Apple 2.0

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Is 3.7 million AT&T iPhones in one quarter a lot or a little?

July 24, 2012: 12:08 PM ET

Activations were down -- 14% -- from Q1, but that's less than most analysts expected

FORTUNE -- Last April, when AT&T (T) reported that it had activated 4.3 million iPhones in Q1 -- down from 7.6 million in the Christmas quarter -- Wall Street looked at Verizon's (VZ) iPhone activations (3.2 million, down from 4.2 million), assumed the bloom was off the iPhone rose, and knocked another $10 off Apple's (AAPL) already depressed share price.

Wall Street apparently forgot that 63% of iPhone sales come from overseas, and when Apple reported that it sold 35 million iPhones in the quarter -- millions of them in China -- a lot of really smart people looked pretty stupid.

They seemed to have learned their lesson. Verizon reported Friday that it activated 2.7 million last quarter and on Tuesday AT&T reported that it activated 3.7 million. Both numbers were down sequentially, but this time the analysts were prepared.

"We view AT&T's June quarter iPhone number of 3.7 million as better than our prior thinking on the US markets," wrote Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster in a typical note to clients. "Between Verizon and AT&T, iPhone sales were down 15% sequentially, compared to our thinking of down 24% sequentially."

So far, Apple's shares seem to be holding up. Maybe this time traders are willing to wait a few hours for the markets to close and for Apple to report how many iPhones it actually sold.

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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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