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From the flagship Apple Store in Los Angeles–small lines for the new iPhone 8, a big difference from year’s past when people camped out for days to be first. Jefferson Graham reports on #TalkingTech.
Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — Where are the crowds? 

New iPhones went on sale Friday, and we came to the flagship Apple Store at the Grove shopping center in Los Angeles here to check out the action. In years past, this store attracted long, long lines of people, some even camped out for several nights, in hopes of being the first on their block with a shiny new iPhone. 

At opening hour, there were about 25 people waiting to enter, and 90 minutes later, the numbers were about the same. In the store itself, there were seemingly more Apple employees on hand than customers. 

“When I showed up, I expected the gaggles of people to be lined up down the street,” said Aaron Fox, a tennis instructor in Los Angeles.

What happened? 

For one, chalk it up to an un-inspiring iPhone September offering: two new models, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, that look and resemble last year’s edition, and stand in the shadow of the truly new and improved model, the new iPhone X, which will be out in November. 

Don’t cry for Apple. It will sell tens of millions of the new device.

But more importantly, Apple has gotten more efficient at filling pre-orders and having them arrive in time for launch day and offering reservation systems for the line, making the ordering process for those who had to have it on opening day more manageable. 

Meanwhile, customers walking in Friday found plenty of new iPhones for sale, compared to online orders, which wouldn’t ship until October 6 at the earliest, according to the Apple website. That’s an improvement over previous years, signaling tepid demand to some analysts. For instance, the iPhone 6 in 2014 was delayed 3-4 weeks for pre-orders. 

Apple dominated the tech news this week. Reviews for those new iPhones were pretty lukewarm, with many critics saying they were holding out for the X. 

The Apple Watch is also now on sale, with a new…