By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
June 15, 2010

Early adopters are punished as computer problems mar the launch of Apple’s newest phone

“After trying about 50 times, I got all the way to the end,” wrote A Charming Man in Gizmodo‘s comment stream at 5:01 a.m. “All I did was click the button for ‘Send it to my god damned house’ and it crashed. Again. Ughhh.”

Uncle Jo Jo spent 44 minutes on Apple’s (AAPL) site trying to order his iPhone 4 without success. MVD7793 spent 50 minutes.

“Screw this,” wrote Violent Peas at 4:39 a.m. “I’m going to bed and ordering from AT&T in the morning.”

Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be first in line, and the pre-order queue at Tuesday morning seems to be one of those times. The site went live shortly before 3 a.m. EDT with images of the new iPhone — available in black only, at least for now — and the complaints started pouring shortly after. Spinning wheels. Crashing servers. Sessions expiring due to inactivity.

Customers reporting that they were able to successfully pre-order their new iPhones were the rare exceptions.

It was not immediately clear whether it was Apple’s site that was unprepared for the volume of traffic or AT&T’s (T). Or both.

Fasten your seat belts. It looks like it’s going to be a bumpy launch.

UPDATE: Apple took down its online store several times Tuesday morning and replaced it with the “We’ll be back soon” sign.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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