Post-Jobs, Apple unleashes new iPhone

TOKYO - Apple fans in Australia and Japan on Friday became the first to get their hands on the new iPhone as the US technology giant unleashed its first device since the death of co-founder Steve Jobs.

In a party atmosphere, hundreds of people queued outside Apple's four-storey flagship Sydney store and at its counterpart in Tokyo, filming the experience on their iPhones and iPads as staff inside clapped, cheered and chanted.

"It feels amazing, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world so far," said Sydneysider Tom Mosca, 15, who was first through the door after queuing for more than three days to snare an iPhone 4S.

"I did it for Steve Jobs as a tribute. I was very sad at his passing," he told AFP on the pavement outside, where flowers surrounded a picture of the Apple icon who died last week aged 56 after suffering from cancer.

The iPhone 4S is already a record-breaker for an Apple product, with more than one million sales in the first 24 hours of pre-orders around the world last week.

Bidding to build on the proven track record of the best-selling smartphone, Apple says the latest iteration boasts faster speeds, a voice-controlled assistant called Siri and an improved camera.

For some it looks too similar to its predecessor and many fans, investors and analysts were initially underwhelmed following its October 4 unveiling, but sales are expected to benefit from an outpouring of sympathy for Jobs.

In Japan, service provider Softbank will for the first time no longer be the exclusive iPhone carrier as rival KDDI joins the fray. Both held separate countdown ceremonies in Tokyo's Omotesando district to celebrate its launch.

More than 200 people queued at the Softbank store for the morning launch of the new model, with silver confetti showering down as fans cheered.

"I met Steve (Jobs) for the last time in June," Softbank president Masayoshi Son said. "He looked thin but his eyes were sparkling, talking about his work with passion. Let's praise this great piece of Steve together."

A server problem later forced Softbank to temporarily suspend sales for three hours as its system went down under a flood of orders, leaving it unable to process registrations.

The launch of the iPhone 4S comes at a testing time for smartphone rival Research in Motion, whose BlackBerry system has this week been impaired by glitches across the world, to the chagrin of its frustrated subscribers.

RIM has struggled this year with weaker sales of the BlackBerry against rivals such as the iPhone, various models from Taiwan's HTC, and other handsets running Google's Android software.

However, huge questions now hang over the future of Apple, with the spotlight on Tim Cook, who was made chief executive of the Cupertino, California-based company in August after Jobs's resignation.

The performance of the new iPhone will be seen as an early test for Apple's life after Jobs, the creative visionary whose death was mourned worldwide by government leaders, industry titans and ordinary fans alike.

On Friday the iPhone 4S also launches in Germany, France, Britain, the United States and Canada, before rolling out in 22 more countries by the end of October.

In the United States the smartphone will sell for between US$199 (S$250) and US$399 (S$510), depending on memory capacity.

Early reviews have praised the Siri assistant for its ability to handle a diverse array of tasks. But in Japan the name has provoked sniggers given the closeness of its name to the Japanese word shiri - a slang term for buttocks.

The feature did not support the Japanese language at launch time.

With the launch of iPhone 4S also comes the launch of iO5, Apple's latest mobile operating system boasting 200 new features and iCloud, a service that automatically and wirelessly stores content and pushes it to Apple devices.