Apple (AAPL) iPhone 5 sale draws huge crowds nationwide, some customers wait in line for a week

iPhone 5 could be Apple's best-seller

 

Jessica Mellow has been in line for more than 180 hours -- that's eight straight days -- waiting to buy an iPhone 5. She's been woken up by cops, "showered" in a torrential downpour, and watched two taxis collide right in front of the growing crowd outside Apple's gleaming retail cube on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.

In just one more hour, Apple will finally deliver the prize she and thousands of line-sitters around the world are waiting for. The iPhone 5 goes on sale at 8 a.m. local time on Friday in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK.

The phone is virtually guaranteed to be Apple's all-time bestseller. Apple took more than 2 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours, shattering last year's iPhone 4S record, and analysts forecast that it will sell as many as 10 million units by Monday morning. Apple's early inventory is already sold out: Online orders placed now won't ship for three to four weeks.

Those hoping to snag an iPhone 5 right now will need to brave a retail line. Apple's stores typically have the best stockpiles, but they also draw the longest lines. By Friday morning, Apple's Fifth Avenue flagship had a line that stretched down an entire city block and wrapped around.

Apple's lines traditionally draw a mix of marketers, Apple zealots and more casual fans. Natalie Lopez, 32, joined the line at 5:30 a.m. Friday.

"I've got the original iPhone. I've been sitting on it for 5 years. I'm just excited to upgrade it to something new," she said.

A variety of other retailers -- including carriers AT&T, Verizon and Sprint -- will also have the iPhone 5 available for sale on Friday, but their stashes could go fast.

Representatives at several Best Buy locations in Manhattan said the stores were still receiving their shipments on Thursday afternoon, and that they therefore didn't know many units would be available for purchase Friday morning.

An employee at one Best Buy location in the NoHo section of lower Manhattan said that store is opening at 8 a.m. ET, but the iPhone 5 "will probably be sold out for anyone who didn't pre-order." A Union Square store said it hadn't finalized the number of units and couldn't provide any information about the typical lines it draws for iPhone releases.

The Fifth Avenue Best Buy, near Grand Central Station, is opening at 9 a.m. An employee who answered the phone at that location said "a whole bunch" of people had pre-ordered the iPhone 5 and that many others called this week asking for details.

Employees at Verizon Wireless stores in Manhattan were similarly tight-lipped. The Grand Central location is opening at 8 a.m., but a representative said she had no information on the number of phones that would be available.

Callers who contacted the Verizon store near Times Square were greeted by a recorded message trumpeting that the location will open early, at 8 a.m., for the launch of the iPhone 5. A store manager said he was "not able to disclose the amount of units."

An employee at the Sprint store in the West Village section of Manhattan said she and all Sprint employees "aren't allowed to discuss inventory levels with anyone." That store opens at 8 a.m. Friday.

Apple's iPhone 5 release comes nearly one year after Apple's iPhone 4S, the model that introduced the world to Siri. The thinner, faster iPhone 5 is Apple's first hardware overhaul in several years. Reviewers have praised the phone's bigger screen, zippy processor, stellar camera and elegant packaging, but two major changes sparked blowback.

Apple's redesigned "Lightning" connector will require a pricey adapter to link up with old accessories (and it won't work at all with some of them), and early adopters have almost universally blasted Apple's new Map app, which replaced the more-polished Google Maps. A satirical Tumblr, theamazingios6maps.tumblr.com, popped up on Thursday to highlight the ludicrously inaccurate suggestions the new app often makes.

Apple's fans were undaunted.

"I heard maps isn't so great, so that's pretty disappointing, but I'm sure they'll make it better," Lopez said.

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