iPhone Demand Seen Outstripping Supply

At least one analyst thinks Apple may have sold fewer iPhones last quarter than current estimates suggest, but not because no one wants an iPhone 3GS, quite the opposite.

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As the numbers from research firm Canalys indicate, there is no customer shortage for the iPhone 3GS. According to senior analyst Pete Cunningham, “Apple has revolutionized the smart phone sector, leapfrogging more experienced rivals.” In North America, that leapfrogging has put Apple ahead of everyone but RIM, whose market share remained flat, and there’s more good news. According to Canalys, touchscreens are now the preferred interface for smartphones, accounting for 40 percent of all shipments, and Apple is the undisputed leader when it comes to multi-touch and the user interface. The only problem may be that Apple has been too successful.

While the consensus for iPhone sales in the third quarter is around seven million units sold, a pair of analysts are raising concerns. Via AppleInsider, Gene Munster from Piper Jaffray referenced Apple’s conference call from July, at which it was stated supplies of the iPhone 3GS were constrained. Munster is also concerned about supplies for the international market. Apple’s wireless partner in Italy has suggested the company could double sales from 20,000 units sold per month were supplies available. Nonetheless, Munster is still predicting iPhone sales in excess of 7 million units.

Via Apple 2.0, Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner is not so optimistic. His concern stems from comments made by Steve Jobs at the Apple music event last month in which it was “implied that ~3.5M phones had been sold with only 21 days left in the quarter.” That number is derived from Jobs remarking that 30 million iPhones had been sold since 2007, then subtracting the 26.5 million that have been reported in earnings statements. That’s a tenuous assumption, but Reiner still appears to be pulling back from his low-ball estimate of 6 million iPhones for the quarter.

It’s hard to imagine Apple keeping real iPhone shortages a secret. More likely, Steve Jobs was rounding down, and on Monday we’ll find out Apple has sold somewhere between seven and eight million iPhones, and probably closer to eight million. Even if Apple is working against iPhone supply constraints due to popularity, that’s the kind of problem beleaguered Microsoft and Windows Mobile would love to have.

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