September 21, 2012 11:20:10 AM
HONG KONG -- In a now familiar global ritual, Apple fans jammed shops from Sydney to Paris to pick up the tech juggernaut's latest iPhone.
Eager buyers formed long lines today at Apple Inc. stores in Asia, Europe and North America to be the first to get their hands on the latest version of the smartphone.
In London, some shoppers had camped out for a week in a queue that snaked around the block. In Hong Kong, the first customers were greeted by staff cheering, clapping, chanting "iPhone 5! iPhone 5!" and high-fiving them as they were escorted one-by-one through the front door.
The smartphone will be on sale in the U.S. and Canada hours after its launch in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Britain, France and Germany. It will launch in 22 more countries a week later. The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, has a taller screen, faster processor, updated software and can work on faster "fourth generation" mobile networks.
The handset has become a hot seller despite initial lukewarm reviews and new map software that is glitch prone. Apple received 2 million orders in the first 24 hours of announcing its release date, more than twice the number for the iPhone 4S in the same period when that phone launched a year ago.
In a sign of the intense demand, police in Osaka, Japan, were investigating the theft of nearly 200 iPhones 5s, including 116 from one shop alone, Kyodo News reported.
Analysts have estimated Apple will ship as many as 10 million of the new iPhones by the end of September.
Some fans went to extremes to be among the first buyers by arriving at Apple's flagship stores day ahead of the release.
In downtown Sydney, Todd Foot, 24, showed up three days early to nab the coveted first spot. He spent about 18 hours a day in a folding chair, catching a few hours' sleep each night in a tent on the sidewalk.
Foot's dedication was largely a marketing stunt, however. He writes product reviews for a technology website that will give away the phone after Foot reviews it.
In Paris, the phone launch was accompanied by a workers' protest -- a couple dozen former and current Apple employees demonstrated peacefully to demand better work benefits. Some decried what they called Apple's transformation from an offbeat company into a multinational powerhouse.
But the protesters -- urged by a small labor union to demonstrate at Apple stores around France -- were far outnumbered by lines of would-be buyers on the sidewalk outside the store near the city's gilded opera house.
Not everyone lining up at the various Apple stores was an enthusiast, though. In Hong Kong, university student Kevin Wong, waiting to buy a black 16 gigabyte model for 5,588 Hong Kong dollars ($720), said he was getting one "for the cash." He planned to immediately resell it to one of the numerous grey market retailers catering to mainland Chinese buyers. China is one of Apple's fastest growing markets but a release date for the iPhone 5 there has not yet been set.
Wong was required to give his local identity card number when he signed up for his iPhone on Apple's website. The requirement prevents purchases by tourists including mainland Chinese, who have a reputation for scooping up high-end goods on trips to Hong Kong because there's no sales tax and because of the strength of China's currency.
Even so, the mainlanders will probably buy it from the resellers "at a higher price -- a way higher price," said Wong, who hoped to make a profit of HK$1,000 ($129).
Tokyo's glitzy downtown Ginza district not only had a long line in front of the Apple store, but another across the main intersection at Softbank, the first carrier in Japan to offer iPhones.
Hidetoshi Nakamura, a 25-year-old auto engineer, said he's an Apple fan because it's an innovator.
"I love Apple," he said, standing near the end of a two-block-long line, reading a book and listening to music on his iPod.
"It's only the iPhone for me."