Summary:

When Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) launched the iPhone 4S in October, some thought the device would be a disappointment to the market because it was no…

Facebook Mobile on iPhone
photo: Facebook

When Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) launched the iPhone 4S in October, some thought the device would be a disappointment to the market because it was not a significant enough upgrade to the iPhone 4. Then Apple began to release sales numbers that confounded that theory. Yesterday, however, two conflicting reports emerged that claimed, alternately, that Apple was cutting orders of the iPhone 4S after slowing sales, and that this was not the case at all.

So which one is it? One indication could come in the form of some usage statistics from Facebook.

Benedict Evans, an analyst with Enders Analysis in London, has taken the number of monthly active users accessing Facebook via its iPhone app over the last few months — numbers that the social network releases regularly — and plotted them out on a graph:

The graph shows, by way of Facebook usage on the platform, constant growth of iPhone usage. However, come October, when Apple introduced the iPhone 4S, the growth pattern shifts: from one angle of steady increases to “even faster growth than before. No slowdown here,” writes Evans.

This graphic gives a little bit of color to two reports out yesterday, one that claimed sales were slowing down and one that claimed they were still going strong.

The data could be an indication that the iPhone 4S has been selling very well — with all of those new iPhone owners accessing Facebook — if you assume growing consumer interest in Facebook has remained relatively constant. That number seems to be growing as quickly now as it was six weeks ago (no slowdown, in Evans’ words).

But the Facebook data also raises other questions:

» There seems to be a clear connection here between the introduction of the iPhone 4S and Facebook take-up. But that might not mean more sales iPhone 4S: as the 4S was introduced, several resellers, including carriers, began to offer older models at new, lower prices. So some of that growth in Facebook could be coming from the iPhone 4 or even the iPhone 3S.

» Facebook itself introduced a series of enhancements to its own site after its developer conference, F8, on September 22, including significantly more content sharing and consuming options for users. Although mobile was not front and center in those updates, if those changes resulted in site itself getting a bump in users, could that too have had an effect on the number of people using the platform on the iPhone?

(It’s also worth pointing out that the update that Facebook released for the iPhone app at the beginning of September seems to have no impact on increasing usage on the platform.)

A report yesterday in Digitimes alleged that Apple has told component suppliers to delay part of their shipments to the first quarter of 2012, from their original date of the fourth quarter of 2011, because of slower sales and shortages in the supply of other key components.

Apple analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, however, refuted this (via Business Insider), citing research done by his bank polling 30 Apple stores and finding that over half (57 percent) had all their stock of the device sold out with the others sold out of certain models (but not all). He is sticking to his original estimate of Apple selling 26 million units of the device in this quarter.

Official figures released by Apple note that the iPhone 4S sold 4 million units in its first three days on the market, which Apple said was double the sales numbers for its predecessor, the iPhone 4. But it has not given public updates about how those sales have progressed since then.

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