Apple Inc. faced long lines of consumers at its retail stores Friday for the debut of its latest iPhones, in the company’s biggest move this year to stoke new growth.
In Australia, where sales of the new iPhone 5s and 5c kicked off first at 8 a.m local time, more than 400 people were lined up at the company’s outlet in Sydney’s central business district.
Australia was to be followed by iPhones going on sale in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, France, U.K. and the U.S. It’s the first time Apple is rolling out its flagship product for sale in China on the same day as other main markets, as the company seeks to lure new customers in the world’s largest mobile-phone market.
Opening-weekend sales are crucial to boosting Apple after nearly a year without releasing a new device and ceding market share to rivals including Samsung Electronics Co. in the $280 billion smartphone market. Whether the Cupertino, California- based company can surpass the record 5 million smartphones sold during last year’s iPhone debut will largely depend on if there is enough supply of the feature-rich iPhone 5s.
“It really depends entirely on how good or bad the yields on the 5s are,” said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group, who correctly predicted opening weekend sales last year. He said Apple could top 7 million in sales if it has enough handsets, though “Apple may not even hit the 5 million I predicted last year if the 5s is in really short supply.”
Apple will sell as many as 6 million units even though it won’t have enough iPhone 5s handsets available, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos. New fingerprint- reading technology makes the gadget harder to manufacture, he said. Brian Marshall, an analyst with ISI Group, also predicts 6 million iPhones will be sold.
The iPhone 5s features a new camera and faster processor. It costs $199 to $399 depending on the amount of memory and with a two-year wireless contract. Without a contract, the smartphone costs at least $649.
For the less-expensive iPhone 5c, Apple took last year’s iPhone 5 and mostly repackaged it in a new plastic casing that’s offered in five different colors. It costs $99 to $199 with a two-year contract, or $549 without one.
Amy Bessette, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment.
In some places, people started camping out in front of Apple stores the night before in order to get the new iPhones, evoking scenes from earlier product introductions -- even though the gadget is now six years old. Dozens of people gathered in front of Apple’s store near the Paris Opera by 7:30 p.m. yesterday, prepared to stay overnight even though the weather forecast was for rain. Some had blankets and campers’ chairs.
Jimmy Gunawan was the only person in line at Apple’s store on Sydney’s George Street when he arrived at midday yesterday, with others joining about three hours later. The 33-year-old freelance film maker wanted the handset for its video functions, upgraded camera and fingerprint technology.
“When I arrived I thought I would be further back but I was the first,” said Gunawan, who bought two gold-colored iPhone 5s, one for himself and the other for his mother. “It’s not about having a large screen or powerful hardware, its about the balance of everything.”
At Telstra Corp.’s Sydney store across the road from Apple, about 50 people were lined up to buy the new handsets from Australia’s largest carrier, which was providing free coffee and a disc jockey for shoppers.
Every iPhone release is critical for Apple because the product accounts for about half its revenue. Since the iPhone 5 started selling last year, the company has faced increased competition from rivals including Samsung, which has become the world’s largest maker of smartphones by offering customers a wider variety of designs and prices.
Apple typically puts out a press release with opening- weekend sales figures on the Monday after the iPhone goes on sale.
How Apple performs in China is particularly important, given the scale of the market there. Analysts have questioned whether the price of the iPhone 5c -- more than the equivalent of $700 because of tariffs -- will be too expensive for customers in China. In part because of that, Apple shares have fallen 6 percent since the company announced the iPhone pricing last week.
In addition to the new handsets, Apple also has introduced a new mobile operating system, iOS 7, which was made available to customers on Sept. 18. It includes a complete redesign of applications like e-mail, calendar and photos, as well as new icons, fonts and color scheme.
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