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The iPhone 4 clearly has a lot of enemies. But it’s also got a massive fanbase, as this weekend’s sales figures attest. Apple claims that 1.7 million iPhone 4’s had been shifted by Saturday, which suggests that by today, Wednesday, it should be well over the two million mark. So how do these numbers compare with previous models? And what do these comparisons tell us about why the iPhone 4 is already Apple’s biggest cellular success to date.

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It took the original iPhone, which first went on sale three years ago after a six-month lead time, 74 days to pass the one-million mark. At the time, this was considered a major achievement and a benchmark by which rivals began measuring their own success. Nokia was quick to talk up the success of its 5800 ‘Tube’ in such terms, despite it not really being an iPhone rival at all.

However, the fact it took the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS just three days to zip past the million mark laid down new ground. Apple’s hype machine is perfectly tuned and the fact that both phones arrived on shelves almost immediately after they had been announced meant that there was no time lost between the initial buzz and that killer feeling of getting one in your hand.

So how come the iPhone 4 has done so much better? After all, the same OS is available for the iPhone 3GS and doesn’t cost a thing. Well, it has to be down in part to contract timing, plus those killer features that some phone fanatics just cannot do without. This was especially germane in the case of Phone 3G owners on two-year deals who were shut out of the free upgrade party last time around and are ready and willing to kiss goodbye to their ageing, creaking blowers.

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And let's face it, the iPhone 4 is without a doubt a much more comprehensive boost than the iPhone 3GS. From the camera to FaceTime to iMovie and the forthcoming iWork, it offers much greater functionality, even if it has issues with something as basic as mobile phone reception.

Also, it cannot be denied that in the space of three years Apple has grown rapidly. In that time its profits have surged and sales figures have ballooned. We've also seen its cachet soar among those who would normally not be bothered by the latest technology. It has become the Nike of the tech world. A default brand. Yes, there are complaints to be levelled at Cupertino, but it seems only the hardcore seem to care that much. How can you account for so many iPhone 4 sales otherwise?

What will be interesting in the coming weeks and months is to see whether iPhone 4 sales level off. Or even whether they get a new boost as more people get them and convert their pals to the cause.

Rivals have now got a harder job than ever to convince punters that their phones are better and, sadly, cooler than Apple’s. Nokia will start selling that N8 on August 24th. If it does a million in a month that should be regarded as a great achievement. But the time when any rival could even dream of matching Apple’s hype, and first weekend sales, appears to have long gone.

Compare iPhone 4 deals at Top10: iPhone 4 Deals

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