Apple 2.0

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Fuzzy Math: How many iPhones did Europeans buy?

January 27, 2008: 9:17 AM ET

picture-6.jpgEnd-of-year sales figures for Apple's (AAPL) iPhone in Europe are trickling in, but not in any form that can be definitively pieced together.

That latest news comes from Germany, where the head of Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile division said in an online interview Saturday that it had signed on 70,000 customers in the 11 weeks since the device went on sale. (link)

What's not clear is whether that number represents iPhone sales or iPhone activations -- an important distinction in T-Mobile's case because for 2 of those 11 weeks it was required by court order to sell unlocked iPhones. Despite the stiff 999 euro ($1,460) price tag it set for unlocked iPhones, the company reported at the time that "many sold." Assuming those buyers activated their iPhones with other carriers, they cannot be counted as T-Mobile customers.

France Telecom's Orange division, meanwhile, reported in early January that it sold 70,000 iPhones in just four weeks. But Orange did say how many iPhones it had activated -- sure to be less than 70,000 because Orange was required by French law to sell unlocked iPhones during the entire period.

O2, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the U.K., hasn't issued any sales figures yet, but the Financial Times, citing unnamed "people familiar with the situation," claims sales in the first 8 weeks came in at 190,000. (link)

Four weeks, 8 weeks, 11 weeks. Activated, sold. Locked, unlocked. There's no logical way to sort those number out.

But that hasn't stopped U.S. analysts. When trying last week to unravel the discrepancy between Apple's iPhone sales (3.7 million in 2007) and AT&T's activations (less than 2 million), Bernstein's Toni Sacconaghi and Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster both seem to have toted up those numbers, added a fudge factor, and come up with 350,000. (See The case of the missing iPhones.)

Is 350,000 good or bad? It's hard to tell. O2 said it was "happy" with its sales figures, although they seem to have come in below O2's initial target of 200,000 units. Similarly, France Telecom said its 70,000 sales were well within its target range of 50,000 to 100,000, although as Wired points out, CEO Didier Lombard told Europe 1 radio he hoped to sell 100,000 iPhones before the end of the year, not 50,000 to 100,000. (link)

Deutsche Telekom, perhaps wisely, doesn't seem to have issued any public sales target. What Philipp Humm, head of T-Mobile Germany, did say in that online interview yesterday, according to Reuters, is that "the iPhone is by far the most sold multimedia device in T-Mobile's portfolio."

That I believe.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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