September 2012
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Day September 25, 2012

Measuring iPhone demand

When Apple announced five million iPhone 5 were sold to end users over its launch weekend, I was surprised. Not because my guess had been around 6 million, but because the company had set expectations by announcing a doubling of pre-orders from the year-ago 4S launch.

Instead of doubling its performance for the launch weekend the company only sold 25% more units. How can there be this discrepancy? Is this a sign that demand is not growing at the rate we’ve become accustomed to? Is it a sign that there are shortages of components or labor or other production problems?

No, probably none of the above.

What we saw in the 5 million figure is what the company was able to deliver in the hands of buyers. It’s possible that there were people who did not get a phone when they wanted it, and at the same time it’s possible that some phones were available for sale and did not get bought.

This is because Apple offers the product through multiple channels. Some channels like Apple Stores may have gotten too many units while other channels like their on-line store, operator stores or retail partners did not get enough.

In other words, we have a situation of over- and under-supply (or over- and under-demand) simultaneously because the product is misallocated.

Can this really happen?