For Japanese Mac Faithful, Queuing for the iPhone Begins

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Try telling Hiroyuki Sano that the iPhone is just another cell phone. The 24-year old college student from Nagoya began on Tuesday what will become a 73-hour wait outside the outlet of Japanese carrier Softbank that will be the first in Japan to begin selling the iconic handset on Friday morning.

For Sano, and the approximately 20 people already waiting in-line on Wednesday at lunchtime, the real wait began over a year ago when Apple CEO Steve Jobs first unveiled the handset at the Macworld conference in January 2007. While Apple went on to sell millions worldwide it never hit the shelves in Japan because the first-generation version didn't support the cell phone systems in use here.

"When the iPhone was announced I watched Steve Jobs' keynote and thought it looked like a great product and I've wanted one ever since," said Sano, who was wearing an Apple t-shirt.

With the 3G model, which supports the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) system used in Japan, he finally has a chance to get one.

Among those waiting was Ryo Shimizu, CEO of UEI, a company that makes software for the iPod Touch and iPhone. Along with three company employees he arrived on Tuesday morning eager to get his hands on the phone.

"I was very excited the first time looking at the keynote speech in Macworld last year so we've been waiting more than one year for the iPhone to come to Japan," he said.

Shimizu's company has developed several applications for the iPod Touch including a variation of the classic "Pong" game that can be played with others within the same Wi-Fi hotspot and a new graphics program. He just submitted the "UEI Pong" game to the iTunes Store and hopes to begin sales of the software at US$0.99 in the next few days.

The first thing he'll be doing with the new phone is checking compatibility of his company's applications, he said, then wants to try out the camera and GPS mapping function.

Sano, Shimizu and several others began congregating outside the shop in Tokyo's fashionable Harajuku district during the day on Tuesday but a formal line didn't form until the evening. At that point the people decided to settle their order in the queue using a game of paper-rock-sissors -- a popular way to decide such questions in Japan -- and Sano won first place, he said.

Security guards are now stationed outside the store to ensure the safety of those queuing and to make sure the busy sidewalk outside the store isn't blocked. The queue is also attracting media attention and a steady stream of TV and still camera crews buzzed around those waiting on Wednesday.

The iPhone will officially go on sale in Tokyo at 7 a.m. on Friday morning at the Harajuku Softbank store. Wider sale will begin later in the day at other Softbank stores and electronics retailers.

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