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Remember the telephone game? That’s the game where I whisper something to you, and you whisper it to someone else, and so on down the line, with the original messages inevitable getting mangled in the process. When I was a kind, we used to call it Whisper Down The Lane. Wikipedia says the game is also called Chinese Whispers.

Well, we have one roaring game of Chinese Whispers going on this afternoon, the subject of which is the potential calendar third-quarter sales of the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone.

This all started, apparently, with a story in the Chinese-language Commercial Times, which was picked up by the Taiwan-based tech news site DigiTimes. According to DigiTimes, the Commercial Times reported that, according to component suppliers for the 3G iPhone, “total shipments of 3G iPhones are expected to top 10 million units in the third quarter.”

Then Fortune picked up the story
, with a post that says Apple will ship 10 million iPhones in the third quarter alone. (That would be Apple’s fiscal fourth quarter, by the way.)

Now, I’m not trying to be negative here, but Fortune apparently took a badly worded DigiTimes story and wrote a piece that likely isn’t true. What I believe the DigiTimes story was trying to say is that Apple would ship its 10 millionth iPhone - a cumulative total since its introduction a year ago - sometime in the calendar third quarter.

At the WWDC, Steve Jobs said that Apple had shipped a cumulative 6 million iPhones to date. Most Street analysts are expecting the arrival of the iPhone 3G to result in much higher sales than in recent quarters; estimates for the September quarter are in the 4-6 million range. If they sold, say, 5 million phones in Q3, then - voila! - Apple would sell its 10 millionth iPhone in Q3.

And by the way: Let’s keep in mind that Apple has forecast it would sell 10 million iPhones in calendar 2008 - not cumulatively - so even the fact that they hit 10 million total phones sold in the third quarter is not hugely significant. The company sold 1.7 million iPhones in the March quarter. And June quarter sales likely will be be quite low, given widespread shortages heading into the 3G launch.

So, yes, they will sell lots of iPhones in Q3. And yes, they are likely to beat their forecast of 10 million phones sold in calendar 2008. And they might sell 10 million in Q3 and Q4 combined. But it is hardly likely they will 10 million in the third quarter alone. Craig Berger, a semiconductor analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey, estimated in a recent report that Apple would build 3 million iPhones in calendar Q2, and another 8 million combined in Q3 and Q4 as sales of the 3G phone ramp up. That would put the company comfortably ahead of 10 million for the calendar year. But 10 million in one quarter? Maybe some day, but not yet.

Source: Apple: Confusion Reigns Over iPhone Sales Projections