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Preorder problems trip up iPhone 4S sales in U.S.

Despite suffering through myriad problems last year, Apple and AT&T still had issues from the get go with preorders for Apple's upcoming iPhone 4S.

History repeated itself this morning, with the iPhone 4S preordering process getting off to what can only be described as a bumpy start in the U.S.

Despite the promise of a 12:01 a.m. PT starting time for preorder sales from Apple and its carrier partners, Apple's store experienced intermittent errors shortly after that deadline. Its online doors opened about 45 minutes after that to let people order the company's new top-end smartphone.

AT&T took even longer to begin offering preorders, and some would-be Sprint customers reported delays of two hours trying to place their preorders. Separately, both Apple and AT&T's sites showed error messages for customers who wanted to upgrade their device. Apple later switched from its preorder mechanism to a reservation system to let buyers reserve a device and fill out eligibility and billing information at a later date. With the reservations system, Apple still promised to deliver the iPhone by the company's original ship date.

AT&T's error page (still being served as of 1:33 a.m. PT):


And here's Apple's error page from around 1:05 a.m. PT. Later orders were stuck in the "processing" page during carrier eligibility checks:


Apple later ended up switching to a reservation system that would let would-be buyers reserve a device for release day and check their upgrade status later:


This year's iPhone 4S preorder is the biggest yet for Apple in the U.S., launching on AT&T, Verizon, and newcomer Sprint at the same time. In addition, Apple is selling it all three carriers through its own online store.

Both Apple and carriers ran into similar problems during last year's iPhone 4 launch, with buyers running into issues getting orders processed. Nonetheless, Apple managed 600,000 preorders or the new device, breaking previous presale records. Shortly thereafter, the device sold out, pushing orders back days, then weeks past launch.

There was one other surprise to come out of the preorder process, which is that Apple plans to offer an unlocked and contract-free version of the iPhone 4Sfor sale as soon as next month. Those making preorders though Apple's site can see that option when picking out their phone or plan, but are unable to purchase it.

Did you stay up to try to get the new iPhone 4S and come away successful? Let us know what worked for you in the comments.

Updated at 1:58 a.m. PT with additional details.

CNET News writer Stephen Shankland contributed to this story.