'Nightmare' start for iPhone 4's latest launch

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The Independent Tech

Hundreds of customers in New Zealand and Hong Kong were turned away empty-handed on Friday as the second phase of the Apple iPhone 4's global launch got off to a "nightmare" start.

The iconic US company has sold more than three million of the smartphones since its launch a month ago in the United States and other top markets - but it has also been besieged by complaints over poor reception blamed on antenna-related problems.

Sales were officially expanding on Friday to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

But in New Zealand, Apple fans waiting outside shops, some since dawn, were left frustrated when the launch was mysteriously pushed back until the afternoon.

Customers formed new queues several hours later, but were told that only Vodafone account-holders could buy the smartphone due to a lack of availability.

One prospective buyer called the launch an "epic fail", while another described it as a "nightmare".

"It's been terribly handled. Vodafone is blaming Apple, Apple is blaming Vodafone. No one seems to know what is going on," Jacob Creech, from Wellington, told the Stuff website (www.stuff.co.nz).

"I'm going to get my phone and then terminate the contract straight away."

It is the second hiccup for Apple in New Zealand after the launch of its iPad, when the company was criticised for refusing to reveal where the tablet computer would be available.

In Hong Kong, mobile phone stores in the Causeway Bay shopping district were crowded with people eager to get their hands on the newest iPhone.

But some were surprised to learn they would have to wait "a few weeks" to get the device after registering at the retail outlets.

"I thought I would get it today," a disappointed Trinni Wong, 27, told AFP.

"What's the point in coming to the store if they're not here?"

Marketing manager Dennis Tsui said he might buy the phone but worried about its much-publicised reception problems.

"I used the iPhone before and like it, but I'm worried about all this (antennae) stuff," he said.

In Singapore, the city-state's three telecom firms held simultaneous launches for the iPhone 4 but lines were orderly as only invited customers who had pre-registered were allowed into the venues.

Singapore Telecom (SingTel), which booked a convention hall at the Marina Bay Sands casino for the event, said all its appointment slots for the launch on Friday and Saturday are fully booked "due to overwhelming demand".

"I considered Android phones, but I found that the response of Android phones is still sluggish," said Lim Teck Wee, who took a day off from work to get his phone.

"I feel very happy of course (to get the iPhone 4). You feel a bit of exclusivity."

Buyers in Singapore said they were not concerned over reports of antenna-related problems.

"There's no such cases of signal dropping in Singapore. The antenna problem has been overblown," Ian Chan, a senior project manager, told AFP while waiting to collect his new iPhone 4.

Australian customers, meanwhile, waited in the rain in central Sydney before the gadget went on sale at midnight, while long queues marshalled by security guards were seen outside shops in the morning.

Tony Cripps, an analyst with industry research firm Ovum, forecast strong sales for iPhone 4 in Asia and globally despite the concerns over reception.

"Much of this success can be attributed to the halo effect Apple has achieved around its products," he said in a market commentary.

This is done through Apple's "extreme focus on usability, design and the tight integration between the devices, applications and services, if not always out-and-out innovation", he said.

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