iPhone supply lives to sell another day

Customers lined up in droves, some for days, but plenty of the phones are still available for the taking. Photos: Big Apple gets the iPhone

Long lines for Apple's iPhone moved quickly Friday evening on both coasts, as the general public finally got its hands on what is perhaps the most hyped gadget in tech history.

In both New York and San Francisco, lines that had stretched for blocks outside Apple retail stores dissipated rapidly as cheering employees high-fived the first iPhone customers as they were ushered inside in bunches just after 6 p.m. local time. But at AT&T's stores, where lines were shorter, the pace of iPhone distribution was slower.

CNET.com's Brian Cooley pops the lid on the most anticipated tech gadget in years.

Hundreds of people had lined up as early as Monday to be among the first people to accompany Apple on its maiden voyage into the smart-phone market. The iPhone, a touch-screen smart phone capable of browsing the Internet, playing music and videos, and making phones calls, generated almost unprecedented coverage from both the technology and mainstream media during the six months between its introduction at Macworld and Friday evening.

Any concerns about supply, at least at Apple stores, were moot, and standing in line for a day or more proved as necessary as snow tires in Miami. Ninety minutes after Apple started ringing up sales of the iPhone at its 24-hour flagship store on 5th Avenue in New York, anyone could just walk into the store and pick up a device with a minimal wait. In San Francisco, security guards put away the ropes marking the iPhone line at 7:09 p.m. and starting letting in anyone off the street.

CNET.com's Kent German and Donald Bell take their first tour of the device.

At 7:30 p.m. at San Francisco's 3rd and Market AT&T store, about 25 people were still lined up waiting to receive their iPhones. Two hours before the gadgets went on sale at a different AT&T store a few blocks away, a man who appeared to be a manager assured a customer that they had "a pretty healthy amount" in stock just as the store closed to prepare for the launch.

However, CNET Networks employee Morty Okin, who arrived at the 3rd and Market AT&T store at 5 p.m. to wait for an iPhone received the last 8GB model at 7 p.m. "After that, a crowd of people dispersed," said Okin, who is photo product manager for CNET Reviews.

Of course, it's way too early to say how well Apple's iPhone sales did Friday night, and potential buyers should check Apple's retail Web site, where they can figure out how many iPhones are in stock at local Apple stores. As of Friday evening, Apple was projecting that iPhones would be available at every U.S. location on Saturday.

Of course, consumers can also order directly from Apple on the Web site.

At New York City's Apple store on 5th Avenue, the tourist-heavy underground retailer with a giant glass cube for an entryway, the scene could only be compared to a massive but well-organized sporting event. The press and spectators were a mob scene, but iPhone hopefuls were kept in a neat single-file line and could only enter and exit the store through a gauntlet of cheering Apple employees. A similar crush of cameras could be found on Stockton Street outside the San Francisco Apple store.

That was also the case at the Apple store in Arlington, Va., as earlier reported. The final seconds to launch brought a chanted countdown from the front of the line and sporting event-like cheers of "i-Phone! i-Phone!"

Apple CEO Steve Jobs made a brief appearance at the company's store in downtown Palo Alto, Calif., interacting with customers and generally overseeing one of the most important launches in the company's history.

The first people in line for the iPhone beamed as they were received inside the Apple stores like rock stars taking the stage. Apple retail employees had set up several demonstration models of the iPhone on white tables through the store, but these customers--some of whom waited for days--didn't need to take a test drive.

Within a few minutes of the doors' reopening in Arlington, a silver-haired man named Stephen Easley--who did, in fact, set up camp outside the store at around 10 p.m. Thursday to be the first in line--emerged to cheers with a pair of iPhones nestled in special black shopping bags, which he displayed for photographers. In San Francisco, Jerry Taylor held his iPhone high as he exited the store, apparently not having received the offers he had sought for his spot in line.

People's reasons for wanting an iPhone varied. A San Francisco resident who was first in line at the Fremont and Market AT&T store said she was dazzled by "the combination of all these things, there's so much it can do." The woman, who said she was slightly embarrassed to be first in line and therefore didn't want to be named, had never owned a smart phone before and therefore wasn't as concerned about potential flaws--such as the slow EDGE network or the touch-screen keypad that bedeviled some of the early reviewers.

But several others, including Taylor, were hoping to make a quick buck off the popularity of the iPhone. Apple was allowing customers at its stores to purchase two iPhones, while AT&T was only selling one iPhone per person at its stores.

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