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The long lines of customers at Apple stores Thursday were the latest sign of the iPhone’s soaring popularity. Sales of the gadget have skyrocketed since the first iPhone hit stores three years ago.

So what if the new iPhone 4 has a few glitches — such as signal loss if you hold it the wrong way or yellow blobs on some screens? Buyers picked up the phones so fast that some stores ran out within hours. Apple said last week it had received more than 600,000 pre-orders for the iPhone 4. The company hasn’t released official figures yet, but Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner estimated first-day sales at about 1.5 million.

Apple sold a record 8.75 million iPhones during the first three months of this year, more than twice as many as in the same quarter of 2009. Gleacher & Co. analyst Brian Marshall predicted this week that sales will hit at least 40 million this year and 50 million in 2011, with overseas sales accounting for 80 percent of the total. The chart below illustrates how quarterly sales have grown since 2007. (Note: Apple uses a fiscal year calendar for earnings, so its first quarter starts in October.)

There are still more BlackBerry smart phones in use, but they don’t inspire the kind of passionate devotion that iPhones do. On Thursday, BlackBerry developer Research in Motion reported disappointing quarterly sales of 11.2 million handsets. And even though the company recently shipped its 100 millionth BlackBerry, it is “losing out in the high end of the market dominated by the iPhone,” according to the Financial Times.

More than three-quarters of Thursday’s iPhone 4 sales were upgrades for existing devices, which shows how many users are hooked on the brand, said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

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