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Line already forming in New York for iPhone 5

So far, it's the usual semiprofessional line sitters outside Apple's flagship New York store. Still, the indications are there's significant demand for the device. Buying one on Friday may require a sleeping bag and folding chair.

Hazem Sayed is waiting in line at Apple's 5th Avenue store. He wants an iPhone 5 but he also wants the chance to promote his software app. Last year, he paid a college kid $900 to obtain the prime head-of-the-line position.
Greg Sandoval/CNET

NEW YORK--The iHaters must be pulling their hair out.

Demand for the iPhone 5 appears to be white hot, so much so that lines are already forming outside Apple stores. In the very early hours this morning, people hoping to buy the handset were swaddled in sleeping bags and heavy coats and camping out in front of Apple's 5th Avenue store.

They began gathering in front of the location, also known as the Cube, on Friday, a full week before the devices are scheduled to go on sale. If the iPhone 5 follows the same pattern as other popular Apple gadgets, the lines will continue to grow.

This is the time when the public's adoration for Apple products is in full view. Few tech companies are as good as Apple at generating huge demand and then turning that demand into spectacle. The media will play their role, interviewing the people in line who will vouch for the quality of iPhones.

For Apple critics and the fans of competing devices, the scene must be excruciating.

Those people can console themselves with this: the line in front of the Cube appears to lack many true Apple fans. By that I mean there is little to learn about the public's devotion to Apple by interviewing the five or six people who were waiting in line just after midnight this morning.

Most are publicity seekers.

No, Greg Packer wasn't among them. Packer is a well known publicity hound in New York who has made a hobby out of being first in line at all sorts of events, including Apple's, and then grabbing all the attention when reporters do their man-on-the-street interviews. Packer is gone but those first in line at the Cube today acknowledge they aren't sleeping on the streets solely to buy the next-generation iPhone.

Hazem Sayed told CNET he's in line for a chance to generate some publicity for Vibe, a social-network software application. Google Sayed's name and you'll see that he's as famous for standing in line as he is for creating Vibe. During the iPad 2 sale in March 2011, Sayed paid a college student $900 for the No.1 position in line and was written up in and other media outlets.

Jessica Mellow, a body-paint artist and model, takes up her position in line for the iPhone 5. In the past, Mellow has line sat at Apple events for marketing purposes. Greg Sandoval

Behind Sayed in line was Jessica Mellow, a body-paint artist and model, who is also a veteran line sitter. Mellow and buddy Keenan Thompson camped out in front of the Cube for the iPhone 4S sale last October. She readily acknowledges that she is in line partly in an effort to promote a company.

So, does the appearance of these kinds of marketers signify anything important? Well, some might ask that if demand for the iPhone 5 wasn't significant and Apple product releases didn't attract a lot of attention, then these people wouldn't be sleeping on cold concrete.

All the indications are that a large number of legitimate iPhone fans will soon line up behind them.

Apple managers said last week they were "blown away" by the number of iPhone 5 preorders. Apparently, the company exhausted its stock of phones available for preorder within an hour on Friday. The wait times for preorders are now two or three weeks. For those people that absolutely must own the handset the first day it goes on sale, the only way to guarantee a purchase is to wait in line at an Apple store or some other participating retailer.

To Apple's detractors, these marketers and self promoters are perfectly suited for these events. Critics have long held that demand for the iPhone has too often been a product of hype.