Apple today announced that it had sold two million iPhone 5 smartphones in the first 24 hours of pre-orders last week, more than double the previous record set in 2011.
U.S. mobile carrier AT&T also said its sales broke earlier records.
"iPhone 5 pre-orders have shattered the previous record held by iPhone 4S and the customer response to iPhone 5 has been phenomenal," said Philip Schiller, the head of Apple's marketing, in a statement issued Monday.
Schiller said iPhone 5 sales had "topped two million in just 24 hours," over twice as much as last year's iPhone 4S first-day sales.
The two million cannot be directly compared to public remarks Apple made last year, when it said it sold over 4 million iPhone 4S handsets in the first three days of pre-sales.
Analysts were expecting Apple to again reference opening weekend sales, and had forecast numbers as high as 10 million.
Nonetheless, Brian White, a financial analyst with Topeka Capital Markets, noted the strong iPhone 5 sales.
"The iPhone 5 pre-order volume [for the first day] handily beat our estimate of 1.3 million to 1.5 million," said White in a note today to clients. "Clearly, the iPhone 5 is off to a very strong start."
Minus a year-to-year comparison, White still anticipated a significant uptick in iPhone 5 sales over the Friday-Sunday stretch. Apple opened its online store at 12.01 a.m. PT Friday, and exhausted the supply it had set aside in just an hour.
White now believes his previous estimate of 5 million to 5.5 million iPhone 5 smartphones during the first three days was conservative. "We expect a meaningful jump in the three-day sales results for the iPhone 5 compared to the iPhone 4S," said White.
His iPhone 5 sales projection for September remains at 10-12 million, also a conservative number, he added today.
Apple took iPhone 5 pre-orders in nine countries -- including the U.S., Canada, France, Japan and the U.K. -- and will kick off in-store sales in those markets, two more than in 2011, on Friday, Sept. 21. The following Friday, Sept. 28, Apple plans to launch iPhone 5 in another 22 countries, all but one -- New Zealand -- in Europe.
Earlier Monday, AT&T also claimed the iPhone 5 had broken previous iPhone sales records, saying the new model was "the fastest-selling iPhone the company has ever offered." The carrier did not cite numbers, however.
When asked for its sales numbers, a Sprint spokeswoman said only, "Pre-order sales quickly met our expectations."
Verizon, the third U.S. carrier to sell the iPhone 5, and the one which may reap the biggest benefit from the new phone's support for faster LTE data networks, declined to comment.
The quick sell-out of the iPhone 5 has again sparked discussion about Apple's inability to deal with demand at the start of a new product's lifecycle.
While some online pundits saw a conspiracy -- that Apple purposefully withheld product to boost buzz -- most analysts believe it's due to overwhelming demand, the usual shortages at a kick-off and perhaps some issues in the company's supply chain, notably in the volume of display modules partners can produce.
Sharp, which reportedly had fallen behind schedule in producing iPhone screens for Apple, has now begun shipping displays, the Wall Street Journal said last week.
The Japanese electronics maker is one of three suppliers of iPhone 5 screens, the newspaper said, with the others being Japan Display and South Korea's LG Display.
Shipping delays for the iPhone 5 now stand at two to three weeks on Apple's e-store and at AT&T's website, while Verizon says it will deliver new orders by Oct. 5, or in about three weeks. Sprint's delay is currently at "up to two weeks."
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 email@example.com.
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