- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2007

At precisely 6 p.m. yesterday, employees at the downtown Bethesda Apple store tore down a black sheet that covered the store”s clear doors, signaling the much-hyped IPhone had finally arrived.

“Victory,” one woman said as she left the store, IPhone in hand. She would not identify herself, saying she wanted to get home and try it out.

More than 100 people — from pre-teens to middle-aged men and women — stood in line, waiting for the store on Bethesda Avenue to open. Apple employees instructed them to walk in 20 at a time, until the store ran out of the all-in-one cell phone, camera, media player and wireless Internet browser.

Employees would not say how many phones were in stock, but one employee who would not identify himself said the store’s entire staff was working.

Ryan Honaker, 24, was the first to buy the IPhone at the store after waiting in line since 11 p.m. Thursday. He wasn”t buying the phone for himself, but he was getting paid $300 to get it for someone else.

“In the end it was fun,” said Mr. Honaker, from Tysons Corner, who added that he enjoyed talking with people while in line. “It was definitely better than sitting around all day.”

Apple closed its stores nationwide at 2 p.m. to prepare for the 6 p.m. premiere. AT&T;, which has a five-year exclusive contract with Apple on the IPhone, followed a similar closing procedure and stayed open an additional hour last night.

The gadget, with a 3.5-inch touch-screen display, which Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs has touted as “revolutionary,” has been the focus of much buzz.

Tech buffs, exhibitionists and luminaries — even the co-founder of Apple and the mayor of Philadelphia — were among the inaugural group of IPhone customers.

Since the IPhone was announced in January, expectations that it will become yet another blockbuster product for Apple have pushed the company’s stock up more than 40 percent.

Apple has set a target of selling 10 million units worldwide by 2008, gaining roughly a 1 percent share of the cell-phone market.

Despite the handset’s price of $499 for a 4-gigabyte model and $599 for an 8-gigabyte version, on top of the calling plan, some bullish Wall Street analysts have predicted sales could climb as high as 45 million units in two years.

Calling plans for the phone are based on a two-year service agreement and start at $59.99 for 450 minutes.

Price was a problem for 13-year-old Michael Griffin from Warrenton, Va. He had been waiting in line since 8:30 a.m. yesterday, but walked out of the store empty-handed.

“I had $430, but I needed $500,” Michael said. “I thought I had enough. At least, I met a few people.”

Samantha Firstenberg, 15, from Bethesda, said she buys almost every one of Apple’s products. Her mother describes her as a “tech monster.”

“It feels really good, said Samantha, who had been waiting in line since 7:15 a.m. yesterday. “I can’t wait to get home to use it.”

But for self-described early adopter Mark Morgan, 55, the IPhone was “just another gizmo” to add to his collection, which includes original Apple computers. He got in line around 3:30 p.m.

“I’ve been tracking this for a couple of years,” said Mr. Morgan, who is from Bethesda. “It feels good to have.”

Steve Wozniak, the former partner of Apple’s Mr. Jobs, showed up at a Silicon Valley mall at 4 a.m. aboard his Segway scooter. He helped keep order in the line outside the Apple store at the Santa Clara, Calif., Valley Fair Mall.

The other customers awarded the honorary first spot in line to Mr. Wozniak, who planned to buy two IPhones yesterday even though he remains an Apple employee and will get a free one from the company next month.

He said the device would redefine cell phone design and use.

“Look how great the IPod turned out,” he said. “So who wants to miss that revolution? That’s why there’s all this big hype for the IPhone.”

In Bethesda, some people passing by were surprised by the line, which almost stretched to the corner of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues.

“I’ve never seen a line this long in Bethesda for anything,” said Beatrice Parker, 18, from Chevy Chase, who was walking by the store at about 5:40 p.m.

“That was until the Apple store came in, I guess.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.