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Apple’s iPhone 4S in stores today

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Apple’s latest iPhone, the 4S, hit store shelves Friday at 8 a.m. across the country. This should be a big launch, with the handset coming to the nation’s top three carriers, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

In Los Gatos, Calif., the first one in line for the phone was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who checked in to the store via foursquare on Thursday.

“The long wait begins. I’m first in line. The guy ahead was on the wrong side, and he’s pissed,” Wozniak wrote. Wozniak also unlocked the “Jobs badge” from foursquare, which reads, “Here’s to the crazy ones. ThankYouSteve.”

Washington Post reporter Michael Rosenwald is on location at the Bethesda store this morning, where about 100 people lined up at the store ahead of the launch.

It’s not clear how big the lines will be as the day progresses, because pre-order sales were such a huge hit.

Bloomberg reported that the pre-orders of the phone sold out Thursday — the 16GB model on Sprint was sold out, while Verizon and AT&T Web sites showed a two- to three-week shipping estimate for the phone.

Other factors could affect the demand for this iPhone. Many consumers said they were disappointed by the new version, while analysts predict that the reaction to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’s death could produce more demand for the final phone of the Jobs era. Still, lines across the country aren’t quite as big as they have been for other product launches, according to news reports and Twitter descriptions.

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt relayed the sad tale of three men who had planned to sell their (No. 3, 4, and 5) spots in line to Apple fans coming to the line late. But as of 6:30 a.m., DeWitt reported, there were no takers from the 261-person line.

That hasn’t been the case in Asia and Europe, where lines were much longer. Rob Shoesmith, the British blogger who camped out for 10 days for the phone as part of a promotional experiment, said that “thousands” were lined up at London’s Covent Garden store to get their hands on the phone.

YouTube videos of stores in Japan, Australia, Germany and Belgium show similar lines.

Related stories:

The Buzz: iPhone 4S release draws sleepy fans to Apple stores

Apple iPhone 4S review: It’s the software that’s a surprise

iPhone 4S: Review roundup

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