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iPhone Shortage Stokes the Rumor Mill

April 2, 2008

The recent shortage of Apple’s iPhone among U.S. retailers is sparking speculation that a new model could be forthcoming.

The lack of devices can be seen nationwide in Apple’s stores as well as its online store, which could lead to lost sales of up to 40,000 units per week, said Bernstein Research.

Supply appears to be normal at stores managed by AT&T Inc, as the company reported the activation of “just at or slightly under 2 million” iPhones.

Toni Sacconaghi, Sanford Bernstein’s Apple authority, said that there appear to be about 1.4 million iPhones that are unaccounted for, adding that they could be unlocked or sitting in inventory.

Apple reported that it had sold 3.75 million iPhones as of Dec. 29. Activation statistics by AT&T account for 2 million of the total sold, while 350,000 have been sold in Europe. Of the remainder, 750,000 iPhones have yet to be unlocked, leaving 670,000 iPhones completely unaccounted for.

Sacconaghi said that this could indicate demand for the device is lower than investors had anticipated. This could be hazardous for Apple since the firm has set a goal of selling 10 million iPhones in 2008 alone.

Apple declined to confirm the shortage, but spokesman Steve Dowling said: “We are working to replenish iPhone supplies as quickly as we can and our stores continue to receive shipments almost every day.”

“In our view, the most likely explanation for this unusual situation is a production shortfall, possibly due to a component shortage,” said Sacconaghi.

American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu is among an audience who believe the recent shortage could indicate the coming of new iPhones that will run on faster 3G wireless networks.

Wu, who predicted that Apple would sell 11 million phones in 2008, said Apple could release a new model as early as June or July, which would be almost 3 months sooner than expected.

“What gives us higher conviction in the accelerated timetable is that iPhone inventory levels appear fairly lean, which is consistent with Apple’s tendency to wind down inventory ahead of an update,” Wu said.

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