Asian Fans Queue Two Days Before New iPhone Launch

Seeking to be one of the first to grab the new-generation iPhone, fanatical Apple fans around Asia are queuing up two days ahead of its July 11 launch while inquiries and early orders are swamping related Websites.

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Four New Zealanders with deck chairs, sleeping bags and a small tent started queuing on a chilly Tuesday night outside the Auckland shop of Vodafone, which will launch the much-hyped and keenly sought 3G iPhone at 12:01 a.m. Friday local time, the first in the world.

"I'm really just doing it to be able to say that I'm the first one in the world with one of these phones," 22-year-old student Jonny Gladwell told the New Zealand Herald.

He said he was in the queue because his friends had bet him he could not last the distance. If he lasts, they will buy him the phone. In the meantime they are bringing him meals and holding his place in the queue when he needs a toilet break.

The long-anticipated 3G iPhone that has faster Web links than the predecessor and supports third-party applications like games and email will debut in 22 countries on Friday, and Apple shares gained 2.5 percent on Tuesday on anticipation of launch.

The device is expected to go on sale in 70 countries by the end of the year.

Targeting a far bigger market with its new iPhone, Apple slashed the handset price and is allowing carriers to subsidize the phone this time around, making it easier for users to bring home the device.

Vodafone, New Zealand's biggest mobile-phone operator, is selling the phone for as little as NZ$199 (US$150) in the country if consumers sign up for a two-year contract. Demand for pricing details was so heavy it crashed Vodafone's New Zealand Website on Tuesday.

IPhone 3G
Courtesy of Apple
IPhone 3G

In Hong Kong, Hutchison Telecom International was flooded by 60,000 online applications over the weekend from consumers who are hoping to grab one of just 500 phones on sale.

A number of the more desperate would-be users pleaded online they needed the iPhone to appease demanding wives or stressed it was their birthday, according to local media.

Tokyo Awaits

In Japan, one of the world's most advanced mobile markets, about 20 people were lining up outside of the Softbank flagship store in Tokyo on Wednesday morning, with a sign at the top of the queue reading "We Love iPhone".

"The big appeal (of the iPhone) is that this is an Apple product," said Hiroyuki Sano, a 24-year-old graduate student who arrived early on Tuesday from Nagoya, 360 km (225 miles) west of Tokyo, to be first in the line.

He will turn 25 on Thursday while waiting to get his hands on the high-end version of the iPhone with 16 gigabytes of memory. Apple also offers an entry-level version with an 8 gigabyte memory.

"I've told my professor I was going to go buy an iPhone, and he gave me a permission," said Sano, wearing a T-shirt with an Apple logo. "He is an Apple-lover too, and he sent me off cheerfully."

Softbank, Japan's third-biggest mobile carrier, will start selling iPhones at the flagship store at 7 a.m. on Friday local time and expand sales nationwide at noon.

Research firm Enterbrain has said 6.7 percent of 1,200 people it surveyed in Japan wanted to buy an iPhone immediately, and most of the people in the queue plan to buy the device as their second cellphone.

Japan's 108 million mobile users already frequently use Web browsing and email on 3G networks, and some analysts say the iPhone might not attract many buyers among mainstream cellphone users.

"We can expect certain demand from core Apple fans and others, but there will be users who would hesitate about buying iPhone because of high monthly charges of some 8,000 yen," said Hironobu Sawake, a JPMorgan senior analyst in Tokyo.

"Even though there will be other features that are more attractive than ordinary phones, the fact that iPhone does not offer some features that are available on most handsets could turn off some users too," he said.