Apple’s new iPhone draws long lines of eager customers

Kyodo, Staff

A new version of Apple Inc.’s iPhone hit store shelves Friday after hundreds of people had lined up at retail outlets, including the company’s flagship store in Tokyo, hours before the release.

It is the first time in about a year that Apple has released a new model. The iPhone 5 is being sold in Japan by KDDI Corp. and Softbank Mobile Corp., which have been taking advantage of the smartphone to boost subscriptions.

The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter and has a larger screen and longer battery life than its predecessors, according to Apple. The new handset was also launched in other countries, including the United States, where orders exceeded more than 2 million units in the first 24 hours, according to Apple.

“I took off from work and started lining up from Saturday last week,” said 37-year-old company employee Mitsuya Hirose, the first person to obtain the handset at the Apple store in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district. “I’m deeply moved,” he said.

“It makes me very excited to have the new iPhone,” said Masaki Inoue, a 25-year-old self-employed man. “The Internet connection is faster than I had expected.”

About 750 people were waiting at the Apple store when the iPhone 5 went on sale at 8 a.m.

While new owners may be happy with the specs of their new hardware, the glitches in the new map and GPS system could give prospective owners pause before upgrading.

Users of the new IOS6, which comes installed in the new phone, have been having a field day tracking down display errors in the new map system, which is no longer based on Google Maps.

The Senkaku Islands, for example, appear to be duplicated and the pin location is displayed offshore. An unnamed high school appears in the middle of the prime minister’s office. Major train stations, such as Shinjuku and Tokyo, lack crucial details such as exit numbers. Perhaps the worst of the embarrassments for Apple are newly coined train stations called Pachinko Gundam and another named McDonald’s.

KDDI and Softbank are both offering the 16-gigabyte model of the iPhone 5 effectively for free under certain conditions, including a two-year contract.

The two carriers also launched a high-speed data communications service using the LTE network, both setting the flat-rate data charge for the service for the iPhone at ¥5,460 per month.

“The number of orders for the iPhone 5 is far larger than any iPhone sold previously,” Softbank Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son told reporters, without revealing the specific figure.

The two firms are offering the 32-gigabyte model at ¥10,320 and the 64-gigabyte model at ¥20,640 under certain conditions.

“The iPhone 5 is likely to help Apple secure a more stable position” in the Japanese market, where KDDI and Softbank are running sales campaigns to stimulate demand, said Koki Shiraishi, analyst at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets Co.

Though the new iPhone is not equipped with any surprise functions, its enhanced capabilities, such as longer battery life, are likely to continue attracting customers, he said.