Fans stormed Apple Inc's store in Japan and operator Softbank Corp's outlets as the company launched a slim new version of its wildly popular iPhone. Due to the time difference in the global launch, Japanese customers were the first to get hold of the coveted iPhone 4, which debuts in the United States, France, Germany and the UK later on Thursday. Sales of the iPhone 4, which boasts a higher-quality screen and longer battery life than the previous model, blew past expectations in its first day of pre-orders last week with more than 600,000 of them sold in just 24 hours. “I can't stop smiling,” said Noboru Takahashi, a musician who had waited in line since Monday at Softbank's Omotesando store in a posh shopping district of Tokyo. He was the first in a queue of more than 300 people.

Demand for the iPhone 4 has been high, but Apple had to apologize last week for having to halt sales temporarily after the surprising volume of online interest overloaded order and approval systems and supplies ran out. The device, which also offers video chat via WiFi, and a gyroscope sensor for improved gaming, comes less than a month after Apple's iPad went on sale outside the United States. The iPad, a tablet computer which hit U.S. shelves in April, has already sold 3 million units worldwide.

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