Apple exhausts initial supply of iPhone 5S

Gold model runs out first; other colors backed up 7-10 working days in U.S.

Angela Rush
Angela Rush shows off her new iPhone 5S next to her old, cracked iPhone 4. She got in line at 6:45 am ET with 18 other people outside the AT&T store in Harrisonburg Va., which opened early at 8. (Image: Matt Hamben)

Within minutes of its sales debut early today, Apple's iPhone 5S was already in short supply, with shipping dates 7-10 business days from ordering in the U.S.

The gold-tinted model was in the shortest supply: Apple's online store said the somewhat-flashier smartphone would not ship until an undisclosed date in October.

Apple kicked off online sales of the iPhone 5S at 12:01 a.m. PT, 3:01 a.m. ET.

A Computerworld editor who placed an order for a gold iPhone 5S just two minutes after the virtual doors opened was told his smartphone would ship in 1-3 business days, and that the phone would arrive between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.

He was among the lucky. Not long after that, inventories emptied and shipping dates slipped, with first the gray model selling out, then the white. By 9 a.m. ET, the gray and white models were showing 7-10 business days before shipping in all storage space configurations for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Other markets saw the same sell-outs. In Hong Kong, the gold iPhone 5S was marked "currently unavailable," while the other tints were to ship next month. In China, the gold iPhone was expected to ship in October, while gray and white models displayed a 7-10 business day delay.

Europeans will have to wait as well: At 9 a.m. ET, all models of all colors of the iPhone 5S were tagged as shipping next month in France, Germany and the U.K.

iPhone shortages are nothing new: When the iPhone 5 went on sale a year ago -- Apple took pre-orders for its flagship in 2012 -- the company drained stocks within an hour and shoved back shipping dates by two weeks.

It sometimes takes months for Apple to reach a supply and demand balance.

Most analysts, however, believed that the iPhone 5S would be in especially short supply due to a component pinch of some kind, most likely the new fingerprint scanner or the A7 system-on-a-chip (SoC) at the core of the phone. They have speculated that Apple passed on pre-orders for the flagship this year because of the smaller-than-usual stocks.

Apple's retail stores, those of its partners -- including Best Buy and Walmart -- and the mobile carrier's outlets also start selling the iPhone 5S today. If the past is any clue, the brick-and-mortar stores will sell out if not today, then during the weekend.

Some Wall Street experts predicted bullish sales numbers, but have included the less-expensive iPhone 5C in their tallies. In a note to clients early Friday, Brian White of Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. predicted that Apple would sell between 6 million and 6.5 million new iPhones over the weekend, a 20% to 30% increase over 2012's 5 million in the same period.

Apple began taking pre-orders for the iPhone 5C, which starts at $99 with a two-year contract in the U.S., or $549 without one, a week ago, on Sept. 13.

The iPhone 5C is in much greater supply: In the U.S., Hong Kong and China, all five colors of the plastic-cased smartphone showed shipping times of 1-3 business days after ordering.

Assuming Apple follows past practice, it will announce opening weekend sales numbers on Monday, Sept. 23.

iPhone 5S sellout
Apple ran through its iPhone 5S inventory of gold-colored smartphones in just minutes, and now shows a shipping date some time in October.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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