Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

All eyes on the iPhone sales

April 24, 2012: 11:06 AM ET

Why is the market so freaked by the activation numbers from Verizon and AT&T?

Note the size of the AT&T and Verizon bars. Source: Asymco.com

FORTUNE -- Just when it was supposed to start its pre-earnings rebound, Apple (AAPL) headed south again, opened down $8.79 (1.5%) Tuesday morning in reaction -- according to the talking heads on CNBC -- to the news that AT&T (T) activated only 4.3 million iPhones last quarter, down from 7.6 millon in the Christmas quarter.

On top of last week's report that Verizon's (VZ) iPhone activations fell to 3.2 million from 4.2 million quarter to quarter (see here), analysts were scrambling to lower their iPhone estimates in the few hours that remain before we learn how many iPhones Apple actually sold in Q2 2012.

A few thoughts about what these analysts may be missing:

  • Reader Howard Kaplan points out that the shortfall at the two major U.S. carriers between December and March was 4.3 million iPhones. In the December quarter -- the big Christmas quarter, remember -- Apple sold 37 million iPhones. 37 million minus 4.3 million = 32.7 million without China.
  • The crew at the MacObserver's Apple Finance Board points out that from Dec. 16, 2011 onward (mostly in Apple's fiscal Q2) Apple launched the iPhone 4S in countries with a combined population of over 2.5 billion -- an addressable market larger than 2.3 billion of Q1 (which included India, where Apple sells very few iPhones).
  • China, Russia, Indonesia and Brazil -- where Apple sells a lot of iPhones -- all got their first crack at the iPhone 4S in December 2011 or January 2012. Their combined populations total about 1.8 billion.
  • Asymco's Horace Dediu, who created the chart posted above, estimates that 63% of iPhones were activated outside the U.S in Q1 -- that blow-out quarter in which domestic iPhone sales were exceptionally strong.  You can be pretty sure that the percentage of iPhones activated overseas went up, not down, in Q2.

The average estimate among the 57 analysts -- professional and independent -- we polled is 33.5 million, but the difference between the two groups is as wide as its ever been:

  • Pros: 30.88 million
  • Indies: 37.25 million
  • Our best six analysts: 35.07 million

The individual analyst's estimates -- pros in blue, independents in green -- are posted below the fold. We'll find out who was closest to the mark after the markets close today.

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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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