Apple 2.0

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Apple had plenty of iPhone 5Cs in stock overnight Friday

September 13, 2013: 9:39 AM ET

Weak demand or strong supply? Only Apple knows for sure.

iPhone 5C orderFORTUNE -- At first it felt like deja vu all over again.

Just like last year, I set my alarm Friday morning for 3 a.m. Eastern (midnight Pacific), woke my Mac and went to the Apple Store, where the  "We'll be back" sign was flashing in 10 different languages.

This went on for nearly 15 minutes -- just like last year, when orders for the iPhone 5 were so heavy Apple's (AAPL) servers couldn't keep up.

But unlike last year, when the only way I could make a purchase was through the iPhone Apple Store, I eventually connected on my Mac and pre-ordered the white iPhone 5C my wife had selected. Payment was taken and delivery set for Sept. 20, thank you very much.

Last year Apple ran through its supplies of the iPhone 5 in less than an hour -- which Wall Street took as a sign of enormous pent-up demand. When the stock market opened at 9:30 a.m., Apple's shares rocketed to a new record high of $696.98, adding $40.98 billion to the company's market cap in the space of two days.

Three days later, Apple announced that it had sold a record 2 million iPhones in 24 hours, double the record set one year earlier by the iPhone 4S.

This year, by contrast, there were still plenty of iPhone 5Cs in stock an hour later. Also four hours later. And as I write this, at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, you can still pre-order a 16GB or 32GB iPhone 5C in any of five colors and on any of four U.S. carriers' networks and be guaranteed delivery by Friday 9/20.

chart_ws_stock_appleinc_2013913172716_240xaDoes that mean that demand was weak or that supplies were strong? It's a materially important question, and only Apple knows for sure.

We do know, however, that the iPhone 5 was a new "form factor," in the jargon of the trade, and according to Foxconn was particularly hard to assemble.

The iPhone 5C, because it's the same size as the iPhone 5 and shares many of the same internals, should be easier for Apple to manufacturer in quantities sufficient to meet demand. Besides, the early adopter types are more likely to spring for the iPhone 5S, which won't go on sale until next week.

Wall Street could argue the situation round or flat. Apple shares opened Friday morning down $2.79 (0.59%) and quickly headed further south.

UPDATE: 9to5Mac's Jordan Kahn  reported at 10:34 a.m. Eastern that the unlocked version of the 16GB yellow iPhone 5C was the first to sell out. Deliveries now promised for 9/25. All other models were still in stock.

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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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