Apple launches iPhone in 20 more countries

But longtime U.K. partner O2 says it's almost out of stock

Apple Inc. and its mobile operator partners started selling the iPhone 3G in another 20 countries today, while two long-standing partners in the U.S. and the U.K. reported mixed messages on how much stock they had on hand.

In the summer's second rollout of the iPhone 3G, Apple introduced the smart phone in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia and Uruguay.

With today's additions, Apple's iPhone "reach" is 42 countries. Previously, it has said it will have the iPhone 3G in 70 countries by the end of the year.

Last month, Tim Cook, Apple's chief financial officer, announced that the company would expand its iPhone distribution into 20 markets today, and promised that inventories -- which were very tight when he spoke to Wall Street analysts on July 21 -- would be sufficient to launch in the additional countries.

IPhone 3G stocks in the U.S. have increased, according to both Apple's availability tool and statements by AT&T Inc. Every Apple store that Computerworld checked today, for example, had a full complement of iPhones to sell: the $199 8GB model and both versions of the $299 16GB model.

AT&T, meanwhile, which said its stores had been out of the iPhone 3G since July 11, today noted that it has begun restocking those stores. In a message posted to its Web site, AT&T said: "As of August 22, we are restocking our stores with iPhone 3G. The 16GB model is available in most stores today, and the 8GB model should arrive on shelves later this week."

Since the iPhone 3G's U.S. launch, AT&T has been shunting what phones it had to customers who placed direct fulfillment orders, which required them to go to a store, place an order and pay for the iPhone. When it arrived -- sometimes as many as 14 days later -- AT&T called the customer, who then had to return to the store.

Another longtime Apple partner, however, said it was experiencing shortages that had forced it to stop selling the iPhone at its online store.

According to statements on O2 UK Ltd.'s Web site, the mobile carrier had shuttered online sales and said it had only "limited availability" of the iPhone in its U.K. retail stores. O2 has been selling the iPhone since November 2007.

"We are working closely with Apple to get additional iPhone 3Gs," O2 said. "These will be coming in on a weekly basis. [But] for the foreseeable future, the only place to purchase iPhone 3G will be in an O2 Retail, Carphone Warehouse or Apple store if you are new to iPhone."

Also related to Apple's iPhone expansion were reports earlier this week that the company had struck a deal with three different carriers in Russia, including Mobile TeleSystems, to sell the phone beginning in October.

The Reuters news service cited sources that said Mobile TeleSystems had signed a deal with Apple, and said Russian-language business newspapers had quoted unnamed insiders who claimed that rivals VimpelCom and MegaFon had also come to an agreement with Apple.

Apple continues to face questions from users about the reliability of the iPhone, however. Users have complained of dropped calls, poor signal strength and slower-than-promised data download speeds since mid-July, and they have flooded the company's technical support forum with gripes. Those complaints continued even after Apple released a software update it said improved 3G reception.

Earlier this week, an Alabama woman sued Apple, claiming that the company deceived her and other customers, when it claimed the iPhone 3G was faster than the first-generation phone.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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