morning.

I dropped my kid off at school, came home and out of curiosity checked online for Best Buy's local 'in store' availability of the 32gb gold. Seeing that it was supposedly in stock I called my wife and asked if she still wanted to just 'wait and see', She said "no" and asked me to check it out. So I got to the store at about 10am, long after the early bird's had been and gone, and was very surprised that I was able to bag the last gold phone they had. It was a 64gb instead of 32 but neither myself or (more importantly) my wife was complaining since we didn't expect get one at all at that late hour and I got an unexpected $50 discount off of the handset.

If I were the gloating type I'd be inserting some sort of gloating smiley around about now, but I'm not so I won't ;-)

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White 5s was also in short supply in our area. At launch we went to our local Apple Store and three AT&T stores and only found Space Gray. The Apple Store only had 10 white, no gold, and plenty of Space Gray. The att stores only had space gray. It seemed the 5c wasn't popular with those willing to camp out at the stores.

I ordered a VZW Gold 64GB online through Best Buy at launch and was able to pick it up yesterday when the store opened. Not sure how many they had but I know Gold was only available in 64GB

I ordered 2 5s late Friday early Saturday. All phones back ordered. 32g gray 10/28 and 32g gold 11/4. This was thru business Verizon

"Beyond the allusion to San Francisco, it's interesting to me personally to see gold, which when iMore reported it was resoundingly called chintzy and tacky, suddenly becoming so popular."

Because most of the world aren't tech blog commenters, who have rather er... conservative taste. Which is why I'm convinced Apple are going to sell boatloads of 5cs.

I was the 1st person in line at our verizon store, got there at 4am, others didn't start arriving until 7. I bought a silver/white 32g, which is what I wanted. Was told they had only received 2 white 32's and no gold phones at all. So happy they had the one I wanted and didn't have to order it.