Apple iPhone buyers queue through the night

It is sleek, shiny and you want one, you really want one! The seemingly hypnotic effect of Apple's iPhone smartphone has successfully crossed the Atlantic, creating just as much fuss in the first two European countries to get the handset as it did when it went on sale in the US back in July.

Hundreds of Apple fans braved rain and wind to grab the first places in the queue outside Apple's flagship UK store in London's Regent Street, where the phone goes on sale today at 6.02pm. Those queuing through the night huddled under umbrellas provided by the store and used carrier bags to keep their feet warm and dry through a horrible night of weather. Meanwhile the German city of Cologne was among the first in Europe to get their hands on the coveted iPhone.

A few hundred people lined up at a Deutsche Telekom shop, where mobile operator T-Mobile allowed customers to buy the music-playing and web-browsing device at midnight before the phone goes on sale across the country later today.

Sales staff cheered and applauded when the first dozen customers entered the store, which is located in the downtown shopping district of Cologne across from a Vodafone store.

Vodafone lost out to T-Mobile, O2 and Orange to sell the iPhone in Germany, the UK and France respectively, but will start selling what it claims is a similar multimedia handset from Samsung on Friday.

T-Mobile representatives handed out blankets, umbrellas as well as hot tea, coffee and pretzels for those still waiting outside.

"All of us are Mac fans," said a man who works in a MP3 store and was still waiting with two of his friends. "The iPhone is the best phone in the world," he said.

Deutsche Telekom's chief executive Rene Obermann has pinned high hopes on the iPhone, which he said will attract new customers in Germany, where the firm faces tough competition from other mobile operators.

Europe's biggest telecoms group by sales declined to give a sales expectation and did not divulge how many phones it had in stock.

A T-Mobile spokesman merely said: "We have plenty."

The iPhone melds a phone, web browser and media player and costs 399 (277) in Germany, and 269 in the UK - both require a contract price plan. Customers are obliged to agree to a two-year contract with T-Mobile for monthly fees between 49 and 89, while O2 requires a 18-month contract costing between 35 and 55 a month.

Almost all of the people lining up to buy the phone were men.

"It was love at first sight," a fifty-year-old man said.

"It's ingeniously simple and simply ingenious," another man added, who said he has been an Apple user since 1984.

When iPhones went on sale on June 29 in the US, Apple fans endured heat and downpours to queue for days to buy what has been dubbed the "Jesus Phone" by bloggers who see it as the ultimate mobile device.

Apple has since sold over a million iPhones since launch, and has ambitions to sell 10 million units by the end of 2008.

In France the iPhone will be on sale at the end of November.