iPhone 4S sales hit record 4m on launch

Apple has sold a record 4m of its latest incarnation of the iPhone in its first three days on sale in spite of criticism that the new product was a more limited technological leap forward than its predecessors.

Analysts had expected the company to sell between 2m and 4m of the iPhone 4S in the initial rush, compared with 1.7m of the iPhone 4 in three days after its release in the summer of 2010.

The iPhone 4 was greeted with more enthusiasm by critics than the 4S, which has a similar exterior but faster processors, improved camera and a voice-recognition program called Siri.

The technology improvements were more modest than many expected and the device was not introduced by the widely admired Steve Jobs, who was gravely ill and died the day after other executives showed off the phone.

The more muted buzz around the debut concerned investors because the iPhone now accounts for nearly half of Apple’s revenue, and indeed some queues at Apple stores were shorter this year.

But the early sales received a boost from a number of factors.

The phones were available on the top three US carriers, instead of AT&T alone; they were in two more countries than the iPhone 4 at launch, Canada and Australia; and the three-day launch weekend ran from Friday through Sunday, instead of Thursday through Saturday, allowing more time for in-store shopping.

Finally, in 2010 AT&T’s website crashed under the strain after just six hours of orders, and Apple kept only 1.5 days on inventory on hand for walk-ins, which sold out on the first day. Later orders did not ship until after the first weekend and so did not count toward the 1.7m total Apple reported.

As a result, “launch figures are not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison”, Gene Munster, a Piper Jaffray analyst, wrote to clients on Monday.

Nonetheless, he said the strong opening suggested that Apple would beat Wall Street expectations for a 60 per cent increase in shipments in the quarter just begun.

The sales will not count toward Apple’s fiscal fourth quarter, which it is scheduled to report on Tuesday.

Apple also said there had been strong take-up of its new software offerings, with 25m devices functioning on the new version of its mobile operating system released last week, or 10 per cent of those that have been sold to date. Some 20m people have signed up for iCloud, which makes apps, music and other material available to multiple Apple devices at the same time.

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