Hundreds in line as iPhone 4 goes on sale

The first sales began in Japan

The iPhone 4 went on sale on Thursday morning, with Japanese customers who waited in long lines among the first to purchase the latest smartphone from Apple.

Hundreds of people waited in lines outside a Tokyo store owned by operator Softbank Mobile and Apple's Ginza outlet, including some people who'd camped out overnight in anticipation of buying the new phone, the Nikkei Keizai Shinbun newspaper reported on its English Web site. The iPhone 4 went on sale at 8 a.m., Tokyo time.

The iPhone 4 will initially be available in the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K. and Japan, followed by other countries. By the end of September, the handset will be available in 88 countries.

The atmosphere was subdued at three French mobile phone stores in the La Défense business district to the west of Paris on Thursday morning. The Phone House was deserted. It still stocks the iPhone 3G and 3GS, but not yet the iPhone 4.

Three customers stood around an iPhone 4 on display in the store of mobile operator Orange. After prodding distractedly at the phone for a minute, one of the customers turned to the sales assistant and said: "OK, but what I really wanted was a protective slip-case for my iPhone 3G."

There were 22 people waiting outside the store of another operator, SFR, which had not yet opened at 9:45 a.m., local time. At least half a dozen of those in line already had iPhones in their hands. No one left the line when staff announced that the black iPhone 4 would not be in stock until Friday, while the white one would not arrive till July.

The Apple Store in the center of Paris planned to open two hours earlier than usual Thursday and Friday, primarily for customers who had placed an advance order for an iPhone 4 to pick theirs up.

Hundreds lined up outside the Apple Store in Fifth Avenue in New York, where the phone went on sale a little after 7 a.m. local time. The line stretched across blocks and had a festive atmosphere, with people cheering and sounding horns as sale time approached.

One customer in line thought the hardware and software changes on the iPhone 4 were big enough to attract this much attention.

"Everything has been upgraded, literally. It has a better look too," said Joe Duffy, the owner of Fusion Health Services in New York City. Duffy had been standing in line since 4.30 a.m. the previous day to get his hands on an iPhone.

There were also large lines stretching blocks outside another Apple Store located on West 14th street in New York, according to messages on Twitter.

In the U.S., the smartphone is priced at $199 for a 16GB model and at $299 for a 32GB model, with two-year data plans. AT&T iPhone customers in the U.S. are eligible for that pricing if their current contract expires any time in 2010.

The iPhone 4 has already been declared a success prior to the device's availability in stores, but not without some hiccups. Apple and its U.S. carrier partner AT&T started taking iPhone preorders on June 15, but a big rush caused online ordering systems to collapse, leaving potential buyers frustrated and angry.

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