Apple fans flock to buy iPhone 3G S

The iPhone’s magic is still there: The crowds turned out to see—and buy—Apple’s iPhone 3G S early Friday morning as it launched around the world.

In Paris, several hundred people waited patiently in front of the Orange store on the Champs-Elysées, to the bemusement of passing tourists. They were hoping to be among the first in the world to buy the new phone when the store opened at one minute past midnight. Orange is one of three network operators selling the iPhone in France: the others, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, will offer the phone from June 24.

Among the customers waiting in Paris, one was so keen to start using his new iPhone that he had dragged along a friend with a laptop so that he could activate the phone without returning home, using the store's Wi-Fi hotspot.

The iPhone 3G S, unveiled last week at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, is considered to be an incremental upgrade of the original iPhone 3G, which was announced at last year’s WWDC. The new phone is “faster and more responsive” than the original iPhone, with more battery life and close to double the storage, Apple said.

The iPhone 3G S has a maximum of 32GB of storage, double that of the iPhone 3G. Users will get talk time of up to 12 hours on 2G networks and up to five hours on 3G networks, with a standby time of 300 hours. Users can browse the Internet for up to five hours on 3G networks on a single battery charge and for up to 9 hours on Wi-Fi networks.

Apple also addressed user desires, adding a 3-megapixel digital camera with autofocus. Perhaps the biggest upgrade in the smartphone is the ability to shoot video, which the previous iPhone models lacked.

Tethering capabilities, which allow the iPhone to share a 3G wireless broadband connection with a Mac or PC via Bluetooth or USB (Universal Serial Bus), were also added to appease user demand. However, Apple warned that the tethering service will be unavailable in some countries, including the U.S. where exclusive service provider AT&T has yet to support the feature.

The new smartphone has a faster chip so applications and Web pages will launch more quickly, Apple said. An upgraded graphics core makes 3-D gaming more efficient.

The smartphone runs the iPhone OS 3.0 operating system with new features such as cut, copy and paste, and MMS (multimedia messaging service). The iPhone OS 3.0 includes a software development kit with over 1,000 application programming interfaces that enable features such as push notification and mapping inside applications.

The iPhone 3G S will be available in more than 80 countries in the coming weeks. In the U.S., Apple announced that the iPhone 3G S will cost $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB model. The price of a first-generation iPhone 3G has been reduced to $99.

In Europe, prices for the 32GB model range from free to €250 ($350), depending on the duration and monthly cost of the accompanying airtime contract.

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