It looks like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is once again rewriting the books on what it is that makes a smartphone sell. Those who thought that the iPhone 4S would be something of a disappointment — it looks just like its predecessor, and many had been anticipating something more dramatic — may have to eat their words: Apple today announced that it sold a record-breaking four million units of the device in its first weekend on sale.
Philip Schiller, Apple’s SVP of worldwide product marketing, said in an Apple announcement this is the highest-ever number of sales for an iPhone model on an opening weekend, and is double what the iPhone 4 sold in its first three days.
Apple also announced that some 25 million people are now using iOS 5, the new operating system, which seemed to nearly break the internet on its debut day because of the demand from consumers to download it as soon as they could. iOS 5 comes pre-loaded on the new iPhone; those on older devices could download iOS via iTunes.
And, in something of a coup for the world of cloud services, Apple has already registered 20 million people for iCloud.
Apple is rolling out the iPhone 4S gradually, although not as gradually as it did earlier models. The new 4S is already on sale in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the UK. Apple will be adding 22 more countries on October 28 and will then make it available in 70 countries by the end of this year.
What’s driving the buying? Apple is known for its minimal approach to product rollouts, taking a different line from the likes of Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Samsung, who have trotted out dozens of phone models against Apple’s (now) four iPhones.
This time around — given the anticipation and expectation of an iPhone 5 — there was a lot of deflation when the 4S was revealed.
What the iPhone 4S has demonstrated, however, is that innovation doesn’t always have to happen on the hardware level for consumers to buy in to the product. Yes, the iPhone 4S has a faster processor and an improved antenna compared to the iPhone 4, but the feature that has caught the zeitgeist at the moment is the Siri voice assistant, which is only available on the 4S version of the phone.
Today, when RIM announced a list of apps that it would offer to users free as compensation for the service failure last week, you could have put a lot of money on the bet that it would include voice apps. It did, including a personal assistant app from Vlingo.
It may have also helped that RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) had a high-profile service outage last week, which may have driven at least some users to dropping the brand in favor of trying something new.
The new product will also serve to complete out a portfolio of iPhones which now can be sold at a range of prices, which will be key in Apple’s bigger strategy of targeting users beyond high-end, early adopters.
The news of iPhone sales will come as a bit of a publicity snub to Samsung, Apple’s great rival, which boasted earlier today of 30 million Galaxy S and S II sales worldwide: those two devices have been on sale for significantly longer than three days.