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iPhone fans pile into Apple store feeling ‘like LeBron James’

Julian Diggs who was first customer line walks out Apple Store Michigan Ave. with his new iPhone 5 Friday Sept.

Julian Diggs, who was the first customer in line, walks out of the Apple Store on Michigan Ave. with his new iPhone 5 Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 23, 2012 6:06AM

The wait is over.

Clapping, cheering Apple store employees on Friday morning welcomed customers, some of who waited in line for days to get an iPhone 5 as soon as the Michigan Avenue store opened.

“I felt like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant,” said Julian Diggs, the first customer in the door. Diggs, 23, of Wicker Park, started camping out on Michigan Avenue at around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Before the store at 679 N. Michigan opened at 8 a.m., the line snaked down Michigan, around the corner, down Huron and across St. Clair.

But some of the first customers to get the new iPhone didn’t spend hours in line — they paid someone else to do it.

Rajeev Sharma, 38, of Wicker Park, paid someone $175 to wait 14 hours so he wouldn’t have to. That’s on top of the $649 Sharma paid for the phone.

It’s not the first time he’s shelled out extra money so he wouldn’t have to stand in line for a new iPhone.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s like a tradition.”

Despite the time — or cost — of waiting, Sharma and other Apple fans pointed to the advantages of the new model’s faster Internet speed and larger screen. The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, has a taller screen, faster processor, updated software and can work on faster “fourth generation” mobile networks.

Eighteen-year-old Noah Halford, who spent nine hours in line, gave a succinct verdict: “Worth the wait.”

West Loop residents and friends Devin Torkelsen and Darien Hutchinson, who had waited in line since Wednesday, echoed that sentiment.

“Without a doubt,” Torkelsen added. “I was in there jumping up and down upstairs. I’ve been waiting for this for a couple of months now.”

“We were so excited,” added Hutchinson.

The 19-year-olds both paid $200 for their phones with new contracts.

Not everyone spent hours in anxious anticipation. Marshall Aolin Yang, 19, of the South Loop, decided only Friday morning to get a phone, and he wasn’t concerned that the store would run out.

Apple store employees didn’t seem concerned either. They started processing orders for Yang and other customers while they were still standing on Huron.

Staff from the store could not provide data on how many of the phones were available for sale in the store today or how many sold in the first hour the store opened, but noted they were hopeful of meeting anticipated demand over the weekend. If the store runs out of the phones, customers will be instructed to visit the company’s website and pre-order. It’s expected to take Apple about three weeks to fill online pre-orders.

The hoopla on Michigan Avenue was mirrored across the globe, first in places like Sydney and Tokyo, followed by Europe and North America.

Analysts have estimated Apple will ship as many as 10 million of the new iPhones by the end of September.

The smartphone is also being launched in the United States, Australia and a handful of Asian and European countries. It will go on sale in 22 more countries a week later.

The iPhone 5 has become a hot seller despite initial lukewarm reviews and new map software that is glitch prone. Apple received 2 million orders in the first 24 hours of announcing its release date, more than twice the number for the iPhone 4S in the same period when that phone launched a year ago.

In a sign of the intense demand, police in Osaka, Japan, were investigating the theft of nearly 200 iPhones 5s, including 116 from one shop alone, Kyodo News reported.

Not everyone lining up outside Hong Kong’s Apple store was an enthusiast. University student Kevin Wong, waiting to buy a black 16 gigabyte model for 5,588 Hong Kong dollars ($720), said he was getting one “for the cash.” He planned to immediately resell it to one of the numerous gray market retailers catering to mainland Chinese buyers. China is one of Apple’s fastest growing markets but a release date for the iPhone 5 there has not yet been set.

Wong was required to give his local identity card number when he signed up for his iPhone on Apple’s website. The requirement prevents purchases by tourists including mainland Chinese, who have a reputation for scooping up high-end goods on trips to Hong Kong because there’s no sales tax and because of the strength of China’s currency. Even so, the mainlanders will probably buy it from the resellers “at a higher price — a way higher price,” said Wong, who hoped to make a profit of HK$1,000 ($129).

Contributing: Associated Press

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