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An employee cleans an advertisement plate at an Apple dealership on the eve of iPhone 5's release, in Wuhan, Hubei province December 13, 2012.DARLEY SHEN/Reuters

Apple Inc. sold over 2 million units of its new iPhone 5 in its first weekend on sale in China, a record for the company's smartphone in potentially its biggest market.

The news could provide a much needed boost for shares in Apple when the market opens in New York on Monday. The stock has fallen more than 25 per cent in the past three months partly because of concerns that growth in iPhone and iPad sales will not be sustained.

The iPhone 5 went on sale on Friday in China, online and at Apple's retail store, with the carriers China Unicom and China Telecom also selling the handset.

"Customer response to iPhone 5 in China has been incredible, setting a new record with the best first weekend sales ever in China," said Tim Cook, Apple CEO, in a statement.

Apple did not release comparable three-day sales figures for the iPhone 4S, the 5's predecessor, which went on sale in January. The iPhone 4 went on sale in China in September 2010, before its online store opened that October and China Telecom began supporting the iPhone in the first quarter of this year.

China Mobile, the largest carrier in China with nearly 700m subscribers and a 65 per cent market share, does not currently support the iPhone, but analysts expect Apple to strike a deal with the carrier by late 2013.

Analysts at UBS had said that some of their Chinese sources did not expect the iPhone 5 to do as well as the 4S. There was no queue outside Apple's Shanghai store when it opened on Friday.

But China Unicom reported more than 300,000 online reservations for the phone earlier this month, with the city of Beijing along with Guangdong and Shandong provinces leading demand, ahead of Shanghai.

Apple shipped around 3.3m iPhones into China in the third quarter, according to Gartner, a technology research company, down from 5.7m in the first quarter.

Analysts at Stifel Nicolaus expect Apple to ship 49m iPhones globally this quarter. Apple says the iPhone 5, launched on September 21, will be available in more than 100 countries by the end of December - its fastest ever rollout.

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