Apple’s worldwide iPhone 3G rollout is underway

The iPhone 3G took center stage around the world Friday, with cheers in Tokyo and grumbles in the U.K. over activation delays.

In Japan, Friday’s launch marks the first time the iPhone has been available in that country and the chance to be one of the first to own one attracted more than 1,000 people to the store of Japanese carrier Softbank in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku neighborhood by the time sales began at 7 a.m.

As the countdown clock reached zero those waiting cheered and special-effects smoke enveloped a crowd of more than 100 journalists and photographers who had turned out to see the launch of the handset.

“This is the year that the cell phone becomes an Internet-connecting machine,” said Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, speaking in front of the store just before the launch. “Today is the day that will make it real, and I think it’s a historic day.”

It took about 20 minutes for the first customer to emerge from the shop clutching his new iPhone. He was actually third in line but had managed to get his application processed the fastest so at first excused himself for beating out the two people who had queued ahead of him.

“It’s great isn’t it,” he said. “I’ve already used it to call my girlfriend.”

For many prospective buyers the queuing didn’t finish at 7 a.m. Softbank will begin sales at its other stores and through at electronics retailers from noon on Friday.

Australia’s first customer

Some 4,800 miles away, in Sydney, Australia, Brett Howell cut a ceremonial yellow ribbon outside the Optus “Yes” Store in George Street just after midnight local time. And then he proceeded to buy the phone he’d waited 12 hours (and 12 months) to buy.

Howell said that a “friend” told him he’d heard there were 50 or so people already waiting outside the Sydney store at lunchtime Thursday. A short while later the reported crowd had grown to over 80. With supplies of the iPhone rumored to be scarce, if Brett wanted to have any hope of getting one, he’d better get there fast.

He got there at 1:15 p.m. He was the first person there. The second person to show up didn’t arrive until half an hour later. As for those 50 to 80 people, they were in the same place as the rumored scarcity of iPhones — the land of fantasy, rumor and speculation.

By the time the “Yes” Store opened its doors at midnight-ish, there were few in the Sydney media who had not interviewed Howell, taken his photo, and asked his opinion on the merits of Apple’s new device. (Unsurprisingly, he thought it looked pretty good.)

Masayoshi Son (left), CEO of Softbank, and the first customer of the iPhone in Japan pose outside Softbank’s store in the Harajuku district of Tokyo just after 7 a.m. on July 11, 2008. (Photo by Chiara Castañeda/IDGNS)
Of course by then he was hardly alone in the queue. By 10:30 p.m. Thursday the line had 200 people in it, and 90 minutes later, the queue stretched nearly the whole way around the block. Optus staff provided bright yellow scarves to protect their customers against the nippy Sydney night, as well as pizza, doughnuts and coffee.

The cameras followed Howell into the store and watched every agonizing minute of the 20 or so it took to get his iPhone activated. (His six-year-old SIM needed replacing, which prolonged the process.) Then as he left the shop the cameras still followed. And there were more waiting on the street, lights flashing, microphones poised.

And all Howell wanted was a phone. Plus, by that stage, some sleep.

Activation anarchy in the U.K.

Software troubles marred a big turnout for the iPhone 3G's U.K. launch.

The troubles in the U.K. came after queues of customers formed outside stores across the country. At the O2 store on Oxford Street, 67 people were in the queue at around 7.30 a.m. Friday; round the corner at Apple Regent Street there were 100 souls. Bluewater shopping centre saw 60 people waiting in line at the O2 shop, with maybe five hanging around outside of the Apple store there. North of the border in Glasgow, 50 people queued outside the O2 shop on Argyle Street at 7.30 a.m.

A queue forms outside the O2 Store, Oxford Street.
As 8.02 am approached, excited crowds began surging forward, and shops across the country opened their doors; the first shoppers walked in… and then came the big wait.

“Yeah the computers went down,” explained Hugh Donaghy from the line at the Glasgow O2 store. Having purchased his phone, Donaghy trudged to work, and now appears to be in iLimbo. “I have paid, and signed my contract, yet am at work waiting for the O2 authorisation, which they (Carphone Warehouse) are going to phone me with.”

A person in the Oxford Street queue experienced the same thing: “The first people went in and it took 45 minutes—the credit check thing failed, the computer registration failed, same deal at the Apple store. It took maybe an hour before the first purchase came out. Twenty minutes ago they took to paper and pen.

Customers wait to fill in forms at the O2 store on Oxford Street. Problems with O2’s backend system caused delays initially.

O2’s U.K. press office confirmed that all its shops were affected by a system outage. The problem was blamed on O2’s backend system, which were initially overwhelmed by the demand.

“There has been a phenomenal response, interest has been extraordinary,” the O2 representative said.

At the O2 shop on Argyle Street in Glasgow and round the corner at the Carphone Warehouse shop, reports suggest highly limited supplies of the 16GB iPhone 3G. “I was third in the queue at Carphone Warehouse. When we got into the shop, the guy in front of me bought the only 16GB iPhone they had in stock.

“The guy in the shop said that each Carphone Warehouse had received only one 16GB model,” our witness added.

Matthew JC. Powell of Australian Macworld and Jonny Evans of Macworld UK contributed to this report.

Updated at 10:30 p.m. PT on July 10 to include information from this Australian Macworld report.
Updated at 6:00 a.m. PT on July 11 to include information from this Macworld UK report .

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