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Gold iPhone 5S backordered online in US, elsewhere

A few minutes after sales began online, customer demand began outstripping supply for Apple's high-end iPhone in the new gold color. Silver and "space gray" fared better.

Sylvain Gautier emerges from the Apple store in Paris at 8:03 a.m. local time Friday after becoming the first in France to buy an iPhone 5S, Apple's new flagship smartphone.
Sylvain Gautier emerges from the Apple store in Paris at 8:03 a.m. local time Friday after becoming the first in France to buy an iPhone 5S, Apple's new flagship smartphone.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Apple's iPhone 5S is playing hard to get for those who want the new gold color option.

The initial supply of the phone, which went on sale online just after midnight in the US, slipped to a ship date of 7 to 10 days within 10 minutes, and to October in less than a half-hour. That happened with all three varieties of the phone, with 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB of storage space.

The situation matches what buyers in the UK, France, and Germany experienced. After an initial rush, Apple's online store pushed back gold iPhone 5S ship dates to 7 to 10 days, then to October a few hours later.

Supplies of silver and space gray iPhone 5S devices held up better. At 2:45 a.m. PT, the Apple store still had enough stock for a ship date of less than 3 days. At 1 a.m. in Germany, France, and the UK, those models had ship date of 7 to 10 days. By 2:45 a.m. PT, though, all three colors had slipped to October in the European countries.

Later in the day, the existing stock of silver and gray iPhone 5S models started selling out, too, in the United States. By 4 a.m. PT, ship dates from 7 to 10 days arrived for some 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models on AT&T and Verizon.

Apple apparently apparently noticed the demand disparity. The company asked suppliers to increase production of gold iPhone 5S components, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Apple is in an unusual situation of launching two new iPhones at once, a first since the company got into the phone business in 2007. The iPhone top-end 5S sports a faster processor, new camera, and two new colors, but the iPhone 5C is less of a departure. For it, Apple effectively repackaged last year's iPhone 5 components into colorful new plastic cases.

Also with the iPhone 5S, Apple's added a new fingerprint scanner that lets users unlock the phone and validate iTunes purchases. Its 64-bit A7 processor is twice as fast as the A6 found in the iPhone 5, Apple said.

Apple's new iPhone 5S, in the "space gray" color.
Apple's new iPhone 5S, in the "space gray" color. CNET

The iPhone 5C went on presale last Friday, and Apple appeared to have plenty of stock, with Apple offering release day delivery up until mid-week this week. The iPhone 5S is a different story, with Apple only offering what appears to be a limited amount of stock online.

At least one of Apple's retail partners got off to an earlier start on 5S sales. Best Buy offered the device up about an hour before Apple, leading some shoppers to buy a device early, and in some cases with same-day in-store pickup.

Apple is expected to meet or slightly surpass last year's opening weekend iPhone sales. Separate reports from Piper Jaffray and RBC Capital Markets suggested that Apple is on track to meet and possibly exceed last year's 5 million iPhone 5 weekend sales (which included preorders) with 5 million to 6 million units in early sales. In past years that number has been a good indication of how well the device will do.

To put this year's early sales in perspective, Apple sold out of online stock of the iPhone 5 in less than an hour last year, becoming the strongest opening sales for Apple. This year Apple's launching in two additional countries, including China, which analysts anticipate could increase early sales overall.

Apple is expected to release first weekend sales figures, which also include preorders, on Monday.

Updated at 2:48 a.m. PT and 4:08 a.m. to note that the order ship date in Europe slipped to October for all three colors of the iPhone 5S and to note that backorders for silver and gray phones had arrived in the US.

Clarification at 9:40 am PT: References to "white" iPhone 5S models have been changed to "silver."

Now playing: Watch this: What it took to get a gold iPhone 5S on the first day