But many analysts are skeptical the device will be popular among mainstream customers as it does not support television services or electronic payment features widely used in Japan. However, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities analyst Shinji Moriyuki said Softbank stores were getting 50 to 100 inquiries a day per store about iPhones, compared with up to 30 a day before the launch of DoCoMo's popular 906i device series.
Research firm Enterbrain said 6.7 percent of 1,200 people it surveyed in Japan wanted to buy an iPhone immediately, while 35.7 percent were interested but undecided. Even in mainland China, where Apple has announced no carrier deals or official plans to sell the phone, retailers were gearing up to sell gray-market iPhones.
Many carriers are making buyers of subsidized iPhones commit to contracts they cannot break without a penalty, to discourage them from unlocking the phone to work on other networks. But a merchant on the third floor of the Cybermart mall on Shanghai's posh Huaihai Road said hacking would still happen.
"As soon as we get it from Hong Kong and bring it over and unlock it, you should be able to buy it here by the end of July at the latest," said the vendor, whose surname was Zhang. "The Chinese are very quick at unlocking iPhones."
Apple still gets paid for hacked phones. Whitmore estimated iPhone gross profit margins at more than 50 percent, versus his estimate for iPod margins in the low 30 percent range. "To the extent it cannibalizes iPod, it's better economically for Apple," he said.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew; additional reporting by Sophie Taylor in Shanghai, Sachi Izumi in Tokyo, Nicola Leske in Frankfurt, Edwin Chan and Vinicy Chan in Hong Kong, Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton in London; Editing by Braden Reddall)