New iPhone draws out Apple fans early

An iPhone 3GS with 16 gigabytes of storage costs $199 with a two-year AT&T contract; a 32G model is $299.
Apple fans in the United States and seven other countries lined up Friday morning to be among the first to get their hands on the new iPhone 3GS, billed as the fastest, most feature-laden iPhone yet.

The popular phone went on sale Friday in six European countries — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom — followed hours later by its release in Canada and the United States. About 300 people stood outside the Apple Store on New York’s 5th Avenue — some of them since early Thursday — waiting for the doors to open. Inside the store, employees were seen being briefed about the new phone before selling it to customers. “I got on line at 2 a.m.,” said Luis Palcios, 22, of New York, who was one of the first to emerge from the store with a new iPhone. “It was really early, but it was worth it for the video.” Though lines were long, they were shorter than anticipated — the Apple Store put out many more yards of metal barriers than necessary. An Apple Store employee said it would likely take about three hours to sell iPhones to the customers who were lined up before the store opened. He said the line was longer during the last iPhone release in July. More than 100 people were in line early Friday outside an Apple Store at Lenox Square mall in Atlanta, Georgia.

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“It doesn’t seem like it’s the Apple fanatics [this time]. It’s moms and dads,” said Robin Cutshaw, 51, who lined up for previous iPhone launches in 2007 and 2008. An IT specialist, Cutshaw said he travels everywhere with his iPhone and once even used it to work remotely from a beach in Brazil. “It doesn’t go in the shower with me, but that’s about it,” he said. Apple’s 211 retail stores in the United States planned to open at 7 a.m. in their time zones to accommodate AT&T customers who preordered the new phone. Other customers were to be admitted to the stores at 9 a.m. to battle over the remaining inventory. Some who had preordered phones were frustrated by how slowly their line moved outside the Atlanta store. But Marc Kagan, 31, said that buying his new phone took him about three hours, much less than the 10 hours it took last July, when the iPhone 3G went on sale. That launch was marred when customers encountered problems activating their new phones because the demand overwhelmed Apple’s iTunes servers. But on Friday, Kagan said it took Apple employees about 15 minutes to activate his phone in the store. “It went pretty smooth. I think they’re a little more organized this year,” he said. AT&T stores, Best Buy and Wal-Mart also are selling the iPhone 3GS, although preorders through AT&T and Best Buy are sold out. Apple will have a number of the new phones available Friday at each of its stores, said Apple spokesman Steve Dowling. The new iPhone contains a processor that Apple claims is more than twice as fast as its 3G model, plus a video camera, voice control, longer battery life and a built-in compass. It comes with an upgraded operating system — which Apple released Wednesday for download onto older iPhones — with 100 new functions, including the ability to copy and paste text. Advance buzz about the iPhone 3GS has been largely positive. In a review, CNET gave it a four-star, or excellent, rating. “We’re thrilled by the customer response to the new iPhone,” Dowling said. An iPhone 3GS with 16 gigabytes of storage sells for $199 with a new two-year AT&T contract; one with 32G capacity will cost $299. Since June 8 Apple has been selling the iPhone 3G model for $99 — half its original price.

This year, Apple is again requiring customers to activate their new iPhones before leaving the store, Dowling said. Apple has sold more than 17 million iPhones since the iconic device hit the market in 2007. Apple’s phones are the second-best-selling consumer smartphones in the United States, according to the NPD Group, an online market-research firm. The launch comes less than a week after rival Palm unveiled its much ballyhooed Pre smartphone on the Sprint network and Research In Motion announced it will debut the new BlackBerry Tour on Sprint and Verizon in the coming months.