Apple Inc attracted long lines of shoppers at its retail stores on Friday for the global debut of its latest iPhones, in the company's biggest move this year to stoke new growth.
In Munich about 2,000 people lined up and at the Louvre in Paris about 300 people waited ahead of the 8 am opening. At Tokyo's Ginza area store there were about 800 people, including some dressed as Batman and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in a face mask, jeans and black turtleneck. A Beijing store attracted a crowd of only about 50 because buyers had to register online for an appointment to collect their devices.
The iPhone 5s and 5c handsets also go on sale on Friday in Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, France, UK and the US. It's the first time Apple is rolling out its flagship product for sale in China on the same day as elsewhere, rescinding the usual three-month delay, as the company seeks to lure new customers in the world's largest mobile-phone market.
"Last year, if you wanted an iPhone 5 right after the launch, it was very expensive because you had to buy one that had been brought in from Hong Kong or the US," said Max Zhang, a 20-year-old student waiting at the Wangfujing store in Beijing for an iPhone 5s. "Now that I can buy it directly in the Apple Store, it's cheaper."
Opening-weekend sales are crucial to boosting Apple after nearly a year without releasing a new device and ceding market share to rivals including Samsung Electronics Co in the $280 billion smartphone market. Whether the Cupertino, California-based company can surpass the record 5 million smartphones sold during last year's iPhone debut depends largely on whether there is enough supply of the feature-rich iPhone 5s.
"It really depends entirely on how good or bad the yields on the 5s are," said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group, who correctly predicted opening weekend sales last year. Apple could top 7 million in sales if it has enough handsets, though "Apple may not even hit the 5 million I predicted last year if the 5s is in really short supply," he said.
Apple will sell as many as 6 million units even though it won't have enough iPhone 5s handsets available, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos.
New fingerprint-reading technology makes the gadget harder to manufacture, he said. Brian Marshall, an analyst with ISI Group, also predicts 6 million iPhones will be sold.
Apple fell 0.1 per cent to the equivalent of $471.63 in German trading at 9:38 am Frankfurt time.
In some places, people started camping out in front of Apple stores days ago to get the new iPhones, evoking scenes from earlier product introductions -- even though the gadget is now six years old.
"I started lining up five days ago," said Sachihisa Saishiki, a 45-year-old who runs his own business and has camped outside the Tokyo Ginza store at least six times previously. "I was with a group of 10, and we took turns going out for food, going back home to take showers. I spent time sleeping out here, too, lying down on a cardboard box," he said after buying a gold iPhone 5s.
At the Paris Opera store, dozens of people had gathered by 7:30 p.m., prepared to stay overnight with a weather forecast for rain. Some had blankets and campers' chairs. At the Louvre, a group of 20 Italians had waited since yesterday morning.
"We all met through Facebook, got on a bus and came to Paris to get the new iPhone because it's not available in Italy," said Jacopo Famularo, a 23-year-old blogger from Verona.
Outside Apple's Regent Street store in London, the line was about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) this morning. Said Alkadi, a 52-year-old dentist, had flown from Jordan to buy new iPhones for his kids because they will only go on sale in the country later.
"They can't wait that long," he said. "When I get home I will be dancing in the street because I completed the mission!"
The iPhone 5s features a new camera and faster processor. It costs $199 to $399 depending on the amount of memory and with a two-year wireless contract. Without a contract, the smartphone costs at least $649.
For the less-expensive iPhone 5c, Apple took last year's iPhone 5 and mostly repackaged it in a new plastic casing that's offered in five different colours. It costs $99 to $199 with a two-year contract, or $549 without one.
"I just want a new toy," said Felix Peters, a 21-year-old student, as he waited outside Apple's store near Munich's historic Marienplatz square. "It was clear that the changes wouldn't be that big but I'm still happy."
Amy Bessette, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment.
In addition to the new handsets, Apple also introduced a new mobile operating system, iOS 7, to customers Sept. 18. It includes a redesign of applications like e-mail, calendar and photos, and adds new icons, fonts and color scheme.
"It's not about having a large screen or powerful hardware, it's about the balance of everything," said Jimmy Gunawan, a 33-year-old freelance filmmaker who bought two gold iPhone 5s models, one for himself and one for his mother, from Sydney's George Street store.
Every iPhone release is critical for Apple because the product accounts for about half its revenue. Since the iPhone 5 started selling last year, the company has faced increased competition from rivals including Samsung, which has become the world's largest maker of smartphones by offering customers a wider variety of designs and prices.
"This is the second time for me to line up here, but it feels like there's more people this time than the last time," said Katsuki Tochi, a 37-year-old salaryman in Tokyo who bought black and white versions of the iPhone 5s. "I love Apple, their design is great."
Apple typically puts out a press release with opening-weekend sales figures on the Monday after the iPhone goes on sale.
How Apple performs in China is particularly important, given the scale of the market there. Analysts have questioned whether the price of the iPhone 5c -- more than the equivalent of $700 because of tariffs -- will be too expensive for customers in China. Partly because of that, Apple shares have fallen 6 percent since the company announced the iPhone pricing last week.
A survey of 25 of the earliest customers at the Beijing store found 22 customers were there for the more expensive 5s model, compared with three for the 5c.
"Tim Cook is now finally treating China as important as the U.S.," said Tony Yu, 28, referring to Apple's chief executive officer. The local government bureaucrat woke up at 2 a.m. and drove more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Qinhuangdao to be at the Beijing store by 6 a.m. "It costs me about one month's pay, but it's worth it."