New iPhones draw crowds as Apple seeks to broaden base

Apple fans from Tokyo to New York joined the stampede Friday for the latest iPhones as the US tech giant aimed for wider global appeal in the competitive smartphone market.

US stores opened with long queues after sales kicked off in Australia, Japan, China, Europe and elsewhere.

Customers clamoring for the new devices shrugged off the notion that Apple, which has been losing market share to rivals, had lost its edge in innovation. But some complained about the high price.

David Kaminsky, first in line at the Apple store in Bethesda, Maryland, said he had waited more than 12 hours for the 8:00 am opening, to ensure he got one of the gold-colored iPhones.

"It's not just the technology—it's the experience, the simplicity," said Kaminsky, a University of Maryland student.

Apple is releasing the iPhone 5S, which has its most advanced technology, and 5C, with a lower price. While customers in the United States can get the iPhone 5C for $100 with a carrier contract, the unsubsidized price is $549 in the US and higher elsewhere.

In New York, 19-year-old musician Brian Ceballo said he waited 15 days outside the Fifth Avenue store to get the 5S model, and was impressed by the phone's new fingerprint identity system and slow-motion camera.

"Every time it surprises people," he said.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook took to Twitter, apparently for the first time, describing his visit to customers waiting for iPhones near the company's California headquarters.

"Visited Retail Stores in Palo Alto today. Seeing so many happy customers reminds us of why we do what we do," Cook tweeted.

But in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, police said two people were arrested for "public fighting'' in an incident outside an Apple store.

Glitz in Ginza

In Tokyo, a lucrative new deal with Japan's biggest mobile carrier lent some celebrity glitz to the opening in the nation of gadget-lovers.

Diehard fans began lining up last week outside the Apple store in upmarket Ginza and even sat through a weekend storm to keep their spot in a queue that grew to around a kilometer (0.6 miles) in length by opening time, police estimated.

Actor Ken Watanabe, star of "Inception" and "Letters From Iwo Jima," meanwhile welcomed buyers with a handshake and a broad smile at Docomo's main Tokyo shop, marking the new alliance between Apple and the country's biggest carrier.

The firm, the mobile unit of NTT, which has about 42 percent of the Japanese market, has shed more than 3.5 million subscribers to rivals since 2008, when SoftBank first rolled out the iPhone in Japan, local media have reported.

Hisako Nagashima, a 34-year-old manicurist waiting to snap up an iPhone 5S in gold, said it had been make-or-break time for her relationship with the company.

"If NTT Docomo had not released iPhone this time, I would have changed carriers," she told AFP.

'It's not about the price'

There was no crush in China, where Apple had a pre-booking system to avoid a repeat of the near-riot in Beijing at the 2011 release of the iPad 2 that left four people in hospital.

Those prepared to shell out a minimum 4,488 yuan ($730) for the pared-down iPhone 5C, or 5,288 yuan ($864) for the iPhone 5S, said they didn't mind the cost.

"It's not about the price, it's about the brand, I think Apple is the best," said Chang Yi, a 29-year-old real-estate salesman.

Others milling around outside the store had a different opinion.

"It's too expensive... it's a luxury item," said 19-year-old student Meng Jia. "If the price was around 2,000 yuan, I would buy one".

Despite their simultaneous availability in China—the first time Apple has brought the country online in the initial wave—Hong Kong's resellers were pouncing, hoping to flip the phones for as much as double what they paid.

"Handsome boy, are you selling your phones?" a reseller was heard saying, before leading new iPhone 5S owners to the back stairs of the shopping mall.

Stinging in Australia

In Australia, the sticker price shocked some consumers.

"Incredible—Apple charging $99 for iPhone 5C in the USA (with a contract) but $740 in Australia and its $1,200 for 5S - no wonder Android phones are popular," tweeted David Smith.

The polycarbonate-bodied 5C, supposedly aimed at budget-conscious shoppers, was widely flagged as Apple's answer to the onslaught of cheaper, Android-powered models, led by Samsung.

In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook said quality had always been the driving force.

"We never had an objective to sell a low-cost phone," Cook told the magazine. "Our primary objective is to sell a great phone and provide a great experience, and we figured out a way to do it at a lower cost."

Bright colors for kids

The new phones were on sale Friday in the US, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Britain, with other rollouts due.

Even though Apple's stock has slipped since it announced the news, some analysts predicted the new iPhones would be positive.

"We expect Apple will sell more phones this weekend vs. what they have done historically," said Amit Daryanani of RBC Capital Markets in a research note, citing Apple's efforts in China.

Trip Chowdhry at Global Equities Research said the new iPhones would be "massively successful, probably the most successful launch in the history of Apple" because they will appeal to younger customers.

Chowdhry said he met parents who ordered iPhones for children as young as three years old: "bright colors, plastic and new age specific application categories on AppStore will make this offering a success with kids."

© 2013 AFP

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