Smartphone sales were up handsomely in the U.S. in the first half of the year and the average price of smartphones was down 26% to $174 in August (via NPD Group). With consumer spending on the wane and all the doom and gloom of the current economic climate likely to seal wallets even tighter, some analysts still believe smartphone sales will remain resilient, lower prices and increased competition luring consumers to substantial improvements and value at relatively low entry points. There’s not really any way of validating the forward looking claims but to start the week, a handful of new smartphone data points have hit the market to help fuel the debate.One even suggests Apple (AAPL) may have already sold ten million iPhones in 2008.
iPhone Sales Beyond 10m Units Already?
Just a week ago, Pacific Crest analysts issued a report projecting that Apple would cut their 2008 3G build targets from 18 million units to 14 or 15million. They blamed “supply chain channel checks" but said they didn’t believe the adjustment would have much impact on Apple’s sales. Monday, independent bloggers came out with a bullish projection of their own that suggested (if they’re accurate) that the production shortage would really have no impact. Using data collected over two months from participants at the Mac Observer’s web forum and Investor Village, bloggers Andy Zaky and Turley Muller published a report saying Apple may have already exceeded their annual iPhone sales goal of ten million phones.
The basis for the writers’ claim was the interpretation of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers. These unique numbers are assigned to every GSM phone to help the operating carrier network identify the phone as a valid device. They’re used largely as a tool to prevent stolen phones from being used without authorization (via the IMEI number a phone can be blocked from accessing the network).
Every IMEI number is a unique 17 or 15 digit sequence. Like a credit card number, each different grouping of the digits has a specific meaning. The first set, the Type Allocation Code (TAC), represents the particular model of phone. The second set, a six number sequence, represents the serial number of the specific unit. Since only six digits are allocated for the serial number, every million units (999,999), a new TAC number is added for the phone model (the additional numbers are for check sum and software version information).
From August through September, new iPhone buyers around the world submitted their IMEI information to the web forums. The cumulative numbers were assembled into a Google spreadsheet and analyzed. The last number provided was a phone manufactured on September 29th and purchased on October 5th. Its sequential number was 9,190,680.
Recognizing not all manufactured phones are sold, that some have defects or are still in inventory and others may have been exchanged, the bloggers interpreted the results saying that “[the number] suggests that even if a whopping 1.5million iPhones of the total IMEI registered devices are unsold as of today…it would still put 3G sales at 7.6 million units and 2008 iPhone sales at over 10 million units.”
The report is a bold claim and the logic seems sound. The question is: was the interpretation of the IMEI numbers accurate? That’s hard to know. While the spreadsheet is out there for review, the report presumes Apple is in fact using all of the numbers in the sequence. It’s possible that may not be the case.
But if the interpretation is accurate?…. It means Apple reached their iPhones sales target three months early and may be on track to exceed expectations.
Carrier Defections for Must-Have Phone?
Another bullish bit of data favoring iPhones was released in a report from the NPD Group. After announcing that smartphone growth was up by 71% in the first half of the year, NPD is now also reporting that 30% of new iPhone 3G purchasers switched carries in order to add the iPhone to their pocket. 24% of the new buyers jumped from T-Mobile. 19 percent defected from Sprint (S) (via Newsfactor).
Blackberry App Store and GPhone Emulator
Rounding out the latest phone news: Blackberry specific website Crackberry.com reports, citing leaked information, that the upcoming Blackberry Storm touch powered phone will be supported by an open application store of its own. The Blackberry Application Center will aim to rival Apple’s App Store and Google’s (GOOG) Android Market when released.
And for gadget hounds hoping to get a glimpse of the G1 Android phone? T-Mobile has launched a website with a software emulator that allows an “online demo” of the new operating system. It’s available here.