Eager buyers formed long lines Friday at Apple Inc. stores in Asia, Europe and North America to be the first to get their hands on the latest version of the smartphone.
In London, some shoppers had camped out for a week in a queue that snaked around the block. In Hong Kong, the first customers were greeted by staff cheering, clapping, chanting "iPhone 5! iPhone 5!" and high-fiving them as they were escorted one-by-one through the front door.
The smartphone will be on sale in the U.S. and Canada at 8 a.m. local time, hours after its launch in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Britain, France and Germany. It will launch in 22 more countries a week later.
The iPhone will also go on sale at Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target, Wal-Mart, and AT&T, Verizon and Sprint retail outlets.
The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, has a taller screen, faster processor, updated software and can work on faster "fourth generation" mobile networks.
In his review on CNET.com, Scott Stein calls the latest iteration "the iPhone we've wanted since 2010, adding long-overdue upgrades like a larger screen and faster 4G LTE in a razor-sharp new design. This is the iPhone, rebooted."
The drawbacks for Stein? "Sprint and Verizon models can't use voice and data simultaneously. The smaller connector renders current accessories unusable without an adapter."
The handset has become a hot seller despite initial lukewarm reviews and new map software that is glitch-prone. Apple received 2 million orders in the first 24 hours of announcing its release date, more than twice the number for the iPhone 4S in the same period when that phone launched a year ago.
In a sign of the intense demand, police in Osaka, Japan, were investigating the theft of nearly 200 iPhones 5s, including 116 from one shop alone, Kyodo News reported.
Analysts have estimated Apple will ship as many as 10 million of the new iPhones by the end of September.
At 7 a.m. lines were already around the block at Apple's N.Y. flagship store on Fifth Avenue.
Some fans went to extremes to be among the first buyers by arriving at Apple's flagship stores day ahead of the release. And not all were in it for themselves: CNET reports people have been paying stand-ins to wait in line for them. CNET's Sumi Das talked to one hardy soul who's been camping out since Monday morning.
In downtown Sydney, Todd Foot, 24, showed up three days early to nab the coveted first spot. He spent about 18 hours a day in a folding chair, catching a few hours' sleep each night in a tent on the sidewalk.
Foot's dedication was largely a marketing stunt, however. He writes product reviews for a technology website that will give away the phone after Foot reviews it.
"I just want to get the phone so I can feel it, compare it and put it on our website," he said while slumped in his chair.
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In Paris, the phone launch was accompanied by a workers' protest -- a couple dozen former and current Apple employees demonstrated peacefully to demand better work benefits. Some decried what they called Apple's transformation from an offbeat company into a multinational powerhouse.