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Hurry now while stocks last, the iPhone is on sale

Shoppers will flock to 1,250 stores across Britain today in search of the new 3G iPhone, Apple's combined music player, phone and internet browser. Many will be disappointed.

The mobile phone shop Carphone Warehouse and the network O2, which have exclusive rights to sell the gadget, expect to sell out in nearly all of their shops. Both sold out of their online allocations within hours on Monday, with unexpectedly strong demand crashing 02's website.

In coming months, buying an iPhone could be as difficult as purchasing Nintendo's fitness game, Wii Fit, which has been out of stock almost continuously since its launch in April.

Apple is launching the iPhone in 22 countries today, including the United States, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

In the UK, O2 said it would have only a "few dozen" handsets at its 450 shops. After an initial burst of sales, Carphone Warehouse expects the iPhone to be unavailable at many of its 800 shops. Apple will also sell the handset in its 15 British outlets but would not comment on stock levels.

Announced by Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs in the US last month, the touch-screen iPhone uses the quicker 3G system and has a global positioning system (GPS). Apple says the phone is twice as quick as its forerunner, at half the price. The company has a target of selling 10 million units worldwide this year. Analysts believe the phone, which automatically switches between Wi-Fi, 3G and EDGE networks to ensure the fastest downloads, will easily pass that figure.

In Hong Kong, Hutchison Telecommunications was flooded with 60,000 online applications over the weekend from consumers hoping to buy the 500 phones on sale. In New Zealand, the first country to sell the phone due to its time zone, people reportedly started lining up outside a Vodafone store on Tuesday.

Here, Carphone Warehouse sold out its online allocation of the phones within hours on Monday. On the same day, O2's website crashed after customers made 13,000 "transactional attempts" every second.

"We've never seen any mobile device create the excitement and demand of the iPhone 3G," said Ronan Dunne, O2's chief executive.

Those who buy the phones will find it an expensive experience, as all have to be bought with an accompanying 18-month contract with O2. On the cheapest £30 tariff with the smaller 8GB model, customers will end up paying £639, while on the most expensive £75 tariff, the total bill will be £1,350, with the iPhone 3G thrown in for free.

"They're going to bring users in droves to this product," predicted a Deutsche Bank analyst, Chris Whitmore, saying Apple would sell about 10.5 million of the 3G version this year.

In demand

60,000: Online applications for 500 iPhones on Hutchison Telecommunications' website in Hong Kong