Apple claims 1M iPhone 3G S smartphones sold first weekend

CEO Steve Jobs' name in press release clue to his return, says analyst

Apple announced today that it sold one million iPhone 3G S phones through Sunday, three days after the device launched, matching last year's sales mark of the iPhone 3G.

"Customers are voting and the iPhone is winning, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. "iPhone momentum is stronger than ever.

The iPhone 3G S sales mark claimed by Apple is significantly higher than analysts' estimates before the weekend. Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, for example, had pegged sales at 500,000, then upped his estimate early Monday -- before Apple announced its number -- to 750,000.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology had also expected slower sales this year, and like Munster, had bet on around a half million. "Clearly, surprise is my first reaction," said Gottheil when asked about Apple's one million figure. "I was off by 100%, wasn't I?"

Gottheil added that Apple's sales were "impressive" in the face of the continued recession, but added that in hindsight they shouldn't have been such a shock. "What we're seeing is the adoption curve for smartphones," he said. "People are seeing that they're useful. Apple didn't start the smartphone business, but they made it fun and classy. Typical Apple."

Although Apple sold the same number of iPhone 3G S handsets this year as iPhone 3Gs last summer, it did so in fewer markets. The iPhone 3G S is currently available in only in seven countries; the iPhone 3G went on sale its first weekend in more than 20.

"Even more impressive than the one million," added Gottheil, "is that they were prepared for that."

Apple also said that approximately six million owners of older iPhones had downloaded the new iPhone 3.0 software since its release June 17.

Jobs' statement is the first in an Apple press release since he took medical leave in January for an undisclosed illness that previously had been described only as a hormonal imbalance. Jobs is slated to return to Apple at the end of this month.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal said that Jobs had a liver transplant in Tennessee two months ago, but did not name its sources.

"His name in the release is a clue," Gottheil said. "It's a confirmation of what Apple has been saying all along, that he'll be back in some capacity at the end of the month. He's clearly stepping back in to a more active management role."

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