Customers clamouring for Apple’s iPhone

More than 1m potential customers have expressed interest in Apple’s forthcoming iPhone, said Randall Stephenson, chief operating officer of AT&T, the US carrier that negotiated an exclusive deal to sell the device when it becomes available later this year.

“Over one million people have asked us to call when this phone is available," Mr Stephenson said in a keynote speech at the CTIA Wireless industry conference in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday.

While Mr Stephenson acknowledged later in an interview that many of these people will not end up buying the device, the level of interest it has generated among potential customers will surprise some analysts who had suggested that it has been priced too high for many consumers.

Apple has said it will offer two versions of the iPhone, one with 4 gigabytes of flash memory will cost $499, and an 8Gb version that will cost $599.

Both will feature a big touch screen, run Apple software and enable users to listen and watch multimedia content in addition to making regular voice and data calls.

Apple itself has targeted selling 10m iPhones by the end of next year, though that would also include sales in markets outside the US. “Interest has been exceptional,” said Mr Stephenson, “there are a lot of Apple enthusiasts out there.”

Cingular, the largest US-based wireless service which is being rebranded as AT&T following AT&T’s acquisition of BellSouth, will be the first to carrier to sell the iPhone when Apple, the maker of the popular iPod music player, begins shipments in June.

Although Cingular is not yet taking advance orders for the iPhone, it set up a section on its Web site inviting visitors to leave their e-mail addresses to receive information about the phone when it is released.

Mr Stephenson also highlighted AT&T efforts to build out its mobile-entertainment services, singling out the company's agreement on Monday to extend a deal with Napster, the Internet music download service, under which Cingular customers will be given free access to 3 million songs for one year.

“We think this deal could really jump start music subscription services,” said Jim Ryan, vice president of data services for AT&T's wireless unit. Until now music subscription services which typically charge users about $15 a month, have struggled to attract customers.

In addition, AT&T on Tuesday unveiled a new video service called Video Share which will allow customers with the latest 3G mobile phones to instantly set up a video call with other 3G handset owners. Mr Stephenson said the new Video Share service will eventually enable users to upload videos taken on their phones to a central web site and then view them on a PC or television.

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