After a Friday launch, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 6 deliveries are underway. Yesterday marked the introduction of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus at stores and the beginning of online shipments for those who ordered the new devices when pre-orders started. Analysts predict robust sales of the company's latest-generation smartphone on the strength of pent-up demand for iPhones with larger displays. While it's hard to even ballpark a figure of how many iPhone 6 devices Apple could sell this weekend, a record number is certainly likely.
Signs of a successful iPhone launch
There are already clear indications that the iPhone 6 is off to a roaring start.
The first iPhones at many of the Apple Stores around the world went to customers who waited in long lines before opening. Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who curated some videos of these lines that formed ahead of iPhone 6 launch, noted that they were impressive this year: "Judging from the length of the queues Thursday night and Friday morning, this could be a big one."
The most solid indicator, so far, that this will be a big weekend for Apple was the company's announcement last Monday that it had recorded over 4 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus pre-orders during the first day of pre-launch sales. While Apple confirmed that 4 million pre-orders is a record for the company, there is no 2013 figure to compare the 2014 pre-orders to since Apple didn't announce pre-order sales last year. Notably, however, 4 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus pre-orders doubled the iPhone 5 pre-orders in 2012.
How many iPhones could Apple sell this weekend?
While pre-orders have historically served as a solid indicator of the demand for Apple's iPhone, the actual launch weekend will first reveal exactly how much initial demand Apple is actually able to meet. Last year, Apple sold a record 9 million iPhone 5s and 5c devices. This was up from 5 million for the iPhone 5 in 2012 and 4 million for the 4s in 2011.
Notably, the iPhone 5s and 5c were initially launched in 11 countries last year, versus just 10 countries for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus this year. This is the first-ever decline in initial launch countries for the iPhone. Even more, the missing country in 2014 that made the list in 2013 is the world's largest smartphone market: China. Why is China not included in Apple's list of initial launch countries this year? The company's iPhone 6 models have failed to receive approval for sales in from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, according to 21st Century Business Herald, which cited sources with knowledge of the matter.
Not launching iPhone 6 in China, however, is unlikely to have a meaningful negative impact on Apple's sales potential this weekend. Typically limited by supply and not demand during launch weekend, Apple is likely to simply shift supply over to the other 10 markets. The pent-up demand for Apple's first foray into larger smartphones with the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, and the phablet market with its 5.5-inch iPhone 6 plus, should help Apple post record sales. The growing wait for the two models is also key evidence that demand is not a problem for Apple. Shipping times for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are currently at seven to 10 business days and three to four weeks, respectively.
Of course, the fact that sales will likely reflect supply and not demand makes it impossible to know for sure whether Apple will indeed hit a new launch-weekend sales record with the iPhone. But given CEO Tim Cook's historical operational excellence in successfully ramping up supply each year, I feel comfortable predicting that Apple could meaningfully beat last year's record of 9 million by posting launch weekend sales somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 million.