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No longer on hold for the iPhone The Friday release of Apple's new gadget drew lines at stores, but some say the mobile multitasker won't live up to the hype

Fifteen-year-old Mike Dentico has been washing cars, doing chores and even keeping the money his mother gives him every day for school lunch tucked away in a box.

After three months of saving, his sacrifices have paid off. The Williamsville East student had the money he needed to buy a new Apple iPhone Friday at the AT&T store on Transit Road in Amherst.

"It's revolutionary," he said. "I can't wait."

Dentico was one of the dozens of Buffalo-area consumers who began lining up outside local AT&T and Apple stores early Friday to ensure bragging rights as some of the first in the world to own the iPhone, released on Friday in a coordinated 6 p.m. launch across the country.

Customers were camped out at the outlets across the nation. At Apple's flagship store in New York, the line snaked around the block. In San Francisco, customers sang "Auld Lang Syne" following a countdown, as if heralding a new era in telecommunications.

Even Steve Wozniak, the ex-partner of Apple founder Steve Jobs, showed up at a Silicon Valley mall at 4 a.m. aboard his Segway scooter. He helped keep order in the line outside the Apple store.

The other customers awarded the honorary first spot in line to Wozniak, who planned to buy two iPhones on Friday even though he remains an Apple employee and will get a free one.

"Look how great the iPod turned out," he told the Associated Press. "So who wants to miss that revolution?"

The do-everything gadget with a touch-sensitive screen is part cell phone, part iPod and part Internet source, providing access to e-mail, weather, maps and even a planner. The phone comes at a hefty price -- $499 or $599 depending on the amount of memory it has.

It has inspired a media frenzy and a cultlike following since Apple announced its release in January. Bloggers around the country have dubbed it "revolutionary," and some anxious "iCultists" have even baked cakes in its honor.

By the time the first customers were let in, about 60 people had gathered outside the AT&T store in a show of devotion usually reserved for Buffalo Sabres tickets or the latest Harry Potter book.

Dentico was typical of the first few customers to get their hands on their own iPhone -- several teenagers and their parents were at the beginning of the line.

"This is so you'll call me everyday," teased Dian Wells, who was buying the phone for her son Ted, who is leaving for Stanford University in the fall.

"Steve Jobs can't live that far away from Stanford," he joked. "I can knock on his door if I have any questions."

The first batch of phones probably won't stay on the shelves for long, said Robert P. Holliday, vice president of AT&T in Upstate New York. He predicted that most local stores would sell out this weekend.

"We're well-stocked," he said. "The anticipation has been incredible."

Sean Morau, a 22-year-old communications student, seconded that. The Apple devotee has been waiting for the phone to come out since January.

"I converted my whole family to Apple," he said. "As long as you can make phone calls, it'll be worth it."

But a few Communication Workers of America District 1 members outside the Amherst store were less excited. They handed out fliers complaining that salespeople weren't receiving fair commissions.

Jose Plehn-Dujowich, a professor of economics at the University at Buffalo, warned that the initial phone might not live up to its hype.

"It does have a heck of a lot of competition," he said, including PDAs, traditional music phones and MP3 players. "At this price point, I don't see it being very popular in Buffalo."

He predicted that Apple will cut its price drastically within the first two years to remain competitive.

Plehn-Dujowich also warned that the phone's potential incompatibility with the Microsoft e-mail accounts many businesses use and Internet access that can be as slow as dial-up might make the phone less appealing to businesses.

But that wasn't a concern for Sam Benatovich, 16, who bought one of the first phones with his mother.

"I'm really into technology," he said. "This phone has got everything, plus a touch screen."

News wire services contributed to this report.

e-mail: aerickson@buffnews.com

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