Apple's Latest iPhone Comes Roaring Out of the Gates as Jobs Silently Returns

Amidst rumors that CEO Steve Jobs secretly had a liver transplant two months ago, Apple sold more than 1 million third-generation iPhone smartphones over the weekend, the company said. That number easily eclipses first-weekend sales of rival Palm Pre, which launched a week earlier in the United States only and sold around 100,000 units.

Additionally, the company reported that more than 6 million existing iPhone customers downloaded the latest iPhone software update, iPhone 3.0, in five days. That update was made available to customers for free.

"Customers are voting and the iPhone is winning," Jobs said in a prepared statement. "iPhone momentum is stronger than ever."

That quote is the first public statement attributed to the reclusive Jobs since he suddenly took a six-month leave of absence for a mysterious medical condition. Pasting Jobs' name next to a quote that could have just as easily been attributed to any Apple executive may not seem like a big deal, but don't be misled: This is Apple's cagey way of saying that Jobs has returned to the company in late June as previously promised.

That Jobs is key to Apple's success is obvious. But it was made all the more obvious over the past six months as Apple released minor, evolutionary, and even somewhat-obvious updates to several key products, while announcing no major new strategies as it has done regularly under Jobs' tutelage. With Jobs returning to the helm, even in a part-time capacity (as is rumored), Apple is poised to once again make a more dynamic run at Microsoft and other industry heavyweights.

The latest iPhone model is an example of these minor updates, as it offers only evolutionary improvements over its predecessor. Now dubbed the iPhone 3GS (it was originally called the iPhone 3G S, but Apple silently and retroactively renamed it), the latest iPhone is off to a fast start. As with previous iPhone launch events, long lines snaked past Apple stores around the world, and while the lines weren't as long as with previous launches, they speak to the iPhone's continued hold on consumers.

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