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Apple sells 1 million iPhone 3Gs in first weekend

Despite widespread activation problems, Apple said Monday that it sold its one millionth iPhone 3G on Sunday, just three days after the new handset launched worldwide on Friday, July 11.

"iPhone 3G had a stunning opening weekend," said Apple chief executive Steve Jobs.

Last year, Apple managed to sell just 270,000 iPhones during the first two days. Although the Cupertino-based electronics maker did not release a three day tally for first-generation iPhone sales, it would take the company nearly two and a half months to sell its one millionth unit.

"It took 74 days to sell the first one million original iPhones, so the new iPhone 3G is clearly off to a great start around the world," Jobs added.

Unlike last year when opening weekend iPhone sales took place exclusively in the United States, this year's roll-out was helped by simultaneous launches in 20 additional countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.

The three day sales total is sure to send a shiver down the spines of rival handset makers and is particularly impressive given widespread activation issues that plagued the launch from the get-go, at times slowing sales and activations to a snail's pace.

Although the new handset went on sale at 8:00 a.m. Friday morning, Apple retail stores around the country were still battling long lines — sometimes hundreds of customers deep — in the late evening hours on Saturday and Sunday morning. There was still a line some 60 customers long at Apple's flagship shop on Fifth Ave in Manhattan early Monday morning.

Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., had his team observe the weekend launch by visiting Apple and AT&T retail stores in the New York and Minneapolis area. He roughly estimated early Monday morning that Apple sold just 425,000 units worldwide during the weekend, and that it would take the company another two weeks before it could hit the 1 million mark.

One analyst was spot on in his estimates for opening weekend sales, however. Mike Abramsky with RBC Capital Markets issued a research report to clients on Friday in which he said that pent up demand, expanded distribution, and lower pricing would push shipments of over 1 million iPhone 3Gs during the first weekend — a more than fourfold increase over the previous year.

"We expect Apple to ship 5.1 million units in [the three-month period] after launch and 6.5 million 3G phones" in the December quarter, he said.

Shares of Apple rose $4.03 or more than 2.3 percent to $176.61 in early morning trading on the Nasdaq stock market.