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SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- After six months of hype, thousands of people Friday will get their hands on the iPhone, the new cell phone that Apple Inc. is banking on to become its third core business next to its moneymaking iPod players and Macintosh computers.

Customers were camped out at Apple and AT&T stores across the nation. The gadget, which combines the functions of a cell phone, iPod media player and wireless Web browser, will go on sale in the United States at 6 p.m. in each time zone.

At Apple's flagship store in New York, the line snaked around the block as would-be customers brought a dog, an inflatable couch and good spirits, despite little sleep.

"I was too amped up to sleep," said Pablo Defendini, 28, a graphic designer. "Apple has a knack for creating very easy-to-use products. Their touch in the cell phone market is long overdue, I believe."

David Zho, 21, an Xbox video game tester who came with a friend to check out the scene, looked at the line in amazement.

"I would just buy it online. You waste less time to get on the site. Instead of camping out three to four days, you just get it three or four days after" in the mail.

Zho wasn't even planning to get an iPhone soon. Though he wants one, he said he'd wait for a second version -- once Apple and AT&T work out any bugs.

Apple's media blitz didn't escape first-day glitches. On NBC's "Today" show, co-host Meredith Vieira first met with problems simply getting the iPhone to work to show off its features, laughing that "this is why gadgets drive me crazy."

Later, with a team of Apple representatives hovering off-screen, Vieira was supposed to receive a call from co-host Matt Lauer in London. The iPhone -- billed by Apple as the most user-friendly smart phone ever -- displayed the incoming call, but she couldn't answer it.

Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris declined to comment.

The gadget with a 3.5-inch touch-screen display, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs has touted as "revolutionary," has been the focus of endless anticipatory chatter and has been parodied on late-night TV. Since its unveiling in January, expectations that it will become yet another blockbuster product for Apple has pushed the company's stock up more than 40 percent.

Apple itself has set a target of selling 10 million units worldwide by 2008, gaining roughly a 1 percent share of the cell phone market. It's expected to go on sale in Europe later this year and in Asia in 2008.

And despite the handset's price tag of $499 for a 4-gigabyte model and $599 for an 8-gigabyte version, on top of a minimum $59.99-a-month two-year service plan with AT&T Inc., the phone's exclusive carrier, some bullish Wall Street analysts have predicted sales could hit as high as 45 million units in two years.

"That's nuts. Over-hyping this thing just puts it at risk of being seen as a failure," said Rob Enderle, an industry analyst with The Enderle Group. "Apple will break (sales) records for a phone of this class, but selling tens of millions of units so quickly is going to be tough. First-generation products always have problems that you don't know about until the product ships."

In all likelihood, however, Enderle and other analysts think Apple will grow its iPhone sales, refining its models and improving its software features -- much as it did with the iPod, which has fueled record profits for the company.

But unlike its foray into digital music players, Apple faces competition in cell phones from deep-pocketed, well-established giants, such as Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc.

Even a gadget-loving person like Gene Cram, who owns a BlackBerry Pearl smart phone from Research in Motion Ltd., and sometimes also uses an older Palm Inc. Treo phone or his Motorola SLVR, said he's going to wait for customer reviews before investing in what appears to be the latest must-have piece of techno-wizardry.

"It'll be interesting to see how well it really works," Cram, a flight instructor, said Thursday at a cafe next door to the Apple store in Burlingame, where lines hadn't yet appeared.

Apple has not disclosed how many iPhones will available at launch. But analysts expect it will sell out by early next week -- between sales rung up at retail stores and online through Apple's Web site, which has been a major distribution outlet for other Apple products.

In Philadelphia, Mayor John F. Street was among those waiting in line at an AT&T store when he was asked by a 22-year-old passer-by, "How can you sit here with 200 murders in the city already?"

Street, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, told the man: "I'm doing my job."

The mayor then told an aide to hold his spot and said he would return later in the day. Earlier, Street said he liked trying new technology and the iPhone would allow him to work outside the office.

"We don't have to be sitting in City Hall to be conducting city business," he said.


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