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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hundreds show up to buy latest iPhone


Staff writer

About 200 people lined up Friday morning in Tokyo's Omotesando district for the chance to buy Apple Inc.'s new iPhone 3GS, the latest model in the iPhone series and Softbank Corp.'s mobile phone lineup.

News photo
Fans of the iPhone, Apple Inc.'s touch-screen cell phone, wear paper mockups of the smart phone Friday in Tokyo. At the Omotesando district flagship store, 200 people lined up for the product's Japan debut. KYODO PHOTO

Many had already lined up outside the Softbank flagship store by 6:30 a.m.

"The revolution of the Internet . . . the mobile Internet is growing, and people can always carry (some device to connect to) the Internet, and the Internet will be part of their daily lives," said Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son at a ceremony that started at 6:40 a.m. at the shop, where popular actress Aya Ueto was also on hand.

Son told the crowd his iPhone had changed his lifestyle in the past year, saying he accesses the Internet at least three times more frequently than he used to.

The new models come with a faster processor that enables its texting service program to start up 2.1 times faster. The built-in camera is upgraded from 2 megapixels to 3 and is now equipped with auto-focus.

The 16-gigabyte model is priced at ¥11,520, while the 32-GB version is ¥23,040, based on a special campaign offer that obliges consumers to sign up to use the phone for at least two years.

"I am so excited that I can't really find words to say," said Taisuke Fujimoto of Tokyo, a 22-year-old student who was the first in line.

"I am interested in video, so I plan to shoot and upload a lot of videos," he said, mentioning one of the new functions that the previous model did not have.

As a digital display counter ticked down to 10 seconds, the crowd joined the countdown to the 7 a.m. opening time.

While the ceremony attracted hundreds of people and media attention, some telecom observers have noted that the iPhone's sales have not been as brisk in Japan as elsewhere.

While Apple and Softbank have declined to disclose unit sales in Japan, observers say it is unlikely the iPhone has sold 1 million units here, the usual standard for a hit in the Japanese market, which saw 34.64 million cell phones shipped in fiscal 2008.

"I think there would have been a press release if unit sales had reached a million," said Makio Inui, managing director and telecom analyst at UBS Securities Japan.

Market watchers point out the Japanese cell phone market, dominated by Japanese makers, has already seen a number of high-tech smart phones, which users can use to access the Internet, watch TV or even use to shop at stores and pass through ticket gates at train stations. Not even the latest iPhone has this e-money function, while an attachment is needed to watch digital TV.

The new iPhone 3GS, however, may provide a fresh chance for Son. The latest models sold more than 1 million units overseas in the first three days on the market earlier this month.

Although Son did not mention specific numbers for the sales goal, he emphasized that iPhones, unlike conventional phones, have been steady growers.

"A cell phone's sales normally peak two or three months after its debut. But iPhone sales have continued to grow," Son said.



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