Apple's new iPhones draw record crowds, but how about sales?

Apple's new iPhone is believed to have brought in record crowds for an opening weekend, though it's unclear whether Apple will top last year's 5 million phones sold.

Thirsty queuers outside Apple's flagship London store in Covent Garden enjoy complimentary coffees.
Thirsty queuers outside Apple's flagship London store in Covent Garden enjoy complimentary coffees. Nick Hide/CNET

Any critics expecting Apple's iPhone 5S and 5C launch to be a snoozer got a wake-up call Friday.

Large lines at Apple's stores and at many of the company's carrier partners looked just like (and possibly bigger than) past iPhone launches. That included the usual segment of eager buyers camping out days ahead for a chance to be the first to get Apple's newest gadget.

According to a tally by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, the lines in three major cities (including New York and San Francisco) matched, or were up slightly from last year, suggesting more people are lining up to buy the iPhone 5S than previous iPhones.

The multi-billion dollar question is: when all stacked up does it meet -- or beat -- the 5 million unit sales last year's iPhone pulled in during its first weekend?

We're unlikely to know the answer to that question until Monday, when Apple is expected to release sales numbers that will include a total of both devices sold, both in stores on Friday, as well as preorders for the 5C , which began a week ago.

We're also more in the dark than in past years, when Apple offered an early peek at the first 24 hours of preorders. That didn't happen this time around with only the iPhone 5C up for presale. Although, such a figure wouldn't have given quite as comprehensive an idea of what to expect with two new iPhones at once.

That hasn't stopped some on Wall Street from taking guesses. Piper's Munster was one of the first out the gate earlier this week, suggesting Apple was on track to meet or surpass last year's 5 million unit sales in the opening weekend, going all the way up to 6 million. That was followed by a similar estimates from RBC Capital Markets and Barclays Capital which both eyed 6 million as the number to beat.

"Anything above 6 million units should be considered a positive surprise since that figure represents about 20 percent year on year growth over the opening from last year's iPhone 5," Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes said in a note on Friday.

"We believe the mix of this weekend's sales could consist of nearly 2-3 million in sales of the 5S and over 3 million in sales of the 5C," Reitzes added. "We believe real demand could actually support over 7 million if Apple had enough supply."

Yet supply has proven to be short on at least some of Apple's high-end phones. The new gold iPhone 5S in particular sold out online within minutes in multiple countries, including the US where the ship date slipped to 7 to 10 days within 10 minutes, before lapsing into a nebulous "October." All of Apple's 5S models, on all carriers began to slip into that 7 to 10 day time frame, whereas the 5C can still be found readily both in stores, and online with just a day or two of waiting.

In the meantime, waiting is just what we'll all have to do until Apple's sales numbers hit, and tell us if these new iPhones have not just more features, but more sales too.


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