AT&T, Best Buy sell out of iPhone 3G S pre-order supplies

AT&T and Best Buy have sold out their pre-order allotments of the iPhone 3G S, slated to go on sale Friday, but Apple said it still was taking early orders today.

An Apple sales representative, however, stressed that the June 19 arrival date now shown on the company's site was only "an estimate."

AT&T, Apple's exclusive carrier partner in the U.S., last week ran through the iPhone 3G S phones it had set aside for pre-orders. By Saturday, a message on its site said: "Pre-orders for iPhone 3G S will ship 7 to 14 days after your order is placed. Orders will be shipped on a first-come, first-served basis."

Best Buy, the electronics retail chain that also sells the Apple iPhone, said Saturday that it had exhausted its pre-order supply as well.

As of mid-afternoon Monday, Apple's site still said "Pre-order now and get it June 19. Free shipping." The company is still taking pre-orders, both on its Web site and over the phone, an Apple sales representative said. Asked if Apple is still guaranteeing that pre-ordered phones would arrive Friday, he answered, "It's an estimated date."

Apple's public relations staff did not respond to questions about the status of pre-orders placed at its online store.

Selling out inventory is nothing new for the iPhone. Last year, U.K. carrier O2 took pre-orders for the iPhone 3G, but within an hour its Web site started to stall, then crashed completely. Later, O2 said "unprecedented" demand had exhausted its supplies.

Perhaps O2 learned a lesson: It's not taking online pre-orders for the iPhone 3G S.

Apple ran short of iPhone 3Gs last year, when inventories remained tight for weeks after the July 17, 2008 launch.

"I wouldn't expect the kind of inventory problems Apple had last year," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research.

Nor does he think Apple will match sales figures of last year's iPhone 3G. Three days after the iPhone 3G's debut in July, 2008, Apple bragged that it had sold one million of the devices. "I think they might be able to sell half of that this year," Gottheil said. "Clearly, there's not a much pent-up demand for the iPhone 3G S as there was for the iPhone 3G. And however sweet the iPhone 3G S is, it's step-up is not equivalent to the move from EDGE to 3G. Also, the global economy's not in the shape it was last year."

Things in Apple's favor, said Gottheil, include some possible deferred sales as rumors increased that the company would, in fact, deliver an updated iPhone. And the launch of the Palm Pre may have helped the iPhone a little as well. "The Pre shoe has dropped," said Gottheil, talking about the June 6 debut of the new Palm smartphone. "The lack of apps for the Pre make the light shine a little brighter on the iPhone," Gottheil added.

Even so, "anyone who thinks that Apple will sell as many iPhone 3G S [phones] as it did iPhone 3Gs that first weekend is crazy," he concluded.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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