- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

About two dozen iPhone fanatics, eager to be the first on the street with the newest version of the popular gadget, lined up early at the Chinatown AT&T; store Friday for the phone’s 7 a.m. release.

First in line was Mark Whiting.

“I’m really into the phone’s hardware: the faster connection speed, the GPS, the TomTom [navigation system],” said Mr. Whiting, 38, of Upper Marlboro. “I got in line at 5 o’clock this morning, and it’s the third year I’ve done it.”

Apple Inc. announced the release of the iPhone 3G S at the January MacWorld conference, and the company has been promoting it with upgrades and price cuts ever since.

After Palm launched its Pre smartphone on June 6, Apple cut the price of the old iPhone to $99 - half the price of the Pre. Last week, it released a free upgrade to the 3.0 version of the iPhone’s operating system for anyone with the previous edition of the phone. And Friday’s release of the 3G S brings users faster Internet connection and better coverage. It can hold 32 gigabytes of data and music and has a processor twice as fast as its predecessor. The 32-gigabyte phone costs $299, while the 16-gigabyte version has a $199 price tag.

But for all the advances, this year’s release didn’t match the excitement surrounding early versions.

“I figured the line would be longer,” said Brian Kendrik-Brown, a D.C. resident and No. 4 in line outside the store. He said the iPhone line he joined last year in Chicago was much bigger, and he had heard the Chinatown line went half way around the block in 2008. He arrived at the Chinatown store in his car about 1:30 a.m. to wait, but fell asleep in his seat and was roused by a friend when the line started to form.

“Normally you have to shake me like crazy to wake me up, but this time I woke right up and ran to the line,” said Mr. Kendrik-Brown, 30.

“It will be a great sales day,” said Colin Martin, director of sales for AT&T; Inc. in the District. He declined to discuss exact figures but said AT&T;’s use of preorders in the weeks before the launch increased sales and will allow customers who signed up to avoid lines and collect their phones any time.

Nearly half of the people waiting outside Friday had preordered their phones, and they were allowed to enter the store 20 minutes before those who had been in line for hours. Inside, 10 employees worked to help customers set up their phones, while other workers roamed the showroom and showed off accessories to the customers.

John Larson, 27, gazed cheerily at his new gadget as he left the store around 7:25 a.m. He said he preordered a few days after the MacWorld announcement of the new phone, and described the online process as “painless.”

Mr. Larson was excited about the “At Bat” application, which lets users keep up with baseball scores, listen to radio broadcasts from the home and away teams’ local stations and watch streaming video.

“I’ve been waiting for two years and I couldn’t wait a minute longer,” said Mr. Larson, of Whittier, Calif. “I’m a huge West Coast sports fan, especially the Dodgers, so this will be great.”

Line-stander No. 3, a 32-year-old woman from the District, will remain nameless for the sake of a Father’s Day surprise.

“My husband is a Mac man, and he’s been doing really awesome lately,” she said. “So I told him I was coming into work really early this morning, and I came straight here.”

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