Hard to Get: New iPhone Already Sold Out at Some Japanese Stores

Customers line up in the hundreds to buy the iPhone 4 in Tokyo. But some stores reported selling out within hours. Apple's (AAPL) newest iPhone was in short supply just hours after its global launch began in Tokyo on Thursday morning as hundreds queued outside stores across the city to become among the first in the world to own the device.

Over 300 people were lined up at the flagship store of Softbank, Japan's exclusive iPhone carrier, when its doors opened in the hip shopping district of Harajuku. The store ran out of phones by early afternoon, said company spokesman Naoki Nakayama.

"We've been selling out at each launch, it's the same conditions," he said, declining to release any numbers.

Hundreds more lined up across the city at Apple stores and other Softbank outlets across the city. Thursday's global launch of the iPhone 4 was being carried out at 7 a.m. local time in each region, so Japanese were among the first in the world to get their hands on the device. The U.S., France, U.K. and Germany are also part of the global launch.

A Runaway Hit, in Spite of Slow Network

When the initial version of the iPhone was released in Japan two years ago, some questioned whether it could succeed without many of the advanced hardware features common on Japanese models. But the phone's addictive touch screen and broad selection of downloadable applications have made it a runaway hit in the country.

The newest model is thinner with a better-resolution screen and longer battery life. It features a new operating system that can also be installed on some older models.

Even among Apple's most faithful, some said the phone has become a victim of its own success in Japan.

"As Softbank has cut prices and more and more people signed up, it has made the network much slower," said Motoki Sato, a university student who waited outside of Softbank's store in central Shibuya.

But he still waited through the night before the launch along with dozens of others at the Shibuya store, to get "a birthday present for myself" when he turned 24 on Thursday. He occasionally glanced at his black iPad as he spoke, and said he tried not use his older iPhone too much to conserve battery life through the long wait.

A swarm of pre-orders earlier in the week also led to long lines around Tokyo and overwhelmed computer servers struggling to keep up with demand.

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