Stocks of the new iPhone 3G at Apple Inc.'s retail stores continue to dwindle, with just 26% of the company's outlets showing they have devices to sell today.
As of 12:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday, 48 of Apple's 188 U.S. retail stores showed any iPhone 3Gs available for sale, leaving 140 with no phones in hand.
Only nine of the stores in the U.S., or fewer than 5%, said they had all three models of the iPhone 3G -- the 8GB version in black, and the 16GB version in both white and black -- in stock.
Those numbers were down from stock-availability figures collected yesterday by a retired public relations executive, Jim Neal, who reported his findings to Fortune magazine, which used them as the basis for a posting to its site Tuesday morning.
Neal, who used the same Apple stock-checking tool that Computerworld accessed, found that as of 6 a.m. EDT yesterday, 117 stores had no iPhone 3Gs, and 27 had all three models still available.
The hardest-to-get model, according to Apple's tool, is the $299 black 16GB iPhone 3G, which is available at just 6% of the company's U.S. stores. The $299 white 16GB iPhone, on the other hand, is in stock at 20% of the stores, while the $199 8GB iPhone 3G is reportedly available at 22% of the Apple outlets.
The drop in the number of stores showing iPhone 3Gs in stock -- from 38% of all the U.S. stores yesterday to 25% today -- indicates that Apple underestimated demand on the new phone or wasn't able to pull enough units from its suppliers, said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc.
"Apple did not have a significant in-stock problem last year," Gottheil said, "but it's clear that between the lower entry price and the much larger excitement over the 3G, Apple either underestimated demand or wasn't able to meet it."
Gottheil leaned toward the underestimating theory. "It's hard to believe that they could not have built up enough inventory if they wanted," he said.
In fact, Apple exhausted its supply of the original iPhone in early May -- as did its U.S. network partner, AT&T Inc., four weeks later -- giving the company nearly two months to accumulate stock of the newer iPhone 3G before it went on sale last Friday.
"Apple is usually very very good at predicting demand, but this time, they just didn't," mused Gottheil.
AT&T's 1,200 retail stores are in even worse shape, in terms of iPhone 3G inventory, than Apple's. "Nearly all our stores are sold out, though there are a few isolated stores that may have a very limited quantity on hand," said AT&T spokesman Wes Warnock in an e-mail Tuesday morning. "As we're able to start restocking our stores, we will do so as fast as we can."
Apple did not reply to a request for comment on its iPhone inventory situation or to questions about when stores would be restocked and in what quantities.
See our continuing coverage of the iPhone 3G launch.