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Fans queue for iPhone, despite criticism

Apple Inc's new iPhone went on sale in stores across the globe on Friday, prompting thousands to queue around city blocks to snap up the final gadget unveiled during Steve Jobs' life.

gadgets Updated: Oct 14, 2011 22:45 IST

Apple Inc's new iPhone went on sale in stores across the globe on Friday, prompting thousands to queue around city blocks to snap up the final gadget unveiled during Steve Jobs' life.

Shares of Apple rose 2% after people lined up on streets in Sydney, Tokyo, London, Paris and New York to get their hands on the iPhone 4S, despite criticism about the lack of a design revolution and reports of software glitches.

"I am a fan, a big fan. I want something to remember Steve Jobs by," said Haruko Shiraishi, waiting patiently with her Yorkshire terrier Miu Miu at the end of an eight-block queue in Tokyo's smart Ginza shopping district.

In New York, hundreds of people lined up at the company's flagship store to buy the phone. At another Apple store in the city, a line of about 100 people was almost gone just over an hour after the device went on sale.

At one Apple store in San Francisco, the mood was noticeably more subdued than on other iPhone launch days, even though a couple hundred people showed up.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was first in line at the Los Gatos, California, store according to media reports.

The new model looks similar to the previous iPhone 4 but has an upgraded camera, faster processor, enhanced security and voice-activated software, which lets users ask the phone questions. The voice software drew glowing reviews.

"I had been thinking of this phone for a long time," said Chad Bullard, 23, a New York University student who is buying the phone for its new messaging service and the voice software.

"I was going to wait for the iPhone 5, but that seems like a year away, so I got this one."

The phone -- unveiled just a day before Jobs died -- was initially dubbed a disappointment because it looks the same as the last iPhone. But anticipation of the "Siri" voice software helped it set a record with initial online orders on Oct 7.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and his executive team hope the first device sold without the visionary Jobs at Apple's helm will protect the company against a growing challenge from the likes of archrival Samsung Electronics.

Analysts believe the South Korean company, which powers its phones with Google's Android software, surpassed Apple as the world's biggest smartphone vendor in terms of unit sales in the third quarter.

"(Jobs) made everything better and the products he released were thought through in such detail," Duncan Hoare, a foreign exchange trader, said as a loud roar greeted the opening of an Apple store in London.

"It was about the beauty of something and the simplicity."

Apple does not release sales on launch day, so gauging initial figures is difficult.

However, the company took more than 1 million online orders in the first 24 hours after the release of the iPhone 4S, exceeding the 600,000 for the iPhone 4, which was sold in fewer countries initially.

"Despite the initial disappointment that this wasn't an iPhone 5, the reality is we're still seeing the usual frenzy that we've got used to on launch day," analyst Ben Wood at CCS Insight told Reuters.

Analysts expect global sales of a few million phones on the first weekend, he added.

Unlike many in Tokyo, shoppers in European cities told Reuters they wanted the phone because it was a "lifestyle choice" and not necessarily a tribute to Jobs.

"I need a new one since my dog destroyed my old 3GS," said Gaby Wunder-Sambale, 45, shivering in Frankfurt.

Despite the enthusiasm at Apple stores, the launch was marred somewhat by widespread complaints on the Internet this week about problems downloading iOS 5, the latest version of Apple's mobile software.

There were also problems with iCloud, Apple's online communications, media storage and backup service formally launched on Wednesday; users reported glitches such as losing their email access.

Queues in Paris were smaller than those normally seen for a brand-new iPhone, with some fans there wondering if the somewhat underwhelming introduction had put people off. But in London and elsewhere the lines were as long as ever.

On Regent Street in central London, the queue wound down a side street and into a park, where Starbucks had a mobile stand to serve coffee. Of the 40 people to whom Reuters spoke in London, 13 were switching from other phones.

"This is rubbish," one buyer at a north London store said, holding up his Blackberry after owner Research in Motion struggled for days to fix an international outage of its email and messaging services.

Jobs shadow over iPhone launch
The vast majority of the iPhone 4S buyers interviewed by Reuters in Sydney, France and Frankfurt were existing Apple customers. Many bought the original iPhone and subsequent upgrades.

"Since Jobs died, I wanted to make sure I had a new iPhone with some advantages over the old," said 19-year-old iPhone devotee Mark Du in Sydney. He expressed concern about future gadgets without Jobs in charge.

Apple fans in Sydney, Tokyo, Frankfurt and London made sure Jobs was part of the iPhone 4S launch, with flower, candle and photo shrines to the late Apple boss erected outside stores.

A black-and-white picture of Jobs in Covent Garden carried the line, "Let's make a dent in the universe."

Underscoring the enthusiasm for the new phone, Japanese mobile carrier Softbank Corp had to temporarily stop contract applications after its computer system was overwhelmed with more requests than it had expected.

Some analysts expect fourth-quarter iPhone shipments to reach 30 million or more, almost twice as many as a year ago.

Apple's newest iPhone uses chips from Qualcomm Inc, Toshiba and a host of smaller semiconductor companies, according to repair firm iFixit, which cracked the device open on Thursday.

The iPhone -- seen as the gold standard for smartphones -- is Apple's highest-margin product and accounts for 40% of its annual revenue.

Analysts point to several factors in Apple's favor, including a $199 price that matches up well with rival devices, and availability promised on more than 100 carriers by the end of 2011, far more than its predecessors.

Apple shares were up 2% at $415.90 in midday trading in New York.