TOKYO Apple Inc. s new iPhone went on sale Friday in swirls of smoke to eager buyers who had waited in lines around a city block and happily counted down the final 30 seconds before launch.
The celebration at Japanese carrier Softbank Corp. s store in Tokyo included a digital clock display ticking away over the entrance, part of a rollout in 22 nations, including Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
In the United States, where the phone first debuted last year, iPhones were becoming available at 8 a.m. in each time zone, giving Apple aficionados more time before the weekend to see just how the company upgraded the device with faster Internet navigation and dozens of new software programs.
In Tokyo, Taichiro Nakamura, a 28-year-old filmmaker, was all smiles as he showed off his brand new iPhone. The first thing he did was call his girlfriend.
I m so happy, he said, adding the iPhone to his personal gadget lineup that also includes the iPod Touch portable music player. I ve been interested for some time.
By Friday morning, the line at the Softbank store had grown to more than 1,000 people. Softbank quickly said it had sold out, though exactly how many iPhones were available in Tokyo is unclear, fueling the fervor about the gadget.
The 8-gigabyte model costs $215 in Japan, while the 16-gigabyte version is $320. Those are similar to the U.S. prices of $199 and $299.
Tomohiko Katsu, a 38-year-old banker, said he has rarely lined up for any product in his life but wanted to make sure he got the iPhone, so he began camping out Thursday afternoon.
All the features come packed in a compact machine, he said. It s really small for a mobile PC device.
Katsu shrugged off the criticism already popping up from some Japanese that the iPhone may be a bit heavy and bulky compared to cell phones common in this gadget-loving nation.
The iPhone s capabilities are less revolutionary here, where people have for years used tech-heavy local phones for restaurant searches, e-mail, music downloads, reading digital novels and electronic shopping. The latest Japanese cell phones have two key features absent on the iPhone digital TV broadcast reception and the electronic wallet for making payments at stores and vending machines equipped with special electronic readers.
But they don t have the iPhone s nifty touch screen or glamour image.
Just look at this obviously innovative design, Yuki Kurita, 23, said as he emerged from buying his iPhone, carrying bags of clothing and a skateboard he had used as a chair during his wait outside the Tokyo store. I am so thrilled just thinking about how I get to touch this.
Eager to put their fingers on an iPhone as well, hundreds of people lined up outside stores in New Zealand s main cities, where buyers could snap up the devices right as midnight struck and Friday began.
Steve Jobs knows what people want, Web developer Lucinda McCullough told the Christchurch Press newspaper, referring to Apple s chief executive. And I need a new phone.