The Impact of Apple's Record-Breaking iPhone Launch

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is in store for a busy weekend starting today.

The iPhone 4S launched at 8 a.m. local time around the world, from Japan to the U.K., and is being welcomed by hoards of people who set up camp as early as last night just to get their anxious hands on the latest and greatest iPhone (but didn't have the premonition to preorder a week ago). The annual event, although delayed this year, has become a pure media spectacle, and some attendees must simply enjoy participating.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was first in line at the Los Gatos, California, Apple Store, setting up a chair to kill time on his iPad and put on an all-around show for fans seeking pictures and autographs. It's hard to imagine he didn't have the foresight to preorder, since he also stuck it out the old-fashioned way last year.

Demand for this year's model is unprecedented, with preorders topping a million in one day among domestic carriers AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , and Sprint (NYSE: S  ) . Shipping times for new orders placed at the Apple Online Store have slipped to 1-2 weeks, and Apple has reportedly kicked up its orders to meet demand.

Estimates for this weekend's final tally are as high as 4 million units, more than double the record 1.7 million units moved last year. Apple will shatter that record this year, but by how much? Last year's iPhone 4 launch only featured one carrier, AT&T, before its coveted exclusivity ended earlier this year.

While Apple's own retail stores will carry the most inventory for walk-ins, the company has continued to expand distribution through retail partners. Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) , Target (NYSE: TGT  ) , and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) will all be selling the device, as will the wireless carriers' retail stores. Desperate buyers who aren't willing to sacrifice their day waiting in line will have to try their luck on eBay or Craigslist.

When has a Google Android device launch ever drawn this much attention?

What do you think? How many iPhone 4S units will Apple sell this weekend? Are you buying one? Are you waiting in line right now reading this? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of AT&T and Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Wal-Mart Stores, Apple, Best Buy, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, eBay, AT&T, Wal-Mart Stores, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Wal-Mart Stores, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 1:36 PM, jdmeck wrote:

    Someday people will realize it's not ios versus android, it's the iPhone versus all the others. They never come close.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 1:38 PM, SimchaStein wrote:

    Consumers 'get' what most pundits, industry observers, and stock analysts don't 'get'. Apple's hw and sw close integration (and long-term investments) create a vastly superior value to customers. It's that simple.

    I'm long AAPL and a fanboy.

    The numbers will tell the story.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 1:46 PM, TheGreatFoolish1 wrote:

    Mine just got delivered via Fed Ex. The sales now that it is on 3 carriers in the US instead of 1 are going to be huge. long aapl.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 2:04 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    jdmeck, some day people will realize it's not the iphone versus all others, it's smart phones versus other phone forms. The world is a big place, and as far as I know most of the phones in it still do not have touch screens.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 4:17 PM, nick1200 wrote:

    Just bought an iPhone 4S at the AT&T store in Santa Monica.

    I got there at 830A, was served popcorn and water, walked out with my new phone at 930A.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 4:36 PM, FoolSolo wrote:

    Apple 4S was the perfect strategic move for Apple. They figured out that most Apple 4 owners bought within the past 2 years, which means they have a 2-year contract with their phone company. The 4S is great for new subscribers, and those that were still on an iPhone3, but iPhone 5 will come out next year and be even better. I love Apple, the company, not their products. Frankly, I don't think I will ever own a smartphone without an actual keyboard, I hate typing on the screen, but I absolutely love Apple, the company, because they execute their strategy so effectively. They don't make the best MP3 player, but the make the MP3 player most people want. They don't make the best phone either, but an awful lot of people love them. Grant it, there are more Android phones and non iOS phones, but Apple has a great niche.

    You go Apple!

    Long APPL!

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 6:04 PM, digitalgranpa1 wrote:

    I am part of the very old generation. Cell phones never really interested me, but I have one because my wife wants to be able to talk to me if need be. My son suggested that I get a new Iphone several months ago so I could communicate with the family, particularly our grandchildren. I am amazed at what my Iphone 4 can do. I have become addicted to it. I check my stock portfolio constantly, talk to the family on Facetime or Skype, buy too many Apps, have a keyboard on it I found on the internet, have a mount for my car which has an FM system that allows me to play music through my car speakers and bought Apple stock. The Iphone and my Apple stock are real winners. I will stand in line when the time comes to get my Iphone 5 with a smile on my face. Thank you Mr. Jobs and the people at Apple for your very innovative product.

  • Report this Comment On October 14, 2011, at 11:15 PM, mieswall wrote:

    those analysts' permanent questions about AAPL future, without hearing the screams just beside their ears, made me win ... a hell of a lot of money this week, Joey (an insane %, in fact)... Sad I didn't have the guts to go for more.

    Thanks them all.

    And specially thanks to you, Steve, that brought pleasure, beauty, perfection to my life since 1985, my first mac.

  • Report this Comment On October 15, 2011, at 12:09 AM, stpaulguy wrote:

    I care only about who supplies Apple...TQNT is one of them with 2 chips made by them inside,TQNT has been on a run...

  • Report this Comment On October 17, 2011, at 12:17 AM, baldheadeddork wrote:

    @jdmeck - "Someday people will realize it's not ios versus android, it's the iPhone versus all the others. They never come close."

    If by "they" you mean Apple, you're right. iOS has an 18% market share. Android's share is nearly 2.5 times that size, and growing significantly faster than Apple.

    Evan asked in the article "When has a Google Android device launch ever drawn this much attention?" The answer is never, but I don't see an entry for hype on a 10Q. Even in Apple's exceptional year for the iPhone, it's been outsold by Android by nearly 2:1.

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