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Apple's 9 Million iPhones May Not Be So Impressive

By Rick Munarriz - Sep 24, 2013 at 6:30PM

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Apple's first weekend of iPhone sales falls apart under further scrutiny.

Apple (AAPL -1.80%) spiked yesterday after announcing that it had pushed out 9 million of its new iPhones this past weekend, but now we're getting more of a reality check.

"When I saw the 9 million number I basically fell out of my chair," Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster -- a longtime Apple bull -- told Bloomberg TV yesterday. "But you have to put that into context."

He added that the 9 million figure isn't a sell-through figure. It includes what he estimates are 3.5 million of the iPhone 5c units that were shipped to retailers but weren't sold during the weekend. This channel fill is important since Apple has typically only included the latest iPhone in its debut weekend press releases.

At first glance, comparing the 5 million iPhone 5 smartphones that Apple sold during that device's introductory weekend last year to the 9 million iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s handsets sold to retailers this time around sounds spectacular. However, that doesn't look so hot if 3.5 million of those 9 million phones are just giving carriers inventory of the new phone that would replace what was the 4S during last year's cycle. 

The iPhone 5c would be comparable to the 4S that was marked down to the mid-tier price of $100 less than the new phone last year. It may be available in some dazzling colors and carry a new name, but the 5c is essentially replacing what the iPhone 5 would be this time around. 

Not everyone agrees with Munster, who had originally predicted a weekend tally of 5 million to 6 million sold directly to consumers. By his count, the 5.5 million that he projects Apple actually sold over the weekend would be smack dab in his range.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek feels that Apple actually sold 6.5 million of those devices to end users. Misek's review of the supply chain estimates that the actual sales break down to 4 million for the 5s and 2.5 million for the 5c. 

In other words, according to Misek, the iPhone 5s itself didn't sell as many units as the iPhone 5 last year.  

The comparisons can get even worse.

Apple added China as a launch market this time around. It waited nearly three months after the American launch before introducing the iPhone 5 to China last year, and it then proudly proclaimed that it sold 2 million iPhone 5 smartphones in China that weekend. In other words, last year's opening weekend tally in the countries where the device was available was 7 million last year. That's an important adjustment. 

The iPhone 5 last year and the iPhone 5s this time around were in short supply, making the number of devices shipped by Apple and the devices actually sold fairly similar. This time around the figure is inflated by the iPhone 5c -- which remains readily available -- and the addition of China. Back out the 5c -- or even just the unsold 5c devices -- and it's unlikely that Apple topped the 7 million iPhone 5 smartphones that it sold in Friday's markets during its debut weekend. 

This may still be a good showing by Apple, but it's certainly not the great showing that had skeptics eating crow and at least one analyst falling off his chair.

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