iPhone 3G debuts; some glitches reported

Activation problems in the U.K. and U.S.; fight breaks out in Florida line

Apple Inc. started selling its new iPhone 3G today, with crowds reported in locations from Tokyo and Europe to New York, where the new faster phone went on sale at 8 a.m. local time.

The launch was not without problems, however, as the U.K. debut was delayed by a software snafu and police were called to a Florida AT&T store to deal with an altercation among people waiting in line.

Users of first-generation iPhones, meanwhile, waited for Apple to throw the switch and offer them the software upgrade that will let them download third-party applications and sync their mail, calendars and contacts with corporate exchange servers or the new MobileMe service.

Lines at one of Apple's flagship retail stores -- the glass, cube-shaped outlet on 5th Ave. -- were substantial, according to reports by technology blogs such as Engadget, but the first customers allowed in were back out the door about 15 minutes later, iPhone 3G in hand.

Both Apple and AT&T, Apple's exclusive mobile carrier partner in the U.S., had estimated this week that it would take customers 10 to 15 minutes once inside their stores to sign a contract and activate and pay for their phones. This is the first time that Apple and AT&T have required in-store activation for the iPhone, a change brought on by the shift toward upfront subsidies for the phone, rather than operators sharing subscriber revenue with Apple.

In other U.S. locations, lines also formed. According to Computerworld freelance writer Michael DeAgonia, Apple stores in Orlando sported lines of hundreds of people, while area AT&T stores had much smaller lines of around 50 people. Ryan Faas, another Computerworld freelance writer waiting to buy the new iPhone in New York, said he was told "that there's a national issue with iTunes activations."

DeAgonia, too, reported activation problems in his area.

In Japan, where Softbank Mobile Corp. has rights to sell the iPhone, a crowd of about 1,000 gathered at the company's store in the Harajuku district, according to the IDG News Service. The Harajuku store began selling the iPhone at 7 a.m. local time (6 p.m. Thursday, EDT in the U.S.). This is the first time that Apple's iPhone has been available in Japan through sanctioned channels.

In London, meanwhile, software problems delayed the iPhone launch for several hours, as the activation systems used by O2, the sole carrier partner in the U.K., were initially overwhelmed by demand.

Early customers left O2 stores frustrated and empty-handed, reported IDG News, which was not able to obtain details because the mobile operator was not letting reporters into its stores. However, an O2 spokeswoman was quoted as saying that the problem had been solved by 5:30 a.m. EDT in the U.S.

In Orlando, sheriff's deputies were called to an AT&T store on North Alafaya Trail after a disturbance erupted in the line, according to a local television news station.

Meanwhile, Apple has apparently not yet begun offering older iPhones the long-awaited 2.0 software, which is needed to access the App Store, install third-party applications and synchronize e-mail, appointments and contacts with company servers or Apple's revamped online service.

Some users, however, have successfully downloaded and installed the new firmware after finding it on Apple's servers. They reported no problems reaching the App Store, Apple's online market that debuted yesterday with more than 550 applications, a quarter of them free for the downloading.

A link to the firmware update made its way around the Web Thursday night, allowing intrepid iPhone owners to install it directly from their computers rather than waiting for it to appear in iTunes. The upgrade consisted of a 225MB file that could be downloaded to a user's desktop, then installed through iTunes by holding down the Option key when clicking on "Check For Updates" in the iPhone window in iTunes. That allowed users to navigate to the file locally and begin the installation process.

Updating the iPhone firmware took about 20 minutes, according to a Computerworld editor who downloaded the file and successfully updated his phone. The iPhone restarted at the end of the process and had to be re-synced through iTunes to restore data such as contacts, mail accounts, photos and songs. Once that re-syncing was completed -- the time to do so will vary depending on how much data a user has on the phone -- the editor installed several free applications from Apple's App Store over a home Wi-Fi connection. The installation process took only a few seconds for each application.

At the App Store, the most popular for-fee applications continued to be games. Three of the five top paid downloads, according to the App Store's tally on Friday, were games -- Super Monkey Ball, Enigmo and Texas Hold'em -- while the second and fourth spots were held by MLB.com's At Bat, which delivers baseball scores and highlights to the iPhone, and iLoveControl, a universal remote-style application.

Of the free applications available on App Store, Apple's own Remote led the way with the most downloads, while AOL's AIM instant messaging client and tools from Facebook, Google and Weatherbug rounded out the top five.

Michael DeAgonia and Ryan Faas contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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