Vodafone Sold 50,000 iPhones on Launch Day


The selling strength of Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone appears not to be waning very much at all with the passage of time, if the Vodafone UK launch of the device is any indication. The newest iPhone provider in the UK, which joins recent entrant Orange and original exclusive carrier O2, sold a reported 50,000 handsets when it officially started selling the iPhone on Jan. 14.

It’s an impressive number for a launch this late, when the iPhone 3GS has already been on the market for six months. Even more impressive is the fact that it beat Orange’s launch day total of 30,000 by a wide, 20,000-handset margin, only two months after that company’s introduction of the device.

The massive sales day comes despite the fact that Vodafone doesn’t really offer any significant pricing advantages over either Orange or O2. In fact, pricing and terms on all three carriers are scarcely indistinguishable. And Vodafone’s subscriber base is only the third largest in the UK, following the merger of T-Mobile and Orange. The number disparity would make more sense proportionally if Vodafone already had more market share than did Orange.

It could just be that Vodafone was more flexible with early contract upgrades and other incentive programs for its existing subscribers, but I think what we’re seeing has more to do with the growing outward appearance of freedom of customer choice. Feeling corralled into making a carrier decision based on available hardware is not a pleasant thing, speaking from experience. I would much rather choose my provider based on the testimonials of people I know who’ve actually lived with and used the service.

If I was still in the market for a handset, now that the iPhone is available on all major carriers here in Canada, I would’ve gladly waited until it became officially available on all networks before making a final decision. As it is, I bought my iPhone back when only one provider offered it, and the other two didn’t even have the network capability to support it. The 50,000 figure, then, has more to do with many more people making up their minds now that all the cards are on the table than any significant advantage offered by Vodafone over other carriers.

This strong launch is yet another reason Apple should really considering following Google’s (s goog) Nexus One strategy and reconfiguring its sales strategy of the iPhone towards more openness. More choice is better for business, and with a device as popular as the iPhone, there’s little carriers can do to prevent Apple from selling its device in whatever way it chooses.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Why AT&T Should Be Ready for an iPhone Slowdown

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