Updated iPhone set to beat record pre-orders

Initial orders for the iPhone 4S are likely to exceed those for the previous version of Apple’s best-selling product line, reassuring investors concerned by mixed reactions to the launch presentation last week.

The most-used US wireless carrier, AT&T, said it received more than 200,000 requests for the handset in the first 12 hours of availability for pre-order on Friday, exceeding the record demand for the iPhone 4 in June 2010. AT&T said some models would take as long as four weeks to ship.

Unlike last year’s model, the new phone is also available in the US on number-two carrier Verizon Wireless and Sprint, so the total number of early orders is assumed to be higher. Last year, Apple reported 600,000 units ordered via all channels in the first 24 hours.

Sprint also reported strong iPhone 4S sales. Though the phone officially goes on sale on October 14, Apple’s website on Sunday had moved back its promised shipping time for direct orders to “one to two weeks”, or as late as October 23, about the same delay as last year.

Verizon, which began selling the iPhone earlier this year, said it could deliver the new models to some customers by October 21.

None of the companies responded to requests for comment.

The demand is good news for Apple, whose chief executive Tim Cook is under close attention. The iPhone’s low-key introduction was Mr Cook’s first media appearance since founder Steve Jobs resigned as chief executive in August. The company is dealing with Mr Jobs’ death on Wednesday, aged 56.

The iPhone 4S looks similar to the iPhone 4, but some analysts had been expecting a complete overhaul with advancements as marked as the introduction of video-calling in the previous edition.

Instead, the 4S has a much-improved camera, better antenna and new chips that make many operations twice as fast, with graphic processing as much as seven times faster.

The flashiest improvement is a voice-controlled “digital assistant” designed to understand commands even when spoken casually.

But in demonstrating the voice function on Tuesday at Apple’s Cupertino’s headquarters, executives cautioned that the program was in still in beta, or testing mode. Voice-recognition has confounded technologists for years and what works well in the lab often falls apart in the real world of ambient noise and accents. The views of early adopters will be important.

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