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Munster: 500,000 new iPhones this weekend

Will there be long lines outside Apple Stores Friday at 7 a.m. when the iPhone 3GS goes on sale?

Gene Munster thinks there will, although not as long as last year’s.

Piper Jaffray’s senior research analyst issued a report to clients Thursday in which he estimates that Apple (AAPL) will sell half a million units of the new iPhone this weekend.

That’s half as many as Apple sold the weekend of July 11, 2008, when the iPhone 3G launched and more than a million units walked out the door.

But Munster notes that the 3G went on sale in 21 countries, whereas the 3GS is launching in only eight.

He also believes the new model provides what he calls a “less dramatic change in value proposition”:

“In 2008, Apple introduced the iPhone 3G at $199, a 50% reduction from the previous model, which drove demand up significantly. Most customers will be able to purchase the new iPhone 3GS for $199 (the same price as the previous model). As such, the change in value proposition for the iPhone 3G S is not as meaningful as it was for the iPhone 3G, leading to less of a surge in units at launch.”

Still, 500,000 is a lot of iPhones. It’s nearly twice as many as Apple sold in the last two days of June 2007, when the original model went on sale. And it’s roughly 10 times the 50,000 Pres that analysts estimate Palm (PALM) moved in that device’s first two days of sales.

Given the June 8 price reduction on the iPhone 3G ($99 for an 8GB model, down from $199), Muster declared himself “increasingly confident” in his 5 million iPhone target for the June quarter. That number includes 3 million iPhones in the month of June alone — 2.5 million old models and 500,000 new. See chart.

Query for Apple marketing: Who named this thing the iPhone 3G S? It’s a tech writer’s nightmare. Not only is it difficult typographically to distinguish the new iPhones from all those iPhone 3Gs, but the plural is awkward in the extreme. iPhone 3G Ss? Give me a break!

[STYLE NOTE: In its June 22 press release, Apple started referring to the new iPhone as the iPhone 3GS (no space). Pluralization is still awkward, but it’s improvement. We’re going with it.]

UPDATE: RBC Capital’s Mike Abramsky is slightly more sanguine. In his Thursday morning note he’s predicting Apple will ship 500,000 to 700,000 iPhone 3GSs (see?) this weekend. Proprietary research from RBC/ChangeWave shows pent-up demand for both the new iPhone and the discounted 3G model, he writes. 44% of 4,100 smartphone buyers surveyed in June said they were interested in buying an iPhone in the next 90 days, up from 30% in March. See chart below:

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