PARIS: Eager Apple fans rushed to stores in Europe and Japan on Thursday to become the first owners of the latest-generation iPhone as it made its global debut in five countries.
The iPhone 4, which boasts video chat, high-definition video and sharper screen resolution, hit Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the United States.
Japan’s Eastern time zone put it first in line to sell the phone and hundreds braved sweltering humidity outside Apple’s store in the Ginza district to get their hands on the smartphone.
Ryoichi Hoshino was the first to emerge triumphantly clutching the new handset after Apple staff gave a loud countdown ahead of the release.
"I love this design, it’s going to beat my expectations 110 percent," he enthused. "I’m going to use it to watch movies and use Twitter," he said, referring to the micro-blogging site.
In Paris, Senegalese businessman Bassirou Gueye was among some 350 people who lined up before the opening at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) of Apple’s flagship store, located in the chic underground shopping mall of the Louvre museum.
"I made a special trip to Paris to buy the iPhone 4. I’m interested in its high-tech features," said Gueye, a self-proclaimed Apple fan who already owns half a dozen Apple devices.
In London, hundreds of people were waiting in line outside Apple’s flagship Regent Street store when it opened its doors at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) — more than those that queued for the launch of the iPad tablet last month.
"I like meeting the people at events like this, I like meeting the people and the excitement," said Alex, a Canadian who lives in Dubai and who flew to London especially for the launch.
In Germany, hundreds of people queued up for hours in Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne and Hamburg to get their hands on the new device, with phone company Deutsche Telekom complaining it did not have enough.
Queues also formed outside the Apple Store in downtown San Francisco as crowds lined up to be among the first in the United States to get their hands on an iPhone 4.
The original iPhone launched in 2007 brought smartphones to the masses. Apple has sold more than 50 million of the handsets in the past three years.
But its latest version enters a crowded market full of rivals boasting bigger screens and running on Google’s open-source Android operating system, which is more accessible to developers than Apple’s tightly guarded system.
Taiwan-based HTC’s EVO 4G, for example, offers a higher resolution camera while Motorola’s big-screened Droid X phone, unveiled Wednesday in the United States, is expected to offer a strong challenge.
Apple’s strict control of what software can be used on the iPhone 4, only available through its iTunes App Store, may encourage some consumers to choose similarly priced alternatives, analysts believe.
The launch of the latest iPhone has been beset by various problems culminating in the white model being delayed to the second half of July due to unspecified manufacturing difficulties.
"The availability of the more popular iPhone 4 black models is not affected," Apple said in a statement Wednesday.
AT&T, the exclusive network carrier for the iPhone in the United States, was forced to suspend a troubled early-ordering process due to heavy demand. Apple said it had received a single-day record 600,000 orders for the new smartphone.
France’s SFR carrier also halted pre-orders after only three days due to heavy demand that threatened to affect stock levels for the launch on Thursday.
The delivery delay for the white iPhone 4 comes two months after Apple was forced to put back the international release of its new touch screen tablet computer, the iPad.
The new iPhone will be available in 18 other countries in July and 24 more in August.