iPhone produces huge crowds at Apples stores around the world

If you’re thinking about trying get yourself an iPhone 5 today, think again. Some people have been in line for more than a week, which means you’re probably better off waiting until the dust clears. The ritual has consistently produced hugd crowds since the first iPhone was released in 2007.

If you’re an Apple fans reading this article, perhaps you are not are simply a cursory fan. Because most diehard iPhone junkies are so eager to get their hands on the iPhone 5, released Friday, they joined lines that are snaking around the block at Apple stores around the world.

The lines have become a familiar sight at nearly every iPhone and iPad launch — it’s not uncommon now for line-sitters to be raising money for charity, or to be hired by another person who wants the latest gadget but doesn’t want to stand in line for it. For others, standing in line has become about camaraderie, or just about saying that they were there when the doors opened.

Apple employees do their best to make standing in line feel like a party, often chanting to stir up the people in line or offering them coffee. And when the doors open, there’s always a lot of clapping.

The phone itself has undergone several changes that are supposed to make it a new and compelling gadget. The screen now measures 4 inches instead of 3.5-inches, which brings it more in line with premium smartphone offerings from its competitors. Apple says that it’s also 18 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter than the iPhone 4S.

Apple’s iPhone 5 is also supposed to be much faster than earlier phones, and comes with a material makeover in aluminum and steel. It is also the first Apple phone with the capability to run on high-speed 4G LTE networks.

The iPhone 5 starts at $199, which gets users 16 GB of memory. The 32 GB and 64GB versions are $299 and $399, respectively. The phone is available on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, which launched its LTE network in ten more cities in the week ahead of the launch.

In the District, an AT&T spokesperson said, they’re also seeing lines at their stores, although they’re much more muted. Ahead of store openings, AT&T stores across the region had lines of about 15 to 30 people. In Columbia, about a dozen people camped out overnight for the phone’s launch.

The moment of celebration has already long-passed for customers in Australia, Asia and Europe, where lines were just as long and the mood was just as excited.

According to a report from News.com in Australia, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was on hand in Brisbane to sign autographs for fans. In Japan, the Associated Press reported, police in Osaka were looking into the theft of nearly 200 iPhones — many from the same shop — ahead of the launch. A London man, according to The Register, told waiting customers at the company’s Regent Street store that they were all “mad” while running up and down the line.

CNET, which has reporters on the ground in Paris, New York, San Francisco and Palo Alto , Calif., noted that there were protesters on hand in Paris.
Earlier in the week a handful of protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement were in the crowd in New York, the site reported, to protest Apple’s labor practices in China. But they were not there at the launch, according to Fortune. Apple has been under scrutiny for the its suppliers there treat factory workers, particularly at Foxconn.

In March, the company announced that it had joined the Fair Labor Association and submitted to independent audits of factories in its supplier chain. The group has visited three Foxconn plans and reported that conditions there are poor, but improving.

Not everyone lining up at the various Apple stores was an enthusiast, though. In Hong Kong, university student Kevin Wong, waiting to buy a black 16 gigabyte model for 5,588 Hong Kong dollars ($720), said he was getting one ‘‘for the cash.’’ He planned to immediately resell it to one of the numerous grey market retailers catering to mainland Chinese buyers. China is one of Apple’s fastest growing markets but a release date for the iPhone 5 there has not yet been set.

Wong was required to give his local identity card number when he signed up for his iPhone on Apple’s website. The requirement prevents purchases by tourists including mainland Chinese, who have a reputation for scooping up high-end goods on trips to Hong Kong because there’s no sales tax and because of the strength of China’s currency. Even so, the mainlanders will probably buy it from the resellers ‘‘at a higher price — a way higher price,’’ said Wong, who hoped to make a profit of HK$1,000 ($129).

A similar money-making strategy was being pursued in London, where many in the crowds — largely from the city’s extensive Asian community — planned to either send the phones to family and friends back home as gifts or sell them in countries where they are much more expensive.

‘‘It makes a really nice gift to family back home,’’ said Muhammad Alum, 30, a minicab driver from Bangladesh. ‘‘It will be two or three weeks before there is a SIM card there that can work it, but it’s coming soon.’’

Others who had waited overnight said the iPhones cost roughly twice as much in India as in Britain, making them very welcome as gifts.

Tokyo’s glitzy downtown Ginza district not only had a long line in front of the Apple store, but another across the main intersection at Softbank, the first carrier in Japan to offer iPhones.

Hidetoshi Nakamura, a 25-year-old auto engineer, said he’s an Apple fan because it’s an innovator.

‘‘I love Apple,’’ he said, standing near the end of a two-block-long line, reading a book and listening to music on his iPod.
‘‘It’s only the iPhone for me.’’