Was the iPhone launch a success?

So it's been and gone. The iPhone has launched in the UK. After the last stores shut their doors on Friday, one question remains - was it a success?

It seems like the subject of some debate, with a number of know-it-alls getting confused. A lot of web pundits reckon the launch wasn't a success because there weren't queues outside the shops. Only, there were around 1,300 stores selling the iPhone on 9 November and, it seems, all of them had stock.

Sure, the mass hysteria at the Regent Street store contrasted with every other outlet, but it was always going to.

One of the more amusing pieces we spotted was a blog piece at the rival Dial-a-Phone website. To quell iPhone hysteria they had not only written a '51 reasons not to buy the iPhone' piece, but followed it up with another blog on Friday showing the lack of queues outside Carphone Warehouse stores.

Problem was, all the pictures were taken three hours before the launch. Although the time of day wasn't revealed until much further down the blog there was one big giveaway - it was still light.

The first 10,000 units

Never mind, because the facts probably will speak for themselves. Nobody has definitive figures on the launch, though there are rumours that O2 received 8,000 activation attempts (not sales) on Friday night - it had, says ArsTechnica, only expected 3,000.

Now that's a success, don't you think? The Carphone Warehouse said before launch it expected to sell 10,000 handsets on the night. At a very rough approximation, that's under 13 per store.

And while we can't see some of them having sold more than a couple, we'd have thought there were a fair few that sold a darn sight more than that.

As for O2... well one of our colleagues bought his iPhone from the lovely O2 store in Bath on Sunday. They told him they had sold 65. That's not a big store, by any means, but it is surely quite a healthy number for the relatively small size of the outlet - it sold 35 in the first hour.

CPW hits Chip and PIN bother

The launch didn't go without some hitches. Some Chip and PIN machines at Carphone Warehouse crashed. Our editor was in the centre of Bristol. "There were two people in the queue when we got there, but it went up to around 25 just before the 6.02pm launch," he said.

The first woman in the queue, Louise Wilcox, took 30 minutes to buy her phone as a result of the problems, whereas others took just a few minutes. "The issue was resolved pretty quickly," a spokesperson for Carphone Warehouse told The Telegraph. "It had a minimal impact on sales."

Michael Watts, Carphone Warehouse area manager for Bristol and Bath, said that his store had a couple of hundred iPhones in stock and they were "unlikely to sell out on day one". He added that re-ordering wouldn't take long.

A poster at PC Advisor said they were able to pay cash after the fiasco: "It took me an hour [to buy an iPhone] in Sevenoaks, and I was allowed to pay by cash. A shambles really."

"Tens of thousands" sold

Our reporter Anna Lagerkvist bumped into O2's PR man Nick Wilkins at the Regent Street launch. He said the turnout was "quite mad". "It's so great to see so many people here, and I'm really proud of what we've done."

Peter Erskine, O2 chief executive told The Times: "It has been the fastest-selling device we have ever seen." The iPhone sold "in the tens of thousands" since its launch on Friday, he added. "Around two thirds of iPhone customers are new to O2 and footfall [in O2 stores] has been better than expected," he also revealed to a conference call with CNN.

As an aside, T-Mobile seems to have suggested that 10,000 have so far been sold in Germany. Of course, the only ones with proper access to all these numbers will be Apple.

But barring an uncharacteristic change of media friendliness, it's unlikely we'll get any of those out of Jobs' troops until his Macworld keynote in January. Then, we'll expect him to be talking about perhaps 2 million iPhones having been sold - the company has already shifted 1.4 million in the US.

No 3G iPhone 'til 2008

Some more interesting details emerged around the time of the launch, like that a faster, 3G iPhone won't be available until rather late in 2008 and probably won't hit the UK for some time after that. And then, that the "multi-year" contracts between Apple and O2 are five years - exactly the same as AT&T. If you're an Apple fan, expect to be on the network for some time to come.

Of course, the contracts are expensive. And though O2's clever promise of unlimited internet (both via GPRS/EDGE and Wi-Fi) is extremely compelling, it's still a big outlay for the average punter. So even if it is 10,000 units sold - to get that number on a Friday night, in the space of four hours? That's got to be a successful launch.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.