Charlotte heeds the call of the new iPhone

An overnight stay in his car at SouthPark mall didn't seem unreasonable for Daniel Eller of Charlotte, who said he had waited more than a year for an Apple iPhone.

Arriving around 10 p.m. Thursday, the 26-year-old camped out in the parking lot until the mall opened at 6 a.m. Friday. He was first in line when the mall's Apple store opened its doors at 8 a.m. for the release of the new iPhone.

“I know,” Eller said. “I'm now that guy.”

Eller said he didn't buy the phone last year because he had a contract with a wireless company other than AT&T, which has an exclusive contract to provide service for the iPhone. The much-anticipated latest version of the device offers a series of new features, including faster Internet access, at half the price of last year's model. The 8-gigabyte version costs $199; the 16-gigabyte is $299.

By 7:15 a.m., a line of more than 100 people wound through the back hallways of the mall. Joining them at 7:30 a.m. was Ken Weicholz, 42, of Charlotte.

“The line is much bigger than I expected it would be,” said Weicholz, an information technology specialist for Wachovia.

Weicholz, who has used Apple products since the 1980s, said he waited until the phone was faster before buying it. He said he was excited about using the phone to surf the Internet with speeds similar to a regular computer.

Anne Geary, a commercial interior designer, was second in line at SouthPark last June for the release of the first iPhone. The Charlottean had arrived at 6 a.m. and waited until the phones went on sale 12 hours later. The store closed its doors and covered windows several hours before the iPhone went on sale.

“There was much more mystery last year,” said Geary, who did not line up Friday morning but planned to return in the afternoon to get her new phone.

Apple's decision to have customers activate phones in the stores threatened to slow down operations Friday, with employees estimating it would take 15-30 minutes to set up each customer.

Clay Johanson of Charlotte, who was buying his third iPhone on Friday, said he was in and out of the store in minutes when he bought his first iPhone. Last year, customers activated their phones at home, a practice Apple moved away from this year to prevent people from using the phone with other wireless providers.

Johanson, a technical support consultant, said he was most excited about the new iPhone's faster Internet speed and global positioning system. “I'm a geek,” he said. “I've got to have my toys.”

The line moved slowly Friday, as worries of the store running out of iPhones were calmed by store employees.

It took more than 15 minutes for the first iPhone buyer – already an AT&T customer – to leave the store. The second in line, Aaron Chen of Charlotte, took nearly 30 minutes to wrap up his purchase.

Amid reports of sellouts in stores across the U.S. and other countries, SouthPark's Apple store still had iPhones available as of 4 p.m. But there also was still a line to get in the store, one employee said. Most local AT&T stores had sold out, said Della Bowling, a spokeswoman for the wireless company.

While Eller had been first in line, his iPhone purchase was foiled when AT&T checked his credit. Eller said his identity was stolen three months ago, and the wireless company was struggling to verify his identity.

“I'm at a crucial point where I decide to give up and go home,” he said at 9:01 a.m.

At that point, Eller said he was more than an hour late for his job as an investment banker. Shortly after that, a store employee told Eller it would take anywhere from a week to a month to resolve the issue.

Eller then left – exhausted and still waiting for an iPhone.