Early iPhone 5 retail sales appear to be living up to the hype as Apple stores were inundated with customers ready to snap up the company's latest model.
Outside the plaza in front of Apple's New York City store early Friday, hundreds are lined up around the block as blue-shirted Apple employees walk around the line, answering questions and handing out coffee and water.
David Lopez and his son, David, arrived at the Upper West Side store on Wednesday around 1:30pm. Their early arrival paid off: they held the first two places in line.
"I'm excited," said the younger Lopez, who turns 18 Saturday. "I'm tired," said his father, who had suggested they wait in line together and get the phone to mark his son' birthday. They brought a cooler of food to sustain them during the wait. It included Doritos and Coke. The Lopezes, who live in Manhattan, also sustained themselves on burgers and fries from a local diner.
They're part of the cultural phenomenon of shoppers shamelessly engulfed in a retail love fest and sweaty urban camping experiment -- for the latest hot gizmo. The ritual gathering at Apple stores worldwide was once again swelling in numbers as fans queued up at stores in the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore for the Friday sale.
Eager buyers formed long lines at Apple stores in Australia and Japan. In Hong Kong, buyers had to sign up online for the chance to pick up the device at a preset time. According to the Associated Press, the first customers were greeted by staff cheering, clapping, chanting "iPhone 5! iPhone 5!" and high-fiving them as they were escorted through the front door.
The flagship NYC Apple store, which usually stays open 24 hours, closed at midnight to reopen at 8 a.m. on Friday for the iPhone 5 launch.
Yet, at a little after 11:30 p.m., the store was still bustling with customers. Event workers were staging the store for the launch and set up a large, long plasma screen at the bottom of the Apple store's trademark spiral staircase.
At a little after midnight, the line at the Apple store in Manhattan's Upper West Side was about 60 deep. Those on line watched videos on their iPads, relaxed under blankets and chatted with each other. An entrepreneurial man was just leaving the scene after selling $15 folding chairs to those who were originally sitting on the sidewalk.
About halfway down the line, Nicole Coffiel, 24, chatted with those around her. Each in the small group around her had come here alone tonight, but she says that they've all bonded. She says that it's been fun so far, and that she came out to both get the new iPhone quickly and "to meet new people."
Earlier Thursday, lines were swelling in New York and San Francisco.
It's "bragging rights, you know, for friends and family," said Johnny Soria, 33, who took a spot in line at the San Francisco flagship Apple Store on Wednesday at 11 p.m.
Last week, Apple took the wraps off its iPhone 5 and showed off more than 200 new features in its iOS 6 operating system. The company previewed new features in its Siri voice search as well as its maps technology that displaces Google Maps.
Expectations are running high that Apple will sell tens of millions of the iPhone 5 within a few weeks, blowing past previous sales.
Marine Sgt. Iggy McDonald has been camped outside of an Apple Store in Arlington, Va., since Tuesday. "I've spent Tuesday night and last night here and I'm planning on spending tonight here as well. I've stood in line for all of the iPhones," he said.
People have been lining up all week outside Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Apple Store to buy an iPhone 5 when it goes on sale Friday.
By Thursday evening, the line outside the flagship Apple store in New York City had grown to more than 60 people. The eager iPhone customers -- as well as the Occupy Wall Street protestors who had infiltrated the line -- were penned up behind metal barriers in the plaza near the Apple store.
Late Thursday morning, the then-smaller line of about 30 was lined up on the sidewalk close to the bustling Fifth Avenue roadway. Meanwhile, tourists were snapping photos and asking Apple employees and police questions about the commotion.
At the Upper West Side Apple store at that time, folks lined up about 16 deep.
Those ordering the phone online now may have a three- to four-week wait for their purchase to arrive as demand exceeds current supply.
On Sept. 28, Apple will launch in 22 additional countries and the phone will be available in 100 countries by the end of the year.
by Scott Martin, Laura Petrecca and Gary Strauss