Apple sells record 4 million iPhones over launch weekend

'Fantastic' iPhone 4S sales thump 1.7M record set by last year's smartphone

Apple today said that it had sold more than 4 million iPhone 4S smartphones since the device reached retail last Friday.

That's a record for Apple, which last year touted iPhone 4 sales of 1.7 million in its first three days of retail availability. The early iPhone 4S sales were four times the number of iPhone 3GS devices sold in the same period in 2009.

"[The] iPhone 4S is off to a great start with more than four million sold in its first weekend -- the most ever for a phone and more than double the iPhone 4 launch during its first three days," said Apple's head marketing executive, Philip Schiller, in a statement.

Apple also said that more than 20 million users of its tablets and older smartphones had upgraded to iOS 5, the mobile operating system refresh that the company delivered last Wednesday, and that about the same amount had signed up to use iCloud, the online sync and backup service introduced that same day.

"Fantastic," said Brian Marshall, an analyst with International Strategy and Investment Group (ISI), of the iPhone 4S sales. "Apple is doing really well, and the stock has been so powerful in the last couple of weeks that I just see no reason why anyone would sell."

Previously, Marshall had predicted opening weekend sales -- including those sold via pre-orders by Apple and carriers in the days leading up to last Friday -- at 3 million, a number he said was consistent with Wall Street's consensus.

"They obviously over-performed," said Marshall.

Another analyst agreed.

"Clearly, this is stronger launch than the market had originally anticipated," said Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities, in a note to clients today.

Marshall said he was sticking to his earlier estimates of iPhone sales of 20.8 million for the quarter that ended Sept. 30 and 23.2 million for the year's fourth quarter, playing it conservative until Apple releases its third-quarter sales figures tomorrow afternoon.

White, however, bumped up his projected sales of 19.9 million in the third quarter to 22 million after returning from a trip to Asia, where he met with Apple suppliers and Chinese mobile carriers.

Apple's blow-out weekend was not completely unexpected: On Friday, AT&T said it had activated a record number of iPhones on its network by the end of the working day, and was on track to double the previous one-day record.

"Apple executed this with precision," said Andrew Eisner, director of content for Retrevo, an electronics shopping and review website, in an interview late Friday. "Activations went smoothly for the most part, and Apple had lots of stock."

Short supplies and new-phone activations were two problems Apple has wrestled with in past iPhone launches, including last year's iPhone 4.

The former remains an issue, however, after the big sales weekend: Apple currently lists the iPhone 4s as backlogged one-to-two weeks, while some carriers have an even longer wait. AT&T, for example, is telling customers that an ordered iPhone 4S will ship in 21-to-28 days from the order date.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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