New iPhone release draws big crowds in Manatee

MANATEE -- Hundreds of Manatee residents had Mac on the mind when they awoke before sunrise Friday morning. Others didn't bother sleeping at all.

Local consumers lined up at the AT&T store on Cortez Road in Bradenton as early as midnight to ensure themselves a new iPhone 5 before the limited supply was gone.

The crowds wrapped around the store before the 8 a.m. opening, when about a dozen would-be buyers at a time filed in to scout the new smart phone.

The bigger screen, faster processing and sleek look were the top selling points.

"I have been waiting for this for a while," said Ed Dieudonne of Bradenton, who arrived at the store at 6:30 a.m. "It's an iPhone, it only gets better."

Across the country, the picture of long lines and brisk sales were the same. In New York, crowds were heavy, especially at flagship Apple stores like the one on Fifth Avenue.

The much anticipated release of iPhone 5 on Friday was met with more local demand than any other generation of the iconic Apple product.

AT&T alone set a company record for direct-mail pre-orders, and the first morning of over-the-counter sales beat expectations.

The phones, starting at $199 for 16 gigabytes worth of memory, feature a larger 4-inch screen, lighter and slimmer frame, and 4G wireless connections. The hyped smart phone was announced by Apple on Sept. 12.

The manufacturer took 2 million pre-orders for the phone in the first 24 hours alone last week, and some retail analysts predict more than 10 million will be sold by Monday.

"There's a lot of excitement for it," said Joe Insalaco, Bradenton area retail sales manager for AT&T. "It was the highest num

ber of direct fulfills we have ever had. It was the largest iPhone launch in general -- unprecedented demand."

The crowds at AT&T began growing by 6 a.m., with a line of nearly 200 when the store opened early for the bonanza.

Salesmen were handing out juice and donuts to the eager iPhone fans waiting to be one of the first to own the new version.

Bradenton resident Zach Fincher has owned an iPhone since the second generation went on sale. He arrived at 5:50 a.m. Friday for the latest.

"You could say I am excited," he said, with his Apple bag in-hand. "I'm a big fan of the speed and larger screen."

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.