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Monday, June 25, 2007, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

First Apple iPhone shipments arrive stateside

The first retail-bound volume shipments of Apple Inc.'s hotly anticipated iPhone device arrived successfully in the United States this past weekend, touching down quietly at a handful of drop locations just six days before the device is due to go on sale at nearly 2000 Apple and AT&T retail locations.

People familiar with the matter say the intrinsically valuable freight was carried inbound by a certain Hong Kong-based air courier, which services Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The early arrival is to assure the cargo can clear customs with enough time to handle unexpected delays, those people said.

Awaiting the freight at each location on Sunday were armed personnel, who were reportedly hired by Apple through its courier's ground handling agent and then cleared by the Transportation Security Administration. Armed guards are extremely unusual for freight coming out of the Asian sector, those familiar with the matter explained, and are typically reserved for shipments containing riches such as gold and diamonds.

Once on the ground, the iPhone shipments were to be broken down under the watch of the armed personnel, who would then observe the loading of the freight onto ground vehicles and become party to its transportation outbound.

It remains unclear where the eagerly sought Apple gadgets will spend the better part of the business week ahead of their planned launch Friday afternoon at 6:00 p.m. local time. It's possible, however, they could begin turning up in stockrooms of Apple and AT&T retail stores days in advance.

Apple management on Sunday began informing its retail personnel that beginning Monday, no cameras of any kind will be allowed in the back stockrooms of its retail outlets. The ban reportedly spans all cell phones — regardless of whether they contain camera functionality — and all personally owned Apple notebooks that feature built-in iSight video cameras.

This past weekend, Apple retail stores nationwide began preparing for Friday's iPhone launch with new planogram layouts, employee attire, and window displays that feature 4-foot iPhone replicas equipped with massive LCD displays screens.