Record pre-orders for iPhone 4S, despite gloomy predictions on demand

by Howard Wolinsky

It’s an understatement to describe last week as momentous for Apple and its new iPhone:

—Co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs succumbed to pancreatic cancer Wednesday after a seven-year battle and was buried on Friday.

—On Tuesday, new CEO Tim Cook held his first event at Apple’s Cupertino’s HQ, rather than up the pike in San Francisco, traditional site for such doings. Cook unveiled the next generation of phones, iPhone 4S (for Steve?).

Some technophiles and critics may were underwhelmed by Cook’s announcement: no massive redesign, no 4-inch screen. 4S looks like 4.

Still, the phone has a higher-resolution camera, a faster A5 processor and Siri, a voice-powered assistant. 4S was seen as more of an evolution than a revolution.

Many pundits predicted a poor showing for the look-alike. They were wrong.

The public clamored for the 4S. Mark Gurman reported in 9to5Mac Friday that Apple sold out its pre-order allotment of 4S in the U.S. and internationally.

Ina Fried reported in AllThingsD that a record 200,000 pre-orders were placed with AT&T within the first day.

Sprint and Verizon Wireless also were taking orders, but didn’t release their numbers. But Dan Seifert at Mobile Burn noted that many pre-order options at Sprint and Verizon have been sold out. Verizon Wireless said each model will ship on Oct. 21, a week after the phone becomes available in stores.

“Customers who are interested in ordering an iPhone 4S from the Apple Online Store can still order, but the shipments are said to arrive in 1-2 weeks. The one week likely means just a little after the October 14th launch, and the two weeks would be right around October 21st,” Gurman said.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball there is an argument holding that the 4S is a nice improvement over iPhone4, though maybe not enough to entice iPhone 4 owners to upgrade.

He said: “So what? Normal people don’t buy brand-new $700 smartphones each and every year. In the U.S. they buy them on two-year contracts, and they don’t shop for new ones until their old contracts are over. So the iPhone that the 4S needs to present a compelling upgrade for is the 3GS, not the 4. And the iPhone 4S absolutely smokes the 3GS. It’s crazy better than the 3GS. 2009 3GS buyers who skipped the iPhone 4 — which I’m guessing are most of them — ought to be delighted by the iPhone 4S.”