New iPhones hit stores, record sales expected in first weekend

SAN FRANCISCO/SYDNEY – The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus hit stores around the world on Friday, at the start of what is expected to be a record weekend for sales of Apple Inc’s marquee product.

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A security guard stands next to customers as they stand in the rain waiting to enter the Apple store during the official launch of the iPhone 6s in central Sydney, Australia, September 25, 2015. REUTERS/DAVID GRAY

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Eager buyers – joined by at least one robot – flocked to Apple stores from Sydney to New York, itching to get their hands on new models boasting a 3D touch feature and an improved camera.

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“The first thing I’m going to do is take a picture,” said Lithuanian student Justina Siciunaite, 25, the first of hundreds to emerge with an iPhone 6s from Apple’s flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

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Analysts expect 12 million to 13 million phones to fly off the shelves in the first weekend, up from more than 10 million last year when the launch of the hugely successful iPhone 6 was delayed in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market.

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Apple, whose shares were up less than 1 percent in morning trading, has said pre-orders suggested sales were on pace to beat last year’s first-weekend performance.

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Among the first to pick up the new iPhone 6s in a cold, rainy Sydney was a robot named Lucy, operated by marketing executive Lucy Kelly.

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“I obviously have my work and other things to attend to and can’t spend two days lining up so my boss at work suggested I take one of the robots down and use it to stand in my place,” she said, via an iPad mounted on top of the wheeled robot.

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After a dramatic redesign last year, which included an enlarged screen and the addition of mobile payments, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus boast more modest improvements.

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The phones, which are the same size as last year’s models, feature 3D touch, a display technology based on a “Taptic Engine” that responds according to how hard users press their screens.

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However, several reviewers have said the new features might not be compelling enough to persuade iPhone 6 users to upgrade.

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“You might not feel the usual pull to get a new iPhone unless you really want a better front-facing camera,” Nilay Patel of The Verge said in a review published on Tuesday.

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Apple has said just a fraction of its customers have upgraded to the iPhone 6, suggesting there is room to grow.

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More important than customer appetite for upgrades is the iPhone’s “proliferation” outside the United States, particularly in China, said Aaron Rakers, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

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PRETTY IN ROSE-GOLD

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Hundreds gathered outside the Apple store in downtown San Francisco. Among them was pink-haired software developer Jo Engo, 37, who has lobbied Apple leaders past and present for a phone in his favorite color.

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“I have emailed not only Steve Jobs but Tim Cook,” Engo said outside the store. “I’m so excited they’re finally doing it.”

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Phones in rose-gold – an approximation of pink – proved popular at stores in New York and San Francisco.

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FBR Capital Markets senior analyst Daniel Ives said the color was a “major selling point.”

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Repair firm iFixit, which opened up an iPhone 6s and 6s Plus on Friday, said battery capacity was down “a bit”, probably to accommodate the Taptic Engine. Apple has said battery life is unchanged in the new phones.

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The new iPhones use chips made by, among others, Qualcomm Inc, Avago Technologies Ltd, Qorvo Inc’s TriQuint Semiconductor and RF Micro Devices, Texas Instruments Inc and Skyworks Solutions Inc.

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Shares of audio chipmaker Cirrus Logic Inc jumped more than 17 percent after iFixit’s tear-down revealed that Apple had used its chips, as it did in previous iPhones.

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The iPhone 6s also houses NAND flash memory chips made by Toshiba Corp, while the iPhone 6 used memory chips made by SanDisk Corp.

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Lackluster offerings this year from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd will help Apple stand out in the marketplace, said analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor & Strategy. He said he expected the 6s to eclipse the 6 “over the long haul.”

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The 6s and 6s Plus start at $199 and $299 respectively with a two-year service-provider contract. – Reuters

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