Worrywarts fret about Apple's iPhone units for the September quarter

As Apple heads to the end of its September quarter prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork to gauge the state of iPhone supply and demand.

As Apple heads to the end of its September quarter prognosticators are coming out of the woodwork to gauge the state of iPhone supply and demand.

The handicapping picked up in earnest following Apple's iPod event. Apple launched a new nano with a camera and a few other updates, but the big story was the return of Apple CEO Steve Jobs to the stage. However, the tidbit that got Wall Street's attention was Apple's slide showing that 30 million iPHones have been sold.

That tally prompted a few analysts to question whether iPhone sales were lagging projections. Keep in mind that Apple's iPhone shipments are like Google's paid click data: Every tick is analyzed and then overanalyzed.

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Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner wrote in a research note:

Apple also disclosed that it has sold 30M iPhones to date--implying that roughly 3.5M iPhones have been sold so far in 4Q. That's well off the pace of the consensus 7M and our Street-low 6M.

Simply put, Reiner reckons that Apple has to close an iPhone sales gap.

Yet there's one more thing. Susquehanna analyst Jeffrey Fidacaro figures Apple shipments are in line (sort of). Fidacaro is betting big on China Unicom's deal with Apple:

Apple noted that it sold 30 mln cumulative iPhones to date, putting this quarter’s number at 3.6 mln quarter-to-date compared to our 7.7 mln estimate (consensus is ~6 mln-7 mln). We believe our estimate is still achievable given the expected initial sell-in to China Unicom, and an improvement in supply constraints.

Atlantic Equities analyst James Cordwell reckons that iPhone demand remains strong, but there are supply problems to worry about. Cordwell adds that it takes Apple five business days to fill an order for a 3GS iPhone compared to the usual 24 hours. "Our own channel checks continue to uncover a shortage of inventory within the channel," said Cordwell.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster earlier in the week noted that AT&T has been moving iPhones well, but 3GS supplies were tight. Munster is sticking with his 7 million iPhone unit estimate.

What's it all mean? It appears that Apple does have some supply constraints that may curtail units. Demand doesn't appear to be the issue as much as meeting it.

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