Apple Inc's latest iPhone went on sale in stores across the globe on Friday, with fans snapping up the final gadget unveiled during Steve Jobs' lifetime, many buying the phone as a tribute to the former Apple boss.
Hundreds queued around city blocks in Sydney and Tokyo to be the first to get their hands on the iPhone 4S, which looks similar to the previous iPhone 4 but has a better camera, faster processor and well-received voice activated software.
I am a fan, a big fan. I want something to remember Steve Jobs by, said Haruko Shiraishi, waiting patiently with her Yorkshire terrier Miu Miu at the very end of an eight block queue in Tokyo's smart Ginza shopping district.
Australian Tom Mosca, the first to buy the new phone in Sydney, said the first thing he would do was ask his new white iPhone: Where's Steve? Many Apple fans believe the phone was called iPhone 4S meaning for Steve.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and his executive team hope the first device launched without the firm's former visionary leader at the helm will safeguard their global market share against a growing challenge from the likes of Samsung.
The South Korean firm, Apple's arch-rival with smartphones powered by Google's Android software, expects to overtake it as the world's biggest smartphone vendor in terms of units sold in the third quarter.
The iPhone 4S -- introduced to the world just a day before Jobs died -- was dubbed a disappointment because it fell short of being a revolution in design, but glowing reviews centred around its Siri voice-activated software have since helped it set a record pace in initial, online sales orders.
Apple's Asian fans showed no disappointment with their new phones, ahead of sales in Germany, France, Britain and North America. In Tokyo, 24-year-old Ryosuke Ishinabe said: I just wanted the newest iPhone. I want to try out iCloud.
But despite all the enthusiasm at Apple stores, the launch was marred somewhat by widespread complaints on the Internet about problems downloading iOS 5 -- the latest version of Apple's mobile software.
There were also problems with iCloud, Apple's online communications, media storage and backup service formally launched on Wednesday, with users reporting glitches such as losing their email access.
The iCloud issue coincides with problems for rival Research in Motion, which is grappling with an international outage of its Blackberry email and messaging services.
JOBS SHADOW OVER iPHONE LAUNCH
The vast majority of iPhone 4S buyers at the Sydney store appeared to be existing Apple customers, many having bought the original iPhone and upgrades each time. Only one out of 10 people surveyed by Reuters in Sydney was a new Apple customer.
I have been waiting for the iPhone 5 for a long time. But since Jobs died, I wanted to make sure I had a new iPhone with some advantages over the old, said iPhone devotee Mark Du, concerned over future Apple gadgets without Jobs at the helm.
Apple fans in Sydney and Tokyo made sure Jobs was part of the iPhone 4S launch, with flower, candle and photo shrines to the late Apple boss erected outside the stores.
Demonstrating the enthusiasm for the new phone, Japanese mobile carrier Softbank Corp had to temporarily stop contract applications after its computer system was overwhelmed with more subscription requests than it had expected.
Apple said it did not release sales figures on launch day, so gauging the initial sales may be difficult. Apple said it had taken more than 1 million online orders in the first 24 hours after its release, exceeding the 600,000 for the iPhone 4, though that model was sold in fewer countries initially.
Some analysts expect fourth-quarter iPhone shipments of as much as 30 million or more, almost double from a year ago.
Apple's fifth-generation iPhone uses chips from Qualcomm Inc, Toshiba and a host of smaller semiconductor companies, according to repair firm iFixit, which cracked the device open on Thursday.
APPLE SOFTWARE CRITICISM
Apple's iOS 5 software became available this week and is intended to upgrade older phones and enable new features such as a messages and better Twitter integration.
Twitter users raged over Error 3200, dredging up comparisons to the obscure numbered error messages supposedly prevalent in Windows software and complained of inordinately slow download times.
This would be a great time for like, Samsung or something, to take out a sponsored ad, user Ryan James Kirk tweeted.
The iPhone -- seen as the market's gold standard -- is Apple's highest-margin product and accounts for 40 percent of its annual revenue. It is the world's biggest selling smartphone, with a slim market-share lead over Samsung.
Analysts point to several factors in Apple's favor: a $199 price that matches up well with rival devices such as Amazon.com Inc's Fire tablet; availability promised on more than 100 carriers by the end of 2011, far more than its predecessors; and glowing reviews.
In a sign of how tough the competition is, two doors along from the Sydney Apple store, Samsung has been selling its new Galaxy SII for only A$2 to its first 10 customers each day, prompting Samsung fans to also camp out on the footpath.
(Reporting by Michael Perry in SYDNEY, Edwin Chan in LOS ANGELES, Isabel Reynolds in TOKYO and Poornim; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Alex Richardson)