Apple's latest iPhone arrived to an enthusiastic response from buyers camped out at stores Friday, but many observers noted the crowds were smaller than those that gathered for previous releases.
The iPhone 4S, which went on sale in seven countries, is faster and comes with better software and an improved camera.
But with the fifth unveiling of its popular iPhone, Apple is finding it difficult to maintain the excitement of past iPhone introductions. For starters, the phone is more widely available than in the past. In addition to Apple stores, people can buy the phone from one of three wireless carriers: AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Wireless. Some Best Buy, Target and Walmart stores and authorized resellers also carry the phones. Buyers also were able to pre-order the phone on Apple's website and have it shipped to their home or office.
In Santa Rosa, Apple fans lined up outside the downtown Verizon store before its doors opened at 8 a.m.
"We've been full from the start," said Devin Halliday, manager of the Verizon store on Fourth Street.
Chelle White was in line Friday morning at the Verizon store on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, waiting for her first iPhone.
The Santa Rosa mom said she's excited about several of the phone's features. "I have newborn twins, and I need video and a camera for the grandparents," she said.
The iPhone 4S is a big step up from her old mobile device, White said. "It's not this phone and it has a screen that works," she said.
But many diehard Apple fans and investors were disappointed that Apple didn't launch a more radically redesigned new model — an iPhone 5. It's been more than a year since Apple's previous model was released.
That also may have contributed to smaller gatherings at some Apple locations.
"People are not as excited about this version as they might have been if a (iPhone) 5 came out," said Charles Prosser, 50, a retired teacher and a computer technician from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Even so, hundreds of buyers camped out in front of stores for hours to be among the first to get an iPhone 4S. In the U.S., sales began at 8 a.m. in each time zone. About 200 people were at Apple's Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan as the iPhone 4S went on sale.
Steve Wozniak, who created Apple with Steve Jobs in a Silicon Valley garage in 1976, was first in line at a store in Los Gatos, Calif. Wozniak got in line at the California store even though he already had two new phones on the way. He told television station NBC11 on Thursday that while he waited for the store's opening Friday morning, he planned on getting caught up on his email and chatting with fans.
Many said the event resembled a remembrance to Jobs, who died last week, a day after Apple Inc. announced the new phone.
Emily Smith, a 27-year-old user experience designer in New York, checked in to the line on the location-centric social network Foursquare. She got a virtual Steve Jobs badge that read: "Here's to the crazy ones. #ThankYouSteve."
Others joked that the 4S model stood "for Steve."
Tony Medina, a 25-year-old student from Manhattan, got in line at 11 p.m. and stayed despite getting soaked by an overnight thunderstorm. He said he planned on ordering the phone online, but decided to join the crowds to honor Jobs. "For loyalty, I felt I had to do the line," he said. "I had to say thank you."