Apple will start selling its new iPhone at 8 a.m. local time nationwide on Friday and plans to activate U.S. customer accounts with AT...

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Apple will start selling its new iPhone at 8 a.m. local time nationwide on Friday and plans to activate U.S. customer accounts with AT&T within 15 minutes.

“Our expectation is that in 10 to 15 minutes, you’ll be set up and ready to go,” Ron Johnson, Apple’s retail chief, said Tuesday. Apple’s more than 185 retail stores in the U.S. each aim to handle about 100 customers an hour, he said.

The iPhone 3G, which works on faster third-generation wireless networks, will also go on sale in 21 other countries Friday, including Australia, Italy and Japan. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs wants the iPhone to become Apple’s third major business, alongside the Macintosh computer and iPod media player.

Apple released the original version of the iPhone in June 2007 and sold more than 6 million before running out in May. The company may sell as many as 4.08 million iPhones this quarter, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray.

Consumers in the U.S. can buy an 8-gigabyte model for $199, or a 16-gigabyte version for $299 from Apple or AT&T, the exclusive U.S. wireless partner. The phone comes in black or white.

Apple shares surged $4.39, or 2.5 percent, to $179.55 Tuesday. The shares have declined 9.4 percent this year.

To make sure customers aren’t buying handsets to resell overseas or modify them for use on unauthorized wireless networks, Apple will require a credit card and Social Security number so the device can be activated immediately. Apple won’t offer the iPhone 3G through its online store, Johnson said.

With the previous iPhone, customers could pay with cash or buy the device online. They weren’t required to sign a contract with AT&T during the purchase.

As part of its Personal Setup service, Apple will help customers select a model, choose an AT&T service plan, and ensure that the device is ready to make calls, browse the Web and receive e-mail, Johnson said. Service plans from San Antonio-based AT&T, the largest U.S. phone company, start at $70 a month and require a two-year agreement.

Apple stores will handle about 30 customers at a time, Johnson said. While the company will make sure the activation process is quick, customers won’t be rushed, he said.

“We’ll spend as long as it takes with our customers to make sure they’re happy with the phone,” Johnson said.

Starting Friday, consumers will be able to check Apple’s Web site to see the availability of iPhones at the company’s stores, Johnson said.

AT&T outlets will also start selling the iPhone at 8 a.m. New customers can visit before Friday to complete a credit check to speed the purchase process, AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook said. Existing AT&T customers also can check to see whether they can upgrade to the iPhone.

The activation process should take 12 to 15 minutes, not including time spent in line, Cook said.

Mexico also

getting the iPhone

The iPhone lands this week in Mexico as part of its global debut, selling in Latin America’s second-largest market for less than half its U.S. price.

America Movil will sell the 8-gigabyte 3G iPhone for as little as 773 pesos ($75) in Mexico for buyers who agree to a two-year, 799-peso ($77) monthly plan that includes 400 minutes of calls and 200 text messages.

Its 16-gigabyte version, with double the memory, will sell for 1,877 pesos ($182), according to an announcement by America Movil, Latin America’s largest mobile-phone service provider, which is owned by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

The rollout signals the latest battlefront in the feud between billionaire Slim’s America Movil and Spain’s Telefonica — two global telecom giants that have been dueling for control of Latin America’s mushrooming market of more than 300 million mobile-phone customers.

While America Movil will be the first to sell the iPhone in Latin America — adding 15 other countries later this year — rival Telefonica also plans to sell the device in 12 Latin American countries, in addition to Spain, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Britain. Telefonica has not yet announced release dates or pricing details for the region.

The company is also in talks to sell the iPhone in Mexico, said a Telefonica official who declined to be named while negotiations continue. That would put the two rivals in competition in all of Latin America’s biggest markets, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile.

America Movil is the largest mobile-phone service provider in Latin America, with 159 million clients, while Telefonica is second with 104 million.