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Customers flock to stores to snag new iPhone models

Shoppers looking to buy Apple’s new iPhone 7 smartphones on Friday better have ordered ahead. Brisk demand left some stores sold out, leaving those who purchased online with the best chance to get their hands on the latest models — and some resorting to extreme measures.

Apple stores around the world turned away would-be customers who hadn’t already ordered online. At the Covent Garden location in London, a security guard told people to try back in a few days. A few hundred who had booked ahead stood in a barricaded line, in the rain, waiting to collect their devices. In New York at the company’s store near Central Park, one man had been waiting in line for three days, and he wasn’t even at the front of the queue. Still, he was hopeful he’d walk away with a phone.

At one AT&T store in Las Vegas, at 920 S. Rampart Blvd. in Boca Park, there was a small line early Friday. But by early afternoon, traffic at the store appeared normal.

Apple made several changes to its flagship product — the new iPhones feature camera upgrades, a faster processor, longer battery life and a new water and dust-resistant design. But their size and shape aren’t that different from the iPhone 6 line, apart from one key change: the removal of the headphone jack. That doesn’t seem to have deterred customers showing up on Friday on the first day of sales.

The challenge for Apple now, as in years past, is making sure there are enough of the gadgets to meet demand. Customers who hadn’t pre-ordered the larger iPhone 7 Plus models will be unable to buy them in Apple stores Friday, the company said earlier this week.

That’s already leading to black-market tactics. People outside the Covent Garden store were seen exchanging wads of cash to buy handsets from somebody who had ordered ahead.

The 5.5-inch-screen model boasts a dual back-facing camera system, and analysts said inadequate supply of components for that feature has held up manufacturing.

“We had known for some time that dual lens parts would be constrained at launch; nobody across the board is shipping these components in volume,” said Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies. “The fact that all iPhone 7 Plus models are constrained is a sign of the supply chain.”

The sight of hundreds of iPhone buyers waiting outside Apple stores to buy the latest handset has long been a ritual of the company’s marketing. Yet expectations for the iPhone 7 had been muted before it was unveiled in San Francisco last week amid slowing growth in global smartphone sales. Analysts will be left guessing at early demand anyway because Apple won’t disclose initial weekend sales numbers for the new models, breaking with the tradition of past years.

There are two versions of the new iPhone: the 7 and 7 Plus, which start at $649 and $769 respectively. Both come in silver, gold, rose gold, matte black and jet black colors. The first customers to obtain the new models were in the eastern hemisphere, starting in New Zealand and spreading west to Australia, Japan and China.

The more complicated manufacturing process for the jet black versions of the iPhone 7 may also have held up supply. The production requires nine different stages to achieve the glossy black finish, Apple has said. The jet black version of the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 has also sold out, while the smaller iPhone’s other color options will still be in stores Friday, according to the company.

Las Vegas Review-Journal photojournalist David Becker contributed to this report.

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