Jessica Mellow waited in line for more than 180 hours -- that's eight straight days -- for an iPhone 5. She was woken up by cops, "showered" in a torrential downpour, and watched two taxis collide right in front of the growing crowd outside Apple's gleaming retail cube on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.
On Friday morning, Apple finally delivered the prize she and thousands of line-sitters around the world were after. The iPhone 5 went on sale at 8 a.m. local time on Friday in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK.
Mellow among the first to snag a phone at her Apple outpost. The No. 1 person in line -- Hazem Sayed, who arrived more than a week ago to promote his social media startup -- said the wait "was definitely worth it."
The iPhone 5 is virtually guaranteed to be Apple's all-time bestseller. Apple took more than 2 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours, shattering last year's iPhone 4S record, and analysts forecast that it will sell as many as 10 million units by Monday morning. Apple's early inventory is already sold out: Online orders placed now won't ship for three to four weeks.
Those hoping to snag an iPhone 5 right now will need to brave a retail line. Apple's stores typically have the best stockpiles, but they also draw the longest lines. By Friday morning, Apple's Fifth Avenue flagship had a line that stretched down an entire city block and wrapped around.
Apple's lines traditionally draw a mix of marketers, Apple zealots and more casual fans. Natalie Lopez, 32, joined the line at 5:30 a.m. Friday.
"I've got the original iPhone. I've been sitting on it for 5 years. I'm just excited to upgrade it to something new," she said.
Alex Brooks upgrades his Apple phone every cycle and typically sells the old model. (An iPhone 4S can still snag well over $200 on many resale sites.) He said he's excited about trading up for a lighter, thinner, faster phone.
A few people hovering around the scene hoped to capitalize on all those cast-off phones.
The crowd at the Apple Store at Grand Central Station was quiet but large about 40 minutes ahead of opening time. The line snaked from the Main Concourse, down hundreds of feet of corridor, to a sign for the exit at 48th St. and Park Avenue. A handful of iPhone hopefuls stepped right up to the marble staircase that leads to the Apple Store -- and appeared bewildered when pointed down the corridor toward a long and growing line.
People were still jumping in line at 7:30 a.m. One twentysomething man arrived breathless, asking, "Is this the line for the iPhone 5?"
"It's the line for the express train to Poughkeepsie," a security guard quipped.
Several people at the back of the line were heard asking each other, "Do you know how many iPhones they have today?" Everyone shrugged.
Many people in line at Grand Central were passing the time using other Apple gadgets like Macs and iPhones.
A variety of other retailers -- including carriers AT&T, Verizon and Sprint -- will also have the iPhone 5 available for sale on Friday, but their stashes could go fast.
A total of zero people were in line at a Radio Shack less than a block away from Grand Central shortly before the iPhone was slated to go on sale.
Representatives at several Best Buy locations in Manhattan said the stores were still receiving their shipments on Thursday afternoon, and that they therefore didn't know many units would be available for purchase Friday morning.
An employee at one Best Buy location in the NoHo section of lower Manhattan said that store is opening at 8 a.m. ET, but the iPhone 5 "will probably be sold out for anyone who didn't pre-order."
The Fifth Avenue Best Buy, near Grand Central Station, is opening at 9 a.m. An employee who answered the phone at that location said "a whole bunch" of people had pre-ordered the iPhone 5 and that many others called this week asking for details.
Employees at Verizon Wireless stores in Manhattan were similarly tight-lipped. The Grand Central location is opening at 8 a.m., but a representative said she had no information on the number of phones that would be available. Ten minutes before the iPhone's sale time, the store had a line of around 3 dozen shoppers.
Callers who contacted the Verizon store near Times Square were greeted by a recorded message trumpeting that the location will open early, at 8 a.m., for the launch of the iPhone 5. A store manager said he was "not able to disclose the amount of units."
Apple's iPhone 5 release comes nearly one year after Apple's iPhone 4S, the model that introduced the world to Siri. The thinner, faster iPhone 5 is Apple's first hardware overhaul in several years. Reviewers have praised the phone's bigger screen, zippy processor, stellar camera and elegant packaging, but two major changes sparked blowback.
Apple's redesigned "Lightning" connector will require a pricey adapter
Apple's fans were undaunted.
"I heard maps isn't so great, so that's pretty disappointing, but I'm sure they'll make it better," Lopez said.
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