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French Early Adopters Snatch Up Apple iPhones

French fans of Apple Inc. finally have a chance to buy the much-hyped iPhone, with evening openings Wednesday at 12 select stores here, including mobile carrier Orange's new boutique on Paris' most famous avenue, the Champs-Elysees.

"It's quite expensive but it's worth it," said Philippe Amardielh, 20, waiting in line since 9:30 a.m. to claim the first iPhone in Paris when doors open at 6:30 p.m.

"I've already prepared my Mac to synchronize everything — my contacts, my music, my favorite Internet sites," he said.

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Didier Lombard, head of Orange parent France Telecom, said he hopes to sell as many as 100,000 of the handset by the end of the year, despite its high price tag. It goes on sale nationwide on Thursday.

The iPhone, which combines a cell phone with an iPod media player and can wirelessly access the Internet, has shaken up the "smart phone" market and set other manufacturers scrambling to add features.

Named invention of the year by Time Magazine for its design, feel and pioneering software, the iPhone has won over users since it debuted June 29 in the United States.

Apple has sold over 1.4 million iPhones already and hopes to sell 10 million in 2008, helped by its launch in Europe, then in Asia next year. In German, 10,000 sold on Nov. 9 alone, the day it made its European debut.

Lombard hopes the popular handset will bring new customers into his stores.

Europe has presented two challenges to Apple's strategy of offering iPhones through a single mobile operator for each region.

French consumer law requires Orange to sell handsets that are "unlocked" and able to work on any carrier, which Orange will do. And Germany's Deutsche Telekom is selling an unlocked phone via its T-Mobile unit after a Hamburg court ordered it to, in response to a challenge from rival Vodafone Group PLC.

Unlocked handsets will cost about $965.32 in France, much less than the $1,485.91 T-Mobile is charging in Germany. It costs about $149 to have a handset unlocked independently.

Customers who put SIM cards from Orange's rivals into an unlocked iPhone run the risk of not being able to use all of its features or seeing their phones melt down after software updates.

Orange will offer locked iPhones for about $593 — the same price as T-Mobile in Germany — with two-year service subscriptions, which offer unlimited access to e-mail and the Web.

AT&T Inc. sells the 8-gigabyte iPhone for $399 in the United States, having slashed the price by a third about 10 weeks after its debut.

Consumers in Britain, where the iPhone is sold by exclusively by O2 — pay about $556. European price tags include value-added tax, which can be as much as 20 percent.

Flouting the exclusive deal between Apple and Orange, a French Web site has been offering the iPhone since Monday tied to contracts with Orange's competitors.

On phoneandphone.com, an iPhone with a Bouygues Telecom contract costs about $445. The site already sold some iPhones but, following legal threats from Apple, it agreed at the end of October to stop until the gadget came on to the European market this month.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment. But Orange spokesman Louis-Michel Aymard said the company is prepared to take legal action to ensure the companies' agreement is respected.