SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is poised for a record iPhone 5 debut and may not be able to keep up with demand as customers lined up in Sydney, Tokyo, Paris and New York to pick up the latest model of its top-selling product.
Global sales started at the Apple Store in Sydney’s George Street at 8 a.m., as about 500 people waited to buy the device. Sales also began in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, France, Britain, Canada and the United States. With a new wireless contract, the device costs $199, $299 and $399 in the U.S., depending on the amount of memory.
Keenen Thompson, 22, waited in line for three days to be among the first to snag an iPhone at Apple’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York.
“It’s extremely exciting,” said Thompson, who works in fashion media. “It’s more about the experience and all the people I met and got to hang out with. We decided we might come stand in line even earlier next year.”
The crowds reinforce estimates from analysts that the iPhone 5 will be the largest consumer-electronics debut in history. Apple may sell as many as 10 million iPhones during the weekend sales rush, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray. Because Apple generates about two-thirds of its profit from the iPhone, a successful debut is critical to fuel growth that has led investors to catapult Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple to the world’s most valuable company.
Apple climbed less than 1 percent to $700.10 at the close in New York. The stock has gained 73 percent this year.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Digital Business. “It used to be that with tech products the nerds got them, obsessed about them, and talked about them, and the cool kids wanted no part of that conversation. That’s just not true anymore.”
Apple may have trouble keeping up with initial demand because of supply shortages of components such as in-cell screen displays, according to Barclays. Already, the company had to push out some deliveries to October after early online purchases topped 2 million in 24 hours, double the record set last year with the iPhone 4S.
Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs, was among those waiting at an Apple Store before the opening. He wrote on Twitter that he was in line in Australia to pick up the new iPhone.
In Sydney, the first 11 places in line were taken up by companies using the sale to promote their own business. Some of them were there since Sept. 18, and were paid as much as A$200 ($210) a day to stand and advertise for business. Apple employees in blue T-shirts applauded as the first shoppers got into the store while police tried to manage the crowd outside.
At the Apple Store in Tokyo’s shopping district Ginza, about 750 people had lined up by 8 a.m.
“I’ve been taking time-offs since Saturday and waiting,” said Mitsuya Hirose, 37, who was the first in line. “When I bought the iPad, I was the third person in line, so I am happy now,” said Hirose, who bought his first iPhone three years ago.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of people jammed the entrance of the Apple Store in Hong Kong’s IFC mall, chanting and cheering as customers waited to be let in. Police and security guards were standing by as the store opened at 8 a.m., two hours earlier than usual. Only those customers who registered online to reserve a handset were allowed in.
Among them was Michael Chan, a 29-year-old airline industry worker, who called in sick at work to be able to buy two 64 GB black-colored iPhones. Chan said he had bought all previous versions of the iPhone, since they were introduced in 2007.
At three outlets in western Japan’s Osaka, 191 iPhone 5s were stolen earlier Friday, Kyodo News reported, citing police at the prefecture. A resident near one of the outlets saw three men break into the store and then leave in a car, the news agency said. Thefts were also reported from Kobe City, Kyodo said, citing local police.
In central Paris, the crowd of about 500 people in front of the Apple Store near the Garnier Opera included protesting Apple retail staff demanding better compensation, perks and work conditions.
“We won’t block the sale of the iPhone and ruin the day,” said Thomas Bordage, a representative for the SUD union, which represents a minority of Apple Store employees in France. “We generate massive revenue for Apple and we’re just hoping for a gesture to show the company will share some of that with us.”
Jasmine Khounnala-Abécassis, an Apple spokeswoman in France, didn’t return a call seeking comment.
In London’s Covent Garden, a crowd of about 1,000 outside the local Apple store this morning received pastries from a local cafe chain and water bottles from Apple staff.