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Verizon, AT&T and Sprint began taking preorders for Apple’s iPhone 4S overnight, capping a tumultuous week for the company. The big question is how well the device will sell, compared to past iPhone launches, given the disappointment earlier in the week over the absence of the widely anticipated iPhone 5.

If the early traffic to the carriers’ websites is any indication, Apple may yet have another hit on its hand. The sites of AT&T and Sprint struggled to keep up with the load as early adopters claimed their place in the virtual line. The device will be released next Friday, Oct. 14.

Although the exterior of the iPhone 4S is the same as the existing iPhone 4, the technology inside has been given a significant overhaul, with a better processor, faster graphics, an 8 megapixel camera, better battery life, and the new Siri voice-controlled intelligent assistant, among other improvements.

About 34 percent of the more than 2,700 respondents to this week’s GeekWire poll said they planned to buy the iPhone 4S, although some still expressed disappointment that the exterior hardware isn’t getting an upgrade.

The iPhone 4S sells for $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB) and $399 (64GB).

There is a precedent for this type of upgrade: Apple’s 2009 move from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS, which is still widely used. The 3GS now sells for free with a contract as part of Apple’s revamped lineup, and the existing iPhone 4 sells for $99.

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