NEW YORK ( — Customers eager to buy Apple’s new iPhone 4 experienced massive and widespread difficulties when attempting to pre-order the smart phone on Tuesday, the day it went on sale.

Users trying to order the iPhone on Apple’s website received an error message: “Your request couldn’t be processed. We’re sorry, but there was an error processing your request. Please try again later.” Attempts to preorder from AT&T’s website yielded similar error messages.

Calls to AT&T’s customer service line returned a pre-recorded message saying that the company was facing extremely heavy call volumes. A new Apple app, launched Tuesday morning, that allows existing Apple customers to use their iPhone or iPod to pre-order the iPhone 4 was offline by mid-afternoon. Twitter, recovering from its own crashes earlier in the day, lit up with accounts from frustrated iPhone shoppers.

Even AT&T’s retail stores were unable to order new iPhones for customers. The order-processing system at an AT&T store near Manhattan’s Grand Central Station remained crashed late Thursday afternoon, forcing workers to take orders manually on paper. More than two dozen shoppers were queued up, waiting for their turn to order.

Other AT&T stores were back online at that point in the day. An AT&T retailer in Times Square resorted to recording pre-order information manually for a few hours Tuesday morning, but its systems were working again by the end of the afternoon. Vanessa Sosa, a senior sales consultant at the store, attributed the outage to the stampede of buyers hitting AT&T’s system all at once, across the United States.

A store in downtown Washington, DC., was also back online after its systems went down between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. ET. After taking orders on paper for about 100 customers, the store’s employees began entering those orders into the system manually in the late afternoon.

But a store employee noted that the customers who arrived in the morning had their manual orders entered in the system after the orders of the customers who arrived in the early afternoon. If there are any shipment delays, those early-birds would, ironically, receive their iPhones after the stragglers.

At AT&T’s store at Broadway and 55th Street in Manhattan, customer Mark Rousso described a three-hour odyssey to secure his pre-ordered phone.

He arrived at the AT&T store around noon and learned that wait times were averaging over an hour. Rousso detoured to a nearby Apple store — where the ordering process was at a complete standstill. The store’s computers were down, said a worker who suggested Rousso go home and pre-order the phone online.

So Rousso did that, only to find that he couldn’t put through an actual order. All he could get was a non-guaranteed “preauthorization” for the purchase. Frustrated, Rousso went back to the AT&T store he’d started at earlier in the day. This time, his pre-order finally went through.

At Apple’s flagship Fifth Avenue shop, a line dozens of shoppers deep snaked through the mobbed store. Crystal Castro, who emerged victorious in her fight for a pre-order, came to the store after failing to get her reservation through on Apple’s website. But once she arrived, the process moved fast: Castro said it only took about 15 minutes to order the new phone, an upgrade from her current iPhone.

A spokesman for AT&T declined to comment, and Apple did not return a call for comment.

Apple’s new phone is set to appear in stores on June 24. It’s already poised for a sellout: By late Tuesday afternoon, Sosa was advising buyers at her store that their pre-orders might not get them a first-day phone. She estimated that it would take AT&T an additional two to three days to fulfill all of the orders made on Tuesday.

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