Verizon iPhone Off to a Slow Start

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Verizon's ( VZ) iPhone debut drew small crowds, and if the sampling is accurate, it pulled in a lot of Research In Motion ( RIMM) customers.

The national retail launch of Apple's iPhone 4 for Verizon started Thursday, and the early lines in a few New York locations were far from long.

At the Verizon store in Fishkill, N.Y. there were 12 customers lined up at 6:45 a.m. ET, where nearly twice as many Verizon employees were on hand to accommodate the sales rush. One employee carried a bullhorn, but didn't have much of an opportunity to use it. Other employees were handing out cold weather kits that included ski hats and hand warmers.

In lower Manhattan, at the Verizon store on the corner of Water and Wall Streets, 21 people were waiting to buy the iPhone. Based on interviews with those soon-to-be iPhone owners, roughly half were trading up from RIM BlackBerries. And most of those folks were people who had the BlackBerry Storm.

And while it was a ridiculously small sampling, there were some interesting patterns. Three people at the Wall Street store said they were coming to Verizon from AT&T ( T) and one from Sprint ( S). Curiously, five people -- or a quarter of the sample -- said they were breaking their current two-year contracts to get the Verizon iPhone.

The long-anticipated Verizon iPhone has been a captivating topic for tech investors looking for another leg in the Apple growth race. And where there are winners, there also appear to be losers. RIM's stronghold on the business user segment and its expansion into the general consumer market seems to be the most vulnerable to the Verizon iPhone.

But the lack of lines stretching around corners and down blocks Thursday is a minor surprise to those who may have expected immediate iPhone sellouts. The slow showing Thursday also jibes with reports that the Verizon iPhone sales pace is lagging AT&T's iPhone 4 debut numbers -- something that may give RIM investors some hope.

Apple shares were up 0.6% to $358.40, RIM was up 0.13% to $63.65 and Verizon was down slightly at $36.48 in morning trading Thursday.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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