New York Apple stores get crowds for iPhone 5 launch

The Apple iPhone 5 becomes available in New York to crowds lining up outside stores

With every iPhone launch comes fans waiting outside Apple stores in New York, and it was no different for the iPhone 5, which went on sale Friday.

The iPhone 5, which Apple touts as the "thinnest, lightest and fastest" smartphone ever, has a larger 4-inch screen and LTE capabilities. Some new controversial features include Apple's own mapping service, which replaces Google's popular mapping service, and a smaller five-pin connector called Lightning that replaces the older 30-pin adapter. Existing accessories relying on the 30-pin connector will not fit into the new phone, and users will have to buy an adapter from Apple to connect accessories. With a two-year contract, the smartphone is US$199 with 16GB of storage, $299 for a 32GB model and $399 for a 64GB model.

The smartphone was introduced last week, and Apple this week said more than 2 million pre-orders for the device had been placed, which was a record. But that didn't stop people from lining up outside Apple's flagship Fifth Avenue store and SoHo outpost.

The first triumphant buyers walked out of the Fifth Avenue store a few minutes after 8:00AM local time, flashing their iPhone 5s. About 1,000 enthusiasts lined up outside the store, around the same as the iPhone 4S launch. The New York City Police Department also had a larger presence this year.

Some fans camped out a week ahead for a chance to get the first iPhones. But tech enthusiast Alex Brooks, who didn't mind being called an Apple fan boy, arrived at 6:00AM on Friday. Brooks has an iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air, and wanted the latest iPhone 5.

Brooks is attracted to the screen size, the fact that it's thinner and lighter and has a faster processor.

Apple could have handled the Google Maps issue better, he said. He's still not overly impressed with Apple's mapping service, but said it's workable.

"There are other work-arounds to get Google Maps on your phone," Brooks said. For example, it's possible to access Google Maps via a browser.

The LTE support didn't mean much to Brooks or Paris resident Kyrylo Yatsenko, who was visiting New York and decided to join the iPhone line on a whim. His Apple line waiting card carried the number 619.

The new connector wasn't a problem for either Brooks of Yatsenko, with both conceding that Apple had to make a change at some point.

One unusual sight was a police representative handing out brochures on how cell phone users can track their stolen iPhone or Android handsets.

"The NYPD does not specifically endorse any one application, however we encourage you to research and find the right one for you," said the brochure.

It was a different scene at the SoHo store, where three young New York friends, Carlos, Ray and Lorenzo arrived the evening prior to the launch. Instead of hitting the mobbed Fifth Avenue store, they scored top 10 spots in a much shorter line at the SoHo store on Prince Street. They remained buoyant despite the prospect of spending the entire night outdoors.

"One of my friends is going to bring me a sandwich," Carlos said. Sleep was not on the agenda. "I'm staying up all night," Carlos said.

The next morning Carlos got his phone by 8:10 AM, and looked tired but happy. "I'm excited but tired. I just want to go home and rest," Carlos said.

Perhaps all too typical for New York, at least one resident paid for someone else to wait in line on his behalf. Gabby, wearing a Syracuse sweatshirt and pink bunny ears, got in the SoHo store line at 4:00AM, borrowing a milk crate from across the street upon which to rest in the wee hours.

"When I got here, I [thought] it's so dark out and I have to wait in line. This is really going to suck. But I kept myself occupied, and I had conversations with [other] people in line. So the time has actually flown by pretty quickly," she said, moments before the 8 AM store opening.

She was not there to get an iPhone for herself, but rather was doing a job for TaskRabbit, a Web startup service that contracts people to do miscellaneous tasks (hence the rabbit ears, a flourish on her part not actually required by TaskRabbit). The client was set to show up right at 8 AM, take Gabby's spot and then buy the phone.

"I'm not buying the iPhone. No, no, no, no. I expect him to be in contact very, very shortly," Gabby said, she said, between sips of coffee. "Would I buy an iPhone in the future? Possibly. I'm not sure," she said, stipulating that her Android phone, for now, is working out fine.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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