Mazen Kourouche (right) and a friend hoist their iPhones in Sydney.

Ian Knighton / CNET

The launch of the new iPhone, an annual rite in the tech calendar, comes twice this year.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Cupertino’s latest iteration of the device that has changed the way we communicate, went on sale at Apple stores on Friday. As always, fans around the world used the launch to celebrate New iPhone Day, an unofficial but nonetheless festive holiday. (See CNET’s review of the iPhone 8 here.)

As in previous years, the faithful began assembling in Sydney well before doors at Apple’s flagship store opened at 8 a.m. AEST. A line of roughly 50 people quickly formed, but it didn’t snake around as many blocks as it has in the past. That’s because many fans are torn between an iPhone today and a more advanced model in November, when the top-off-the-line and top-of-the-price-range iPhone X hits stores.

Those who did queue in Sydney were excited but didn’t exhibit the same exuberance that’s come to be associated with Apple’s product launches. A trio of YouTubers led the line, all hoping to attract viewers with unboxing and first impression videos.

Mazen Kourouche, who waited 10 days in front of the store to ensure he would be the honorary “first buyer,” led the group and recorded the opening of both a white and black 8 Plus for his subscribers. Kourouche says he’s giving the phones to family members and will upgrade to the X when it comes out.

“I love the glass finish on the 8,” Kourouche, a 20-year-old Sydney student, said while comparing the new device to the earlier 4 model that had a similar exterior. “I appreciate this new glass finish” more than the finish on the recent line, he said. 

The 8 and 8 Plus don’t break the same design ground as the upcoming X, which does away with the iPhone’s readily identifiable home button. But they bring new features, including wireless charging, and upgrades to the camera and screen. It also carries a more modest price tag than the X, which starts at a budget-busting $999 (AU$1,579)

The X has a 5.8-inch screen, the biggest Apple has ever made for an iPhone. The bezels are razor thin, and the home button has been done away with. It also has fancy, stabilized front and rear cameras. 

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In Singapore, Amin Ahmed Dholiya was the first in a line of roughly 100 fans at the country’s Apple Store, which opened earlier this year. The 43-year-old businessman, who started the queue at 7 p.m. Thursday, flew in from India especially to buy an iPhone 8 Plus in gold as a wedding gift for his daughter. (The new iPhones arrive in India on Sept. 29.)

But Varis Sinthopruangchai, 20, an exchange student from Thailand, scored Singapore’s first iPhone 8. Instead of queuing, Sinthopruangchai pre-ordered both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus in black for his parents. He plans to return when the iPhone X is available.


Varis Sinthopruangchai, 20, an exchange student from Thailand, taking a selfie with his iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus at the Apple Store in Singapore. 

Aloysius Low/CNET

At Singtel’s iPhone 8 launch event, Eng Guan Theng bought Space Grey and Gold 8 Pluses, one for him and the other for his mother. The 30-year-old civil servant was switching back to Apple’s mobile phone after using a Samsung Note 5 for several years. . 

“It’s the second time I’m getting the iPhone,” Eng said. “I’ve been using Samsung Note 5 and I feel that it gets laggy after awhile, so I decided to go back to iPhone.” 

The celebration of the iPhone, which first went on sale in 2007, has changed over the last decade. Hundreds of people jammed Stockton Street in San Francisco to get their hands on the revolutionary device at the inaugural launch. Now, queues to get the latest Apple handset are more modest affairs.

On a bright but chilly Friday morning in London, 24-year-old Salam bin Mohammed was surprised to find himself at the front of the line in London. Outside the city’s main Apple Store on Regent Street near Oxford Circus at 7.30 a.m. he was one of about 20 people waiting to get their new iPhone. He started queuing at 10:00 p.m. Thursday night

Bin Mohammed, who works in retail management, was waiting to buy two iPhone 8 Plus phones, one for himself and one to send to his parents in India. He was upgrading from an iPhone 6s, and said he wouldn’t be getting an iPhone X, because “it’s too delicate.”

Of course, online preorders have changed the game, making the queue a demonstration of fandom rather than the quickest route to getting a device from box to hand. And this year, fans were torn between Friday’s holiday and its return in a month and a half.

Indeed, some people appeared to be making the pilgrimage out of habit and history rather than exhilaration over the prospect of a new iPhone.

In previous years queuers in London were directed to the Covent Garden store, which provides sheltered porticos under which people can take refuge from the changeable British elements. Not so outside the recently reopened Regent Street store, which provides only an exposed sliver of pavement for waiting and is just steps away from the crush of relentlessly busy Oxford Circus.

Unlike past iPhone launches, there were no camping chairs or sleeping bags in sight, although one person did arrive with a giant suitcase. Elena Kuzmenko, 35 from Russia, planned a one-day stopover in London on the way back from her holiday in Lanzarote specifically to pick up three iPhone 8 devices to take home with her. She landed in the city at 4 a.m and is due to fly Moscow, phones in hand, this evening.

Back in Sydney, Marcus Barsoum, a 17-year-old high school student whom CNET spotted last year and the year before, said he was grabbing an 8 Plus so that he could sell it to someone else. 

“Man, I just can’t wait for this thing to be over,” Barsoum said 20 minutes before the doors opened.

First published Sept. 21, 5:30 p.m. PT.
Update, 6:02 p.m.: Adds background on the new iPhones.
Update, 6:38 p.m.: Adds material from Singapore.
Update, Sept. 22, 12:46 a.m.: Adds material from London.  

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