When Apple’s iPhone 5 goes on sale next Friday, it will launch in a record three Asian countries: Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. However, Apple’s would-be customers in Asia were left confused today when pre-orders began, as they appeared to be unavailable directly from Apple in some countries.

The press release announcing the new handset suggested that all 9 countries that are participating in the initial launch would also offer pre-orders on the 14th:

iPhone 5 will be available from the Apple Online Store (www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores, and through AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and select Apple Authorized Resellers. iPhone 5 will be available in the US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the UK on Friday, September 21, and customers can pre-order their iPhone 5 beginning Friday, September 14.

In Singapore, Apple’s official online store listed the device as “Currently unavailable” and “Pending for agency approval” and would not allow orders to be completed, though it did show pricing for the gadget. We are hearing reports that local carrier Singtel did allow pre-orders, but its website currently only allows customers to fill out a “registration of interest” for the new iPhone.

iphone5 singapore 520x446 Confusion in Asia as Apples iPhone 5 is unavailable for pre order in Hong Kong and Singapore

The Apple Online Store in Japan listed the iPhone 5 as being available for purchase on September 21st, but it provided no indication of a pre-order. We have heard, however, that carrier stores in the country did take pre-reservations for the handset.

Update: Some residents are claiming that Apple Japan doesn’t usually offer online pre-orders for the iPhone, though this report would appear to suggest otherwise.

Over in Hong Kong, an Apple worker reportedly told a customer that pre-orders wouldn’t take place until September 20, when the iPhone 5 can be reserved for next-day pickup. Last year’s iPhone 4S launch in Hong Kong was complicated by scuffles between scalpers and legitimate customers.

Hong Kong is expected to keep in place the reservation system that it has used for recent device launches. Given its proximity to and close relationship with China, the port city often attracts unofficial resellers from the mainland that buy up inventory to sell for a mark-up back across the border. China most likely won’t receive official sales of the iPhone until roughly three months after the initial launch.

TNW has contacted Apple for comment on the status of iPhone pre-orders in Asia.

Even in just a few hours of pre-order availability, demand for the iPhone 5 has been strong. Shipping times for the device quickly slipped to 2 weeks across all participating countries, leading some to proclaim that the pre-order was now “sold out”.

The lack of pre-orders aside, Asia is a key area of focus for Apple, and especially the iPhone. With the emergence of a new generation of middle-class consumers across the region, Apple expects to see significant growth there. In recent quarters, the Asia-Pacific market has regularly outpaced other areas of the world in terms of sales growth for Apple.