The legend of Joey Reyes: How long would you queue for a new iPhone?

Navigating the intersection of passion and obsession, and the psychology of wanting to be first at brand drops.

While insane queues for brands and events are nothing new, it calls our attention to (hopefully) create more conscious and critical consumer choices.

Say what you want about Joey Reyes, the first Filipino owner of the recently launched iPhone 15—and the iPhone 14 (from last year), and the iPhone 11 (from 2019)—but you cannot deny how dedicated he is to Apple. 

Flying in from Cebu less than a week before the launch, lining up at Greenbelt 3 since October 16, and finally getting the smartphone four days after at the midnight launch event of the Power Mac Center were just the tip of the iceberg for Reyes.

Joey Reyes returns as the first Filipino buyer of the iPhone 15 at the Power Mac Center in Greenbelt 3. He was also first in line for iPhone 14 and 11 in the country. Photo from Facebook/Power Mac Center.

Last year, he shared how he scrimped by asking for food from his colleagues for lunch, hitching rides to work (he works in sales), and other dire methods of saving, just to get the iPhone 14—which, mind you, he eventually sold to raise funds for this year’s latest unit.   

The legend of Joey Reyes has sparked heated debates online across various fronts. You have tech enthusiasts zooming in on the nitty-gritty of the iPhone 15’s specs, comparing it to more affordable yet allegedly more powerful phones; Apple loyalists praising Reyes’ commitment to the tech brand; financial advisors who weigh in on what “better” investments you could spend on with the same amount of money; groups that bash Reyes’ apparent lack of priorities (does a phone count more than one’s daily sustenance?); to individuals saying, “Let people have nice things. That’s his money, anyway. Kapag inggit, pikit.” (If you’re jealous, just close your eyes.) 

I’m less interested in telling Reyes what to do with his money or doing a thorough comparative analysis to prove why buying last year’s top-of-the-line model is a wiser investment. I’m more fascinated by this level of dedication—or shall we say, obsession?—with a brand, personality, or lifestyle that drives us to do things similar to our first-ever iPhone 15 buyer in the country. 

This serene image of Starbucks Hiraya stands in contrast to the actual long lines and crowds that hound the café. Photo from Starbucks Stories Asia.

In recent times, we’ve seen this time and time again: from the Starbucks Hiraya launch in Tagaytay, where some customers lined up as early as six in the morning, only to get inside the café at almost ten (there are several TikTok videos documenting the harrowing experience); sneaker drops and streetwear launches, from last week’s Gentle Monster launch to small-time brands that build on hype and perceived scarcity to form long queues; to K-Pop fans using multiple devices and accounts to increase their chances of getting a good random number for the ticketing queue (not the slot or seat, mind you—just the queue!). 

And it’s not even an exclusively contemporary phenomenon. If you search record-setting queues online, you’ll get results like “The Queue” of Wimbledon. It has become an event in itself that the tennis tournament has its own 31-page guide to queueing. Staying overnight is already expected—camping for longer has become a tradition and pilgrimage for die-hard fans. 

There’s also the opening of the first McDonald’s in Soviet Russia back in January 30, 1990, where over 30,000 customers lined up for as long as eight hours. Big Macs then sold for half a day’s wages of the everyday Russian worker, but that didn’t affect the demand at all. 

That the Beatles holds much global influence to this day speaks of their cultural power that swept the UK—and eventually the world—back in the ’60s. Photo from Unsplash.

Going as far back as the ‘60s, “Beatlemania” in the United Kingdom swept the country by storm, so much so that there were reports of queues forming as far back as 90 hours before the opening of the ticketing office. That’s not unlike today’s campers for iPhone launches, sneaker drops, and K-Pop concert tickets.

Foregrounding the legend of Joey Reyes against these examples—and these are just but a handful of the other drops and launches that have caused much fanfare and chaos—turns his story into quite a modest affair. The internet just does a great job of amplifying not only the facts, but also the assumptions that we make based on his actions. Just go online and you’ll see people asking things like “Is he really a clout-chasing cheapskate? Will he pull off the same stunt for the iPhone 16? Is he a paid actor to generate more publicity for the brand?” (And if he were the latter, which I doubt, I’d have to give props to the PR team for that.)

So, there isn’t exactly anything novel about what Reyes has done; moreover, this whole grip and power of brands and personalities over the masses is something that we’ve seen throughout the decades. What’s probably new is having ready access to a plethora of insights and opinions about consumer choices, and gaining the opportunity to think more critically about one’s preferences and actions based on the collected information, whether they may be valuable or not. 

Less than a year ago, I pre-ordered from DataBlitz a copy of Pokémon Scarlet, the latest addition to the mainline games of the franchise. Come launch day, I went to SM Mall of Asia a few minutes before opening. There wasn’t a huge line, but I noticed a few mall goers waiting for the escalators leading to the Cyberzone to run. I had a feeling that they were also here for the same purpose.

Shoppers lining up outside a Louis Vuitton store in Paris. Photo from Unsplash

When the guard allowed us to ride the escalator, a handful of people began scaling it briskly. My heart raced a bit, and I felt the urge to follow their lead. When we got to the main area of Cyberzone, from all corners and entrances of the space, I saw several groups running toward a central destination—they were all gunning for DataBlitz! I felt the rush and ran toward the store, making it near the entrance. 

When I looked back, I saw a disorganized queue that blocked other shops and wound around other kiosks. As I was waiting in line to get my pre-ordered copy, I thought about how absurd it was that I ran as if my life depended on it to get an item that was already secured for me to begin with. Did I not want to wait too long in line? (Not exactly, as I had no other plans that day.) Was there a sweet freebie? (No, there wasn’t.) Or did I just want to flex as early as possible that I had the latest game? (Perhaps, yes.) I felt quite embarrassed.

A Pokemon Sword and Shield launch back in 2019. Events for the franchise have increased in Manila in recent years. Photo from Facebook/Pokémon Philippines.

For concerts, it’s understandable—earlier queueing or more devices in for online draws, better chances. For drops with cool freebies, okay, I understand, maybe the merchandise is covetable, or they might have good resale value. 

But to line up for the right to claim that you were (one of the) first to buy or have something? Regardless if it’s your own money or resources (or if it makes you happy), I’ve yet to understand how that euphoric first dibs feeling is as satisfying as making the most out of your purchases, rather than buying into the new just because it’s hyped. 

Call me bitter, a critical thinker, or a poor naysayer, I don’t mind. In this economy, I just want to make more informed decisions with my money.

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