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iPhone 5 frenzy spreads to South Florida as the loyal and eager pick up their new toys

In a now familiar global ritual, Apple fans jammed shops from Sydney to South Beach to pick up the tech juggernaut’s latest iPhone.

Eager buyers formed long lines Friday at Apple stores in Asia, Europe and North America to be the first to get their hands on the latest version of the smartphone. South Florida locations were also swamped, including Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, where more than 300 people waited early Friday despite early rain.

Lloyd Pearson, 30, an entrepreneur, web designer, and self-professed poet, was first to enter the South Beach store with a card that corresponded to the serial number of a new iPhone 5. He’d been in line since 7 p.m. Thursday.

"I consider myself to be ahead of the tech curve. I’m waiting for them to catch up with my ideas," he said after 12 hours camped out in front of the store. "I used to have an iPhone but it got stolen, so I’ve been in withdrawal. I’ve been out here all night, I didn’t sleep and I got rained on a bit. But I’ll get to sleep tonight with my new iPhone.”

The smartphone went on sale in the United States and Canada at 8 a.m. Friday, hours after its launch in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Britain, France and Germany. It will launch in 22 more countries next week. Many true tech enthusiasts pre-ordered their new toys, and the people congregating at South Florida stores were a mix of self-professed geeks and casual consumers.

The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, has a taller screen, faster processor, updated software and can work on faster "fourth generation" mobile networks. The handset has become a hot seller despite initial lukewarm reviews and new map software that is glitch prone. Apple received two million orders in the first 24 hours of announcing its release date, more than twice the number for the iPhone 4S in the same period when that phone launched a year ago.

Shares of Apple Inc. rose $5.80 to reach the new high of $704.50 in early trading. Shares surpassed $700 for the first time on Tuesday.

In what appeared to be standard protocol at Apple stores around the world, each person in line on Lincoln Road was escorted inside by a blue-shirted Apple employee. The one-on-one service helped people get set up with their new phones and limited the number of customers in the store at one time. People kept arriving and filing into the barricade-constructed line at the South Beach location well into the evening on Friday.

Gabriel Farha, a 30-year-old film producer from Sao Paulo, came to Miami from Brazil specifically to get the iPhone 5. He was staying in a hotel near the Lincoln Road Apple store, and when he lined up at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, he was the 10th person in line. He said he has “almost every Apple product,” and he didn’t want to wait until January to get the newest toy in Brazil, where it would be much more expensive.

“I can’t say this phone is really revolutionary, but just to look at it is like a piece of art,” he said. “It’s like jewelry. It’s like a Rolex.”

Other hopeful customers described the bigger screen, faster operating system and connection to 4G networks as the most awaited features.

Verizon Wireless spokesperson Chuck Hemby said he was “confident” the Verizon 4G LTE network could handle the additional traffic. The new smartphone will also be compatible with AT&T and Sprint 4G LTE networks.

There was a “festive and exciting atmosphere” outside the North Miami Verizon store on 147th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, said Julio Chavez, Verizon Wireless manager for Miami-Dade and Broward.

“Nobody was upset about the line because everyone knew this was a product they would have to wait for,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see every location sell out.”

Chavez said Miami Heat player Rashard Lewis was among those who stopped by the North Miami store Friday morning to get the new iPhone 5.

Analysts have estimated Apple will ship as many as 10 million of the new iPhones by the end of September. Inventory figures were not available at South Florida stores, but employees said they expect to sell out. By midday on Friday, there were no more 64-gigabyte phones available in South Beach, and there was still an hour and a half wait to get an iPhone 5 model with less memory.

Some enterprising individuals and organizations are seeking to capitalize on Apple users’ appetite for fresh features. the Ann Storck Center in Broward for children and adults with disabilities is asking for people to donate their old iPhones.

Terry Kay was at the Apple store on Lincoln Road trying to buy old phones for his store in Miramar. By midday he had bought 75 used phones for up to $320 each, depending on the quality and model. He even had Pearson, the first person in line, buy him a new iPhone5.

Pearson emerged from the Apple store an hour after he was the first customer in South Beach to get the coveted device. He opened the sleek black box, hesitating to touch the glimmer of smartphone perfection that lay nestled on top of its headphones and charger.

“This is pretty cool,” he said as he peeled off the protective plastic. “It’s like magic.”

This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.