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The biggest customer complaint about the iPhone

Customers’ biggest complaint about the iPhone 4: They can’t buy one, because it’s sold out.

via AppleInsider | Jobs calls Bloomberg story ‘total bull,’ says NYT ‘making things up’.

This has also been my complaint and it’s a far more serious complaint than any of those that attract media attention.

1 million iPhone 4s sold per week

We’ve sold well over 3 million since we launched it 3 weeks ago

via Live from Apple’s iPhone 4 press conference — Engadget.

Could we dare to think that implies 52 million in a year’s production?

Apple's supply problem

With the iPad still unavailable three months after its launch and with only 1.7 million iPhones available for purchase in the first three days, Apple’s inability to meet demand is surfacing as its most immediate and glaring problem. This problem merits the deployment of some of the cash Apple is hoarding.

As I wrote in May, Apple’s next billion users are in waiting. However, to serve them in a timely manner requires a new approach to product launch and ramps.

Apple has imposed upon itself a yearly product cycle for the iPhone and the iPod [and, probably for the iPad].  This is a brilliant move because it keeps the product fresh without having it seem disposable.  It also keeps competitors within its turning radius. However, the challenge is that the distribution network has to be filled rapidly and drained rapidly to maximize availability. This gets harder and harder as the volume grows. Imagine having to manufacture and ship into the channel a billion devices in less than a quarter.

This year’s iPhone 4 launch was heavily over-subscribed.  If Apple had enough supply, launch sales could have gone as high as 2.5 million, one analyst believes. Apple admitted mis-diagnosing demand and problems arose during the reservation process. There were insufficient units for pre-order, never mind for users walking into stores.  The shocking thing is that three months on, the iPad is still unavailable to impulse buyers who might want to pick one up with their iPhone.  This despite the fact that most of the world does not have any purchase option.

Now I ask what will happen next year?  Supply may balance with demand by October and strains will show again around Christmas.  Then what?  The iPhone 5 will be getting prepared with another 50% to 100% growth in demand.  How will June 2011 and June 2012 look?  Will Apple have 4x the supply of iPhones and iPads needed to maintain growth?

There are various solutions possible, but if Apple wants to maintain the product cycle, the event marketing and the “reveal” that builds brand value, it needs to change the way it manufactures.  By investing in automation, locating plants near to buyers and by integrating suppliers into production, it can get the quantum leap in supply it needs.  These are capital-intensive solutions, but Apple’s capital is underemployed.  I see no better use for the rapidly-building cash pile.

iPhone 4 ASP is $600

As a footnote to the unlocked iPhone 4 story, it’s worth noting that the average Apple store pricing for UK and France is around $824 (assuming equal blending between the two countries and between the two models).  Excluding corresponding VAT leads to an approximate ASP of $695.

Operators probably get a slightly better price so my estimate for the iPhone 4 ASP of $600 seems reasonable with potential upside based on product and regional mix.

Steve Jobs forecasts iPhone sales to grow at least 50% y/y

Well, not exactly.

During the WWDC keynote Steve Jobs announced that “we will ship 10’s of millions of FaceTime devices in 2010″.  Since only iPhone 4 currently runs FaceTime(*) then it stands to reason that there will be “10’s of millions” of iPhone 4 devices sold.  And since the year is half over, it means we can divide “10’s of millions” over two quarters.  That puts sales in the 10+ million range per quarter.

My current forecast shows 11 million in Q3 and 13 million in Q4 corresponding to 50% y/y growth.

Steve Jobs seems to be indicating this is well within reason.

(*) one exception to this assumption is that he’s including a future iPod touch running FaceTime.  This may very well be the case when the iPod line-up will be released probably in October.