Apple may see iPhone 4S unit sales as high as 4 million during this initial launch weekend, at least according to one analyst.
Surveying the forecasts of various analysts, Bloomberg found that most are eyeing sales ranging from 2 million to 3 million starting today through Sunday. As one example, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster is looking for sales of 2 million to 2.5 million, a range that includes all of the preorders to date.
But Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe thinks the number could reach as many as 4 million. Howe told CNET be believes Apple actually made about 10 million units available for the launch, so the 4 million figure is based on the company selling only about 40 percent of its inventory in the U.S.
"The biggest factor driving this is the huge loyalty associated with Apple phones; they have the highest loyalty of any of the smartphone OSes," the analyst said.
Even the low end of current estimates would top the 1.7 million iPhone 4 units that Apple sold during last year's launch weekend. However, the playing field between this year and last year isn't quite the same.
The iPhone 4S will be sold by three of the major U.S. carriers--Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Sprint. The iPhone 4 was initially available only from AT&T. The choice among three different carriers should bring in new buyers, according to Needham & Co. analyst Charlie Wolf, who said that the iPhone 4S is "going to easily outpace any previous launch," Bloomberg noted.
Apple already beat one record by grabbing 1 million preorders of the new phone last Friday, the first day customers could place an order. Some reports say that all three U.S. carriers have already sold out of stock based on the huge number of preorders, though the actual availability and wait time for the new iPhone seem to vary by carrier and model.
Of course, the usual retail outlets will also be selling the iPhone 4S. Besides Apple's own stores, retailers such as Best Buy and Target will offer the phone, so consumers can shop around if they have trouble finding it in stock. A Best Buy spokeswoman told CNET that once all preorders have been filled, the phone will be available to customers without a preorder. But she confirmed that inventory will vary from store to store and market to market.
To make sure there's enough supply to meet demand over the longer haul, Apple has reportedly ordered more iPhone 4S units from its key supplier Pegatron Technologies. Citing an article from China's Commercial Times, DigiTimes says that Apple has upped its order for the new phone to 15 million units from 10 million previously, with as many 2.5 million expected in the fourth quarter alone.
iPhone 4S sales officially kick off today in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Japan. The phone will launch in 22 additional countries by the end of this month.
Updated at 1:30 p.m. PT with comment to CNET from Carl Howe.