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Fans of iPhone 7 get dialed in on opening day

It was 5:15 a.m. Friday when Karla Aceves and dad Carlos of Williamsville arrived at the Walden Galleria.

But even at that early hour, they found a dozen people ahead of them, waiting to get their hands on the iPhone 7, which launched Friday.

The Aceveses had never waited in line for a phone launch before, but were afraid that if they didn’t get to the Apple store early, the phones would sell out, as they almost always do. They needn’t have worried – about half the line left when they found out the store did not have iPhone 7 Plus in stock except for customers who had pre-ordered it. The iPhone 7 was available whether customers had pre-ordered it or not.

By 8:45 a.m., there were about 60 people in two lines outside the store, with another 60 inside. Employees asked customers questions and brought them in at timed intervals. A woman with bright orange and pink hair offered free coffee, water and snacks from a cart.

Janae Longo of West Seneca works on a cruise ship. She’ll be leaving in a few days and needs to get her phone upgraded before she’s stuck in the middle of the ocean for the next several months. She didn’t want to chance being stranded without her music and other creature comforts.

And then there are the other cool features.

“I want to tap my earbuds to control them and feel like I’m in the future,” she said.

Emone Bradley doesn’t need an upgrade, she wants an upgrade. She has waited in line for phone launches twice before, but is extra excited about this one with all the iPhone 7’s new features.

“It’s the next thing poppin’. You want to be the first person to have the iPhone 7,” she said. “It’s like a whole new phone.”

So what’s the big deal with the latest iPhone iteration? Well, the iPhone7 is water resistant – a big selling point for anyone who has ever tried and failed to rescue their $649 phone in a bowl of dry rice. It is also dust resistant and more durable. It has no headphone jack, which, though controversial, makes room for stereo speakers. It also has a new operating system, a more powerful processor and, on the 7 Plus, dual cameras.

Apple stores around the world turned away would-be customers who hadn’t already ordered online. At the Covent Garden location in London, a security guard told people to try back in a few days. A few hundred who had booked ahead stood in a barricaded line, in the rain, waiting to collect their devices. In New York at the company’s store near Central Park, one man had been waiting in line for three days, and he wasn’t even at the front of the queue. Still, he was hopeful he’d walk away with a phone.

The challenge for Apple now, as in years past, is making sure there are enough of the gadgets to meet demand. Customers who hadn’t pre-ordered the larger iPhone 7 Plus models were unable to buy them in Apple stores Friday.

That’s already leading to black-market tactics. Men outside the Convent Garden store were seen exchanging wads of cash to buy handsets from somebody who had ordered ahead.

T-Mobile US and Sprint said this week that pre-orders for the new models were almost four times as great as for previous models, helping drive Apple stock to its highest level in almost five years. The announcements provided some welcome news for Apple, which analysts expect will suffer its first annual sales decline since 2001. Verizon Communications said pre-orders were at a similar level to previous years. Orange, France’s biggest carrier, said orders were slightly higher than last year, but that it didn’t have a supply shortage.

Apple is likely to sell 44 million iPhones in the three months through December, according to RBC Capital Markets estimates, down from the 48 million sold in the same period a year earlier. The iPhone 6S became available in stores Sept. 25, 2015. Sales in the final three months of the year will meanwhile likely reach 79 million units, up from 75 million a year earlier, RBC forecast.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com Includes reporting by Bloomberg News.

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