Apple sells 5 million iPhones as mapping services slowly improve

Despite the absence of NFC, Apple [AAPL] sold five million units of the iPhone 5 in just three days, as pent-up demand is unleashed on Cupertino’s smartphone, and is rapidly impementing user reports of inaccuracies within Maps.

[ABOVE: Perhaps you really, really miss Google Maps on the iPhone. Here they are hacked to run on iOS 6.]

Supply, demand, and...

The company’s initial supplies are spent, CEO Tim Cook explained in a press release distributed this afternoon, saying: “Demand for iPhone 5 has been incredible and we are working hard to get an iPhone 5 into the hands of every customer who wants one as quickly as possible.” 

That the new device is already sold out is no great surprise -- this happens with each iPhone iteration. Apple’s iPhone 4S sold four million units on launch weekend, while iPhone 4 sales reached 1.7 million in the same time frame -- 70 percent more than sales of the iPhone 3GS one year before. 

Analyst Gene Munster had predicted first weekend iPhone 5 sales of up to ten million.

The number is lower than what people had expected,” Topeka Capital Markets analyst, Brian White (who had predicted 6-6.5 million debut weekend sales) told Bloomberg. “This seems to be driven more by availability than demand.”

White’s analysis suggests iPhones were out of stock at up to 85 percent of Apple retail stores contacted by himself and his staff on Sunday night. 

Retailers didn't get enough

Retail partners including BestBuy, RadioShack and Target complained at receiving scant supply for launch day, even while stacks of the devices were made available via Apple retail. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are also out of stock or at best seriously constrained. 

Online delivery times are now at 3-4 weeks via Apple’s online store.

Apple admits demand exceeds supply. "While we have sold out of our initial supply, stores continue to receive iPhone 5 shipments regularly and customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date," said Cook, adding, "We appreciate everyone's patience and are working hard to build enough iPhone 5s for everyone."

Availability of the device should improve moving forward, but Apple’s Maps service is the biggest criticism to emerge since device launch with at least one analyst calling the launch perhaps worse than ‘Antennagate’

Apple Maps -- you get what you give

In a statement provided to All Things D last week, an Apple representative said: "We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get.” 

Maps can be improved without a software update, and Apple recognizes the need to be seen to improve its much-criticized service. That’s not just an idle claim -- improvements crowdsourced from among its users are already being implemented.

Coolsmartphone reports that the company is updating errors rapidly once users choose to let the firm know about them. The author used the built-in error reporting feature inside Maps to let the company know of a few inaccuracies in its data. The changes were implemented within 24-hours. 

Apple is also recruiting staff to improve its service.

A TechCrunch report claims the company is attempting to recruit new staff from Google’s own mapping team, proving the new competitive relationship between the two firms. The company’s recruitment Website offers at least eleven positions in its mapping team, though the ads make an unusual claim:

The iOS Map Display team is looking for a proactive and hardworking software engineer to join our team. Our team is responsible for displaying map content for the Maps application on iOS. It is used by millions of customers and it's the best mapping program on any mobile platform.

That last assertion may not yet be the case, but as the Coolsmartphone report confirms, it’s worth sending in those fault reports.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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