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Thursday, June 24, 2010, 03:05 pm PT (06:05 pm ET)

iPhone 4 launch could sell 1.5 million, FaceTime seen as key driver

The iPhone 4 launch is expected to far exceed last year's debut of the iPhone 3GS, as Apple could see as much as 1.5 million units sold, with users said to be most excited about the addition of FaceTime.

Piper Jaffray

Analyst Gene Munster said that his firm noted lines two-to-three times longer than previous iPhone launches, and 9 of 20 stores surveyed were sold out of the handset by Thursday afternoon. Most of the remaining stores, he said, expected to be sold out by the end of the day.

Munster has estimated sales of 9.5 million units in both the June and September quarter. Given the strong launch and the fact that Apple has already announced that there were 600,000 iPhone 4 preorders on day one, he said he is increasingly confident in his estimates.

"Our best guess is that Apple reserves about half of the units for pre-orders (mail delivery and in-store pick up) and half for in-store purchases (walk-ins), implying total sales for the launch (including the 600k already announced for online and first three days) of between 1.0m to 1.5m," he wrote. "This would be the biggest iPhone launch (compare to 3GS at 1m)."

Last year, Apple sold over one million of the iPhone 3GS in its first three days. That, at the time, was the strongest debut for Apple's smartphone, but it is widely expected to be eclipsed by the iPhone 4.

UBS Investment Research

Based on a survey of over 100 customers outside of two Apple stores in New York City on Thursday, analyst Maynard Um found that 68 percent of respondents said FaceTime video chat is the most attractive new feature of the iPhone 4. Another 24 percent said the new HD capabilities, including 720p HD video recording and the new iMovie for iPhone, were the main selling point.

Among those surveyed, 64 percent said they planned to buy the high-end $299 32GB iPhone 4. That's more than the just-over-half that said they were getting the 32GB iPhone 3GS a year ago. Most who opted for the 32GB model said they were doing so because of higher capacity demands for HD video capabilities.

"As supply catches up with demand, our 9.8mm unit estimate for the September quarter is likely to prove conservative given the accelerated international launch," Um said. The handset launched in the U.S., France, Germany, the U.K., and Japan on Thursday. Apple has announced that the iPhone 4 international launch will ramp up to 87 total countries by September, its fastest global deployment of a new handset.

The UBS survey also found that 80 percent of respondents were upgrading to the iPhone 4 from the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 3G. Among switchers, 7 percent were transitioning from BlackBerry, 4 percent from Nokia, 3 percent from HTC, and 2 percent from Samsung.

Most — 78 percent — said they currently owned a Mac, another 33 percent owned an iPad, and 30 percent own an iPod touch. All of those surveyed (100 percent) said they own some type of iPod from Apple.