NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Throngs of Apple fans lined up in the wee hours Friday outside the company's flagship store in Manhattan to be among the first to get their hands on the new iPhone 4S.
Two hours before Apple's new smartphone was slated to go on sale, hundreds of aspiring buyers filled the plaza outside the Fifth Avenue glass cube, echoing scenes that had already played out earlier in the day in Australia, Japan, Germany, France and other Apple stores around the world.
Some fans started their iPhone vigil literally weeks in advance: Keenen Thompson and Jessica Mellow arrived 18 days ago to claim the No. 1 spot in line. They chronicled their "urban iCamping adventure" on a blog called iPhoneWhatever.
One aspiring buyer waited in line on crutches.
"I got hit by a car and had surgery a few weeks ago. There's tons of metal plates in my foot -- it shattered," said David Betz, a 26-year-old bartender who began his wait at 11 p.m. last night. "Is it worth it? We'll find out."
Marketers worked through the crowd, hawking iPhone accessories, trade-in sites for used phones, and even tents. As a light drizzle fell, representatives from iPhone casemaker OtterBox roamed around passing out rain ponchos and "survival kits" filled with tools like snacks and chapstick.
The turnout was more muted than last year, with around 250 people waiting 90 minutes before the iPhone went on sale. Jose Pena, a 23-year-old college student, speculated that the rainy weather was to blame.
"Plus, this iPhone isn't the biggest upgrade," he said.
Queuing up for the new iPhone has become an annual tradition, drawing Apple zealots, celebrities and passers-by into the mix. At Apple's Los Gatos, Calif., a famous figure claimed the head-of-the-line spot: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who camped out with an iPad, a folding armchair and a stash of Diet Dr Pepper.
"I want to get mine along with the millions of other fans," Wozniak told CNN.
The New York line drew a mix of first-time buyers and veterans. Jessica Mery, 36, said she has joined every iPhone line since the device first launched in 2007.
"Every time its been 10-plus hours," she said.
But this wait is especially poignant: "It's more meaningful to me because of Steve Jobs' passing," she said. "It's a must-get."
Nine days after Jobs' death, memorials to Apple's co-founder were still in ample supply. Dozens of apples filled the steps leading to Apple's flagship store, mixed in with candles, handwritten notes and stacks of flowers.
Apple employees threw the doors open at 8 a.m., escorting the first few buyers into the store through a cheering gauntlet.
Jelani Rice emerged a half-hour later clutching a new 16 GB black iPhone 4S.
"Set-up was awesome with the new iCloud feature," the 18-year-old student said. "All I did was restore from iCloud and it took three minutes for my phone to set up. All my old apps were on there -- my old photos, old text messages, everything."
1 million pre-orders: The iPhone 4S is the first to launch simultaneously on three U.S. carriers, and it is also the first iPhone to be available on Sprint's network. AT&T (Fortune 500), Verizon ( , Fortune 500) and Sprint opened many of their stores at 8 a.m. on Friday.,
Pre-orders went fast. Apple (Fortune 500) announced earlier this week that it had received more than 1 million pre-orders for the iPhone 4S, setting a record.,
Sprint (Fortune 500) reported sold-out inventory for the $199 16 GB iPhone 4S online, but the carrier held onto some phones to sell to its walk-in customers on Friday morning. The more-expensive 32 GB and 64 GB iPhone 4S models remained available through Sprint's online store late Thursday.,
Kimberly Jones, 33, turned up at a Manhattan Sprint store to try to snap up her first iPhone. She joined a line of about 14 people waiting a half-hour before the store was scheduled to open.
"I'm not a current iPhone user, and I can't wait to be one," Jones said. She's replacing a recently lost BlackBerry.
"I work near here and it's my birthday, so this is my present to myself," she said. "The technology, the touchscreen is great. There's an app for everything, and you get it so fast. My BlackBerry wasn't like that. It's time to step it up a bit."
Those who want to avoid in-person shopping and order online will have to wait a few weeks to snag a new iPhone. Verizon Wireless' website had all models available, but listed Oct. 28 as its earliest available delivery date. AT&T Wireless had all models available on its site, with a "ships in 21-28 days" estimate.
The new iPhone appears physically the same as the iPhone 4, but the guts are improved: it features a new, faster processor called the A5, which debuted in the iPad 2. It also includes a better, 8-megapixel camera, an improved antenna, and Siri, the new voice command software that's billed as an on-board personal assistant.
Siri has already become a cult sensation, inspiring glowing reviews and blogs devoted to chronicling her more amusing quotes. She's got opinions about the meaning of life ("42") and the best place to hide a body ("metal foundries" and "swamps" make the list).
But will this iPhone be a record seller? That remains to be seen. Many pundits were disappointed that the device remained largely the same -- at least on the outside -- as the iPhone 4, which debuted 15 months ago.
|Inside the underground sex economy|
|4 reasons Russia will keep gas flowing|
|GM ignition switch issue surfaced in 2001|
|Plug the financial leaks, now!|
|Obama wants to expand overtime pay|