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iPhone 11 and 11 Pro launch: Apple fanatics line up around the globe

Sydney's first iPhone 11 owner had been waiting in line since 3 a.m. In New York, Tim Cook stops by the revamped Fifth Avenue store.

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Sydney's Apple Store just before 8 a.m. local time.

Ian Knighton/CNET

Sure, you could order your iPhone online and have it delivered to you, or reserve it for an in-store pickup at a time of your choosing. But for devoted Apple fans, tradition is tradition. September means iPhone launch, and iPhone launch means lining up outside an Apple Store to get a device just as soon as possible. This year Friday, Sept. 20, is the day, and Apple's global launch of the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro has kicked off in Sydney.

Muhannad Al Nadaf, 21, was the first in Sydney to get an iPhone. It was a big day for Al Nadaf: For the past five years he's tried -- and failed -- to be the very first person in Sydney to get an iPhone on launch day. It turns out 2019 is his year, but it wasn't easy. The Apple Store opens at 8 a.m., and Al Nadaf got his spot in line at 3 a.m.

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It was a surprisingly tumultuous wait, too. "There are a lot of clubs on this road, all the drunk people were coming out and they kept abusing me," he said. "Then the council came and washed the floor, so I couldn't even sit down and look at my laptop." He brought a blanket, rather than a chair, and the floor cleaning meant he couldn't use it.

"I've been standing up since literally 3 a.m."

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Muhannad Al Nadaf, one of the world's first iPhone 11 owners.

Ian Knighton/CNET

He got an iPhone 11 Pro Max in space gray, by the way. His first priority is testing the hero feature of the iPhone 11 Pro phones, the tri-camera setup. The Pro phones level up the iPhone's photography game over last year's XS line with an extra camera. On the rear you'll now find a 12-megapixel camera, a 12-megapixel telephoto lens and, for the first time on an iPhone, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide shooter.

Apple this year is launching two iPhone lines at the same time. The iPhone 11 starts at $699 (£729, AU$1,199), and is the new iPhone for the masses. Then there's the iPhone 11 Pro ($999; £1,049; AU$1,749) and iPhone 11 Pro Max ($1,099; £1,149; AU$1,899). As you can tell by those prices, the Pro and Pro Max are sumptuous phones for those unwilling to compromise on anything. Choosing a Pro over a regular 11 gets you the extra camera (the iPhone 11 has dual cameras) and an OLED display over the 11's Liquid Retina LCD display.

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No. 2 in line in Sydney was Mazen Kourouche, who Al Nadaf dethroned for the first spot. Until now Kharoush, a YouTuber, has been first in line each year since 2015, when Apple launched the iPhone 6S range. In 2017 Kharoush started lining up outside the Apple Store a full 11 days early to get the iPhone 8. This year, not fussed with being No. 1 anymore, he arrived two hours early, at 6 a.m.

Around 100 people lined up at the Apple Store in the heart of Sydney's central business district. Thanks to the magic of time zones, Sydney is one of the first cities in the world where the iPhone launches each year. Southeast Asia came next, with Apple Stores in countries like Singapore also serving throngs of Apple fanatics. For those in line, there's a huge amount of fanfare around buying a new phone, with Apple Store employees giving buyers a round of applause as they flood in at 8 a.m. when the doors open.

For those less devoted to Apple, the now 12-year-old phenomenon of the iPhone launch lineup is more perplexing. With online preorders, in-store pickups and deals from carrier partners, there's less reason than ever to wait in line. The lack of practicality speaks to Apple's enduring ability to hype its iPhone launches as cultural events.

"I'm here for the experience," said 17-year-old student Jack, an AirPod dangling out of one ear as he speaks. "All the news crew is here, everyone else is here, it's an environment you don't see with any other phone launch."

iPhone 11 selfie at Apple Store on Fifth Avenue

At Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York, Ryan Romero was the first customer out the door as the iPhone 11 line went on sale. Here, he's mobbed by hyperenthusiastic Apple employees.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

New York

The crowd this morning in the Big Apple was different than in years past, when those in line seemed to be mostly people looking to buy the latest iPhone to ship overseas. Today's gathering, somewhat subdued in scope, seemed to consist largely of Apple faithful wearing Apple T-shirts and holding cutout Apple logos. An estimate from a security guard had the line at 600 to 700 people even as it continued to fill up, but the throng was largely contained to the plaza and didn't extend down side streets.

At Apple's newly redesigned flagship store on Fifth Avenue, CEO Tim Cook stopped by a little before 8 a.m. to the delight of the crowd. He made his way up the line, shaking hands and posing for selfies, before heading into the store.

When Cook later emerged again after the phones went on sale, some people asked him to sign iPhone cases and Apple Store bags. At that point, the line was starting to extend down toward 59th and Madison Avenue but still didn't look too bad. Apparently it was about a 30- to 40-minute wait to get in.

Other Apple execs were also present for the launch, including Deirdre O'Brien, the company's senior vice president of retail, Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, and Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of product marketing.

The first customer out the door was Ryan Romero, who purchased an iPhone 11 Pro Max in gold -- "to match my watch," he said. A mob of Apple employees surrounded him, cheering and posing and at one point hoisting Romero on their shoulders.

Romero, 24, is a big Apple fan -- he was wearing an Apple Park T-shirt and paid for his new phone with an Apple Card. He credits the iPhone and Apple Watch for helping him lose 80 pounds after finding out two and a half years ago that he was HIV-positive. Now he runs marathons to raise money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. 

He lined up Thursday at 6 p.m. ET, flying into New York from Las Vegas during a break between marathons to buy his phone. The break won't last long, however. Shortly after buying his phone, Romero is hopping on a train to Montreal to run his next race on Saturday.

Originally published Sept. 19 at 4:29 p.m. PT and updated regularly as the iPhone 11 line launches in more locations.