CNET's crew was on hand at Apple's flagship Manhattan store on Fifth Avenue. We also covered similar events at Apple's Grand Central store in New York and other Apple stores in San Francisco; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Paris. On the scene for CNET in New York this morning was Greg Sandoval at the Fifth Avenue store and Shara Tibken and Sarah Tew at the Grand Central Station store. Josh Lowensohn was in San Francisco, and James Martin was in Palo Alto. (Roger Cheng also reported from carrier stores in Manhattan.)
The iPhone went on sale this morning at Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Radio Shack. The retail outlets of AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are also selling the device.
For a final check of the prices: Apple is selling unlocked 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models for $649, $749, and $849 respectively. With a two-year contract from a participating carrier, the same models go for $199, $299, and $399.
Below is the transcript of our reports on what was happening as it happened, in reverse chronological order (most-recent items up top).
10:45 a.m. PT, San Francisco Well, that's a wrap, folks. Now that the iPhone 5 is safely in the hands of West Coast fanboys, gadget freaks, and just plain ol' consumers, we're appending our final period to this live coverage. We'll certainly have more stories and slideshows today, though, so keep your eye out for those.
10:25 a.m. PT, San Francisco Apple's supply chain keeps on humming. While customers are coming out of the front of the store with new iPhones in hand, Apple is replenishing its supply through the back door. A timely UPS delivery brings in dozens of boxes full of iPhones, a process that's watched closely by the store's security guards. "Can I have a box or two?" a passerby yells out, possibly not joking.
If one thing's clear, it's that this store is very well stocked. That was the case last year as well, though it's a stark contrast to the shortage faced by new buyers purchasing an iPhone 5 from Apple's online store or from a carrier partner. There, you have a three-to-four-week wait. As it stands, there's about a half-hour wait outside the store here.
10:00 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET New York's finest are out in force at the city's Apple stores today where they are registering devices for new iPhone 5 owners, as per a report in the Gothamist. The police created the "Anti-Apple Picking Campaign" to combat what the cops say has turned into a big problem for local law enforcement: the theft of electronic devices -- primarily iPhones.
In a statement, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said:
Operation ID is provided to the public at no cost. Officers register the serial number of valuable portable electronics along with the owner's name and contact information. Items can also be engraved with a uniquely identifiable serial number prefaced with the letters "N.Y.C." The program enables police to trace stolen property in the possession of a thief to its rightful owner, or identify found property and return it to the rightful owner.
Members of the public are invited to bring their portable electronic devices to NYPD personnel stationed at any Apple retail store, and the other locations, to register their devices. Such valuables may also be registered at any time through the crime prevention officer at any police station.
9:20 a.m. PT, San Francisco: With a long but shrinking line outside the Apple flagship store, it's a different story outside the nearby AT&T and Verizon stores. At Verizon, there were just a few people outside, and the rep said there were models on the floor and in stock. The line at AT&T was a bit longer, with about a dozen folks.
One buyer at the AT&T store, who preferred to go unnamed, said he was there for his second phone of the day. He had already picked one up after showing up at 7:30 a.m.
One thing I was curious about is how much stock of the USB-to-Lightning cables Apple would have in stock. The item appeared to be just about sold out online, with new orders slated to ship next month. The answer, it turns out, is that this store had tons of 'em. Not in stock, however, were the 30-Pin-to-Lightning adapters, something people with existing cables in their car or home office would need to pick up in order to use the newer device.
8:12 a.m. PT, San Francisco flagship store: The first buyers have already come and gone. The first one in and out was the man who paid someone $1,500 to stand in line for him till the last minute. The buyer refused to give his name or speak with the press after he exited the store. He did, however, gleefully hold up his phone with a smile as he left.
Also making an appearance here is Cory Moll, the founder of the Apple Workers Retail Union. Moll, whom CNET spoke with last year, said he's here to advocate for rights, including better working conditions -- right down to clean drinking water -- for Apple's employees. By "clean water," Moll meant drinking fountains for store employees. This was specifically an item of interest for people in the company's stores in France, Moll told us, saying it was a cultural thing not to drink the tap water.
Moll, who starts a 12-hour shift at the Apple store in just a couple of hours, said he's gotten positive responses from people in line who gave him a thumbs-up or a "rock on" (with their middle and ring fingers tucked into their palm as if they were at a rock concert). However the people he's been playing to are the employees themselves, whom Moll has made an effort to unionize to get things like better wages, a better structure for promotions, and, as mentioned, more amenities for the employees behind the scenes.
7:45 a.m. PT, San Francisco store: Who's just behind the guy in front? Two friends and business partners, Hugo Gonzales and Cristian Soto, who run an electronics repair business called Compupod. The duo, who have been here since Wednesday, are buying iPhones for work and fun. Their business involves repairing phones, 90 percent of which they say are iPhones.
Soto noted that he's looking forward to the new design since it's easier to replace the screen than with previous models -- something that could save the two money. Oddly enough, Gonzales will already have an iPhone 5 waiting for him when he goes home today. He preordered it online and is here to keep Soto company.
7:24 a.m. PT, San Francisco flagship store: Good morning from San Francisco. I'm at the SF flagship store on Stockton Street in the downtown area, not far from Union Square. The line here is considerably shorter than the one for the third-generation iPad in March. As usual, line-goers have been given water and other snacks to keep them going. Who's at the front of the line? It's not some rookie, but a man named Charlie Hufnagel, who's been here most of the week in exchange for $1,500 from TaskRabbit.
Inside the store, employees are buzzing around, chatting with each other, looking at phones, and generally smiling. We'll have more from here soon.
10:20 a.m. ET Gene Munster has been counting noses and he likes what he sees. In a note issued this morning, Piper Jaffrey's noted Apple analyst says that the 775 customers waiting in line for Apple's flagship Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan to open was 70 percent longer than the number of people who stood in line for the iPhone 4S launch -- and that despite Apple taking twice as many online preorders. In fact, he writes, given the length of the lines at the three stores observed by the Piper Jaffrey crew, he said the firm was "incrementally more confident in Apple's ability to sell 8 million phones in the launch weekend."
10:12 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: Apple is moving people in and out quickly, but there are still about 100 people in line. Some of the line sitters I spoke with this week just told me that about 200 people joined the line last night around midnight who boasted they were there only to buy and then quickly sell the phone overseas. Apparently there's enough profit margin in selling the phone in places like China to pay line sitters to camp out for eight hours.
10:05 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: Here's some good news for you West Coasters. Hazem Sayed, the second person out of the Cube, says the transaction process was smooth. No messing with SIM cards, and he believes the phone was already activated. Entry to exit, the process took about 10 minutes.
10:05 a.m. ET, Verizon store by Bryant Park, NY: Ashton Ailey stopped in the Verizon store to get a new iPhone for his birthday present. He turns 22 today and is upgrading from the iPhone 4. But Ailey had a tough decision to make -- buy the iPhone 5 unsubsidized to keep his unlimited plan or switch to a new data plan. He ended up moving to a 4GB monthly package. "I'm really upset because I had the unlimited plan," he said. But Ailey said Siri and the status of having the newest iPhone is worth it.
9:49 a.m. ET, Midtown Manhattan: If you want to get an iPhone 5 today, a carrier store is the place to be. At the Verizon Wireless store just a block away from the craziness of the Fifth Avenue Apple store, a short line snaked outside the door. The person at the front of the line, who didn't wish to be identified, said he had been waiting for only 15 minutes.
9:48 a.m. ET, Verizon store by Bryant Park, NY: Verizon employees are quick to tout the company's extensive 4G LTE network, something that sets it apart from its rival carriers with the new iPhone. Retail employees are wearing new shirts especially for the iPhone that say "4G LTE: Make The Easy Choice" on the front and have a chart showing Verizon's coverage compared to rivals on the back.
9:45 a.m. ET, Verizon store by Bryant Park, NY: Verizon's flagship store between Times Square and Bryant Park had about 50 people in line when it opened at 8 a.m. Typical wait times were about 20 minutes by 9:45 a.m., with all of the original people through the line. Esmeralda Diaz Cameron, Verizon's spokeswoman for the New York metro region, says the Bryant Park store still has plenty of inventory in stock. She, for one, won't be getting the iPhone anytime soon, and neither will other Verizon retail employees. "Customers come first," Cameron said. "Verizon employees can't get them yet."
9:30 a.m. ET, Sprint store by Bryant Park, NY: Apple wasn't the only store with lines today. Sprint's store near Manhattan's Bryant Park, just down the street from Grand Central, had about 25 to 30 people in line when it opened at 8 a.m. Store employees couldn't give CNET many other details besides saying people started waiting last night. It was the same at AT&T's store in Times Square, which didn't have a line by 10 a.m.
9:05 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: Hazem Sayed, 54, founder and CEO of social network Vibe, got the kind of promotion he sought for his startup. He spent more than a week in the line. When he came out of the store, either first or second, the media blitzed him. A scrum of reporters fought for the chance to hear his comments about the iPhone. But with people shouting and cameras whirring, it was impossible to hear him. He said earlier this week though that he may never undertake another marathon sit-in again. Over the past week, amid his second siege of an Apple store, he caught a cold, suffered from sleep deprivation, and ate fast food the entire time.
8:45 a.m. ET, NY Grand Central store: Apple is moving customers through the line at a rapid pace. Before entering the store, each person is given a slip by an Apple employee specifying exactly what phone they want -- color, storage size, and carrier -- to speed up the process. Luis Calderon, a 26-year-old employee at the Ecuadorian consulate in NYC, got in line at 7 a.m. ET and was out by 8:45 a.m. with his 32GB black iPhone 5. He wanted a 64GB phone but said the store was already sold out. Calderon may exchange the phone in the next few weeks to get the bigger storage. And Rhea Karal, a photographer in NYC, decided to stop by the store on her way to work at about 8:45. By 9 a.m. Karal, a previous BlackBerry user, was already near the front of the line.
8:30 a.m. ET, NY Grand Central store: Yuzi Lin and Marki Lin managed to nab a couple phones each, with their lucky relatives benefiting from their time standing in line. Yuzi is giving his extra phone to his mother, while Marki's sister gets his. Both have iPhone 4 models, and Marki said he needed a new phone after breaking the screen on his older one.
8:15 a.m. ET, NY Grand Central store: The first customers are victoriously leaving the store with iPhone in hand -- and for some, a rush to the bathroom after waiting in line for hours. Jonathan Green, one of the first people out of the store, made the last-minute decision to get in line at 2 a.m. The 27-year-old NYC college student plans to sell his 4S online to help pay for his new 16 GB black iPhone 5 from AT&T.
8 a.m. ET, NY Grand Central store: Lots of cheers and clapping as 8 a.m. as the first customers enter the store. Dies down pretty quickly, but commuters are still stopping to gawk at what's going on. Two NYC police officers are stationed here today -- instead of their normal post in Times Square -- to help with crowd control. Officer Brendan McGinn says there were about 150 people in line when he arrived at 5:45 a.m. "Everybody has been really good, and everybody is very excited," he said. He and Officer Laurie Campanella will stay until the first big rush is through the line, likely around noon ET.
7:50 a.m. ET, NY Grand Central store: Grand Central houses NYC's newest Apple store, but it's also a busy hub for commuters taking the trains to work. Many are stopping at the steps of Apple's store to ask how long the line is and what the wait is like. One man said he just was curious about how many people would wait, while another asked if it would be possible to be helped in the store today for something else. Store employee tells him he's welcome to wait in line, but it's not going to be quick. The man opted to leave and come back another day.
7:48 a.m. ET, Grand Central store: Apple started moving the first people in line to wait on the balconies along the store. Excitement has picked up as customers get closer to the opening hour of 8 a.m. Yousra Atmen, Karim Haraoui, and Zakaria Reda traveled all the way to NYC from Morocco, just to buy the new iPhone 5. They're each getting one phone for themselves and say they just want to have the newest Apple device possible. Atmen, 24, says she loves how smart the devices are.
7:45 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: 15 minutes to go before the doors open. Time to stake out a spot in the media line.
7:32 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: Apple employees are handing out the prized tickets. These guarantee the bearer that there will be an iPhone available for purchase once they get in the store. I think people really value these things. Every time I turn my camera toward anyone here, they immediately hold up their tickets.
7:22 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: Steve Wozniak, one of Apple's co-founders, just sent a nice e-mail reply to an interview request. I wanted to know what he expected from the iPhone 5 and if Apple had met those expectations. Woz says he's been superbusy but did wait all night for the phone. He said he did get the phone "with some difficulties."
This is the rest of what he said: "From what I can tell, the iPhone 5 is a different size with a different SIM card and different power/data connector. It also has some camera/photo improvement/fix. It also has LTE. I don't know of other differences so it's mainly the size. iOS 6 has many new features but I already had that on my iPhone 4S. One question that I'll have to get answered when I return is whether the Verizon iPhone 5 is a world phone model."
7:15 a.m. ET, NY Grand Central store: It's pretty steamy for the line in New York's train station. Customers started waiting last night outside the building but couldn't enter Grand Central until the terminal opened this morning at about 5:15 a.m. They're now lined up along the hot train tracks, a big contrast from NYC's cool weather outside. Apple store employees are keeping them hydrated with plenty of bottled water.
7:12 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: There is a lot of police. I don't remember seeing this many at previous Apple product releases here. Is that because more than a dozen members of Occupy Wall Street began camping out two nights ago? They were here protesting Apple's labor practices, but I don't see them in line. They may be out of view.
7:05 a.m. ET, NY Fifth Avenue store: Here we go. The line is building fast at Apple's flagship store in Manhattan. When I got here 90 minutes ago, the end of the line barely went a quarter of the way down 58th Street away from Fifth Avenue. If you know the area, then you know that's barely past the entrance to FAO Schwarz. Now the line is all the way down the block.
Paris: Hours before Apple stores opened in the U.S., early shoppers in Paris already had their iPhones in hand. (And some showed up to air gripes they have with Apple. You can read more here: "Apple fans and critics converge in Paris for iPhone 5."