Apple today announced that it and its carrier partners had sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in the first three days of the new smartphone's availability.
The company could have sold considerably more if it had had more on hand, an analyst said.
Last year, Apple sold approximately 1 million iPhone 3GS phones in that model's first three days, matching the same number of iPhone 3G units sold in the first three days of the 2008 smartphone's availability.
"This is the most successful product launch in Apple's history," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a statement. "Even so, we apologize to those customers who were turned away because we did not have enough supply."
It was the second time that Apple has apologized for iPhone supply or ordering problems. Two weeks ago, the company issued a mea culpa after its online ordering system, and that of its U.S. partner AT&T, collapsed under the weight of pre-orders on June 15. Both Apple and AT&T halted U.S. pre-orders just hours after they opened their virtual doors to customers.
The 1.7 million iPhone 4s included the 600,000 pre-orders the company and its partners took before the new model's June 24 retail launch.
"Apple called it the biggest launch in the company's history, and clearly, you can see that in the numbers," said Brian Marshall, analyst with BroadPoint AmTech. "But they could have sold multiples of that if they had had the supply."
Marshall projected that Apple will sell 8.8 million iPhones of all types in the quarter that ends June 30, and expects the company to sell 10.75 million in the year's third quarter, which ends Sept. 30. "That's a 23% increase sequentially, and a 46% increase year-over-year," said Marshall, pointing out the large boost in sales over 2009's relatively uninspiring iPhone 3GS.
It's possible that third-quarter sales of the iPhone will climb a million or two units higher than his estimate of 10.75 million, noted Marshall.
"The display is the main bottleneck to supply," he said, adding that he anticipates the iPhone 4 will be in short supply for the next several weeks. "Apple's build plans will be about 15 million for the September quarter, not that they'll necessarily sell that many, but because of the build plan, I have good confidence that [iPhone 4 sales] will meet my estimates."
Although Apple hasn't launched a retail inventory tool similar to what it offered customers last year -- the tool let consumers check availability of various iPhone 3GS models at each company store -- it has pushed back the shipment date for newly-ordered iPhones yet again. Orders placed Monday will ship in about three weeks, or around July 19, Apple's online store indicated today. Online orders placed last week were tagged with a July 14 ship date.
Also last week, AT&T said that it would kick off in-store sales on Tuesday.
At the moment, the iPhone 4 is available only in France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. Another 18 countries will receive units for sale by the end of July, including Australia, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland. The remainder of Apple's 88 markets will get the new iPhone sometime in September.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.