Apple has launched its much-awaited iPhone in the UK. At 6.02pm this evening the waiting hordes were let into more than 1,300 Apple, O2 and Carphone Warehouse stores across the land to buy the device, which is a touchscreen iPod, mobile phone and internet browser all in one.
The scenes at the Apple Store in Regent Street, London resembled Beatlemania. A huge countdown took place as media scrambled to get through the door. Over at the O2 store on Oxford Street things were a little more genteel with around 30 people queueing by the time we left for Regent Street. O2 bods waited outside the door shouting "iPhone launch in 30 minutes" and the like, encouraging people to queue and handing out bottled water and cookies.
We're constantly uploading new pictures from the launch - see them here.
When we got to the Apple Store we joined a media queue. The scrum when we managed to get access (also at 6.02pm) was phenomenal. We headbutted a camera man and tripped over a newspaper photographer - it was a real battle for elbow room as Apple hosts greeted the first few buyers through the door with whoops and chants. They were ushered upstairs at the back of the store and emerged to walk down the main staircase in front of waiting photographers.
They held up their phones as they came down the stairs, delirious at the whole experience. Those in the queue seemed happy to have waited since the early hours in the cold. "We're here for the experience," said Sara and Matt from north London, having queued up since 5.30am this morning. "It's been fun actually - we've been fed and watered, and received lots of goody bags. Now we can't wait to get inside."
Chris, 24, spoke to Tech.co.uk just as he had laid his hands on his very own Apple iPhone. "I only queued up for a couple of hours so it hasn't been too bad. I've never been to an Apple launch before so this is really exciting."
'It's got all the latest technology'
One of the first ladies to get their hands on the phone, Darwina, said she loved the iPhone "Why? It's got all the latest technology - more than I'll ever use." And did she want it that bad to queue? "Of course!"
All the people we spoke to at the launch said they would honour O2's 18-month contract, and not risk having their Apple iPhone 'bricked' by any future firmware updates.
We also bumped into Nick Wilkins, O2's PR manager, who said the turnout was "quite mad". "It's so great to see so many people here, and I'm really proud of what we've done."
As we walked away to write this, a Scottish man across the road asked us "who was over there" We replied it was the iPhone launch. "No celebs?" he replied. "No," we said, "just a phone."
By contrast, there were 10 people at the Carphone Warehouse in Frome.
The 8GB phone was first announced by Steve Jobs at Macworld way back in January and has been available in the US since July - sales of the device have topped 1.4 million there. September saw Apple announce O2 as its partner network for the UK since when iPhone fever has been well and truly upon us
The iPhone has received much acclaim for its multi-touch interface (also seen in the iPod touch) resulting in a pinch-and-pull web and picture browsing experience. The interface can also respond to delicate touches, meaning it's possible to flick through lists of songs or album covers.
However, the device has also garnered criticism for its lack of intuitive texting as well as no fast 3G web access - instead the iPhone uses the slower EDGE technology. O2 is rolling out an EDGE network and will have 40 per cent UK coverage by Christmas - all in urban areas. There are also more minor niggles such as a lack of MMS support or video-calling capabilities.
There has also been controversy for the iPhone. Reports suggest that thousands of US iPhone owners have hacked their phone to take third-party applications - as many as 250,000 units are rumoured to be untethered to one of the official contracts there. Apple has advised against this, as iPhone updates could render the device unusable.
Contracts start at £35
Purchasers will have to sign up to one of three O2 contracts starting at £35 and a maximum of two phones can be bought per person. All three tariffs include unlimited web browsing and email access as well as free use of The Cloud's 7,500 UK wireless hotspots. Activation is done at home using iTunes rather than in store and the iPhone is compatible with both Mac and PC.
"O2 stores are fully geared up for what will be the year's biggest product launch", said Mark Stansfeld, O2's sales director. "We've hired and trained hundreds of new iPhone specialists who will be in all 450 O2 stores giving live demos and showing customers how to get the most out of their iPhone".
We'll be updating this piece to bring you the very latest news and pictures from the launch as we get it.