By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
July 13, 2008

Let the guessing game begin!

On Sunday morning, with one more day of weekend sales to go, analysts and other Apple watchers were already weighing in with their estimates for the iPhone 3Gs three-day launch.

First out of the block was RBC Capital Market’s Mike Abramsky, who issued his best guess on Friday. Based on pent-up demand, expanded distribution, and lower pricing, he predicted that worldwide sales for the first weekend would be more than 1 million units. (link)

Some of his readers thought that too conservative by half. One put first weekend sales at 3.3 million (1.2 million U.S., 2.1 million overseas).

The investors at The Mac Observer’s Apple Finance Board were considerably more cautious. “Anything over 600k this weekend would be great,” wrote one, pointing out that this year, unlike last, there were no online sales. Another came up with a total of just under 800,000 for theĀ United StatesĀ alone using a formula based on number of retail outlets and average sales per store:

ATT = 75 * 3 * 2200 = 495,000

Apple= 500 *3 * 200 = 300,000

Total = 795,000 US only. (link)

Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, who bases his sales estimates on store surveys, is still counting. We’ll update when his numbers come in.

UPDATE: Munster’s report to clients arrived Monday morning. He estimates that Apple and its partners sold about 390,000 iPhones worldwide on Friday and Saturday and 425,000 over the entire three-day weekend. He estimates that 225,000 of those sales were in the U.S. and 200,000 were overseas. For more detail, click here.

UPDATE 2: Apple issued the report that really matters on Monday morning, a few hours after Munster filed his. See Apple: 1 million iPhone 3Gs sold in three days.

How does this launch compare with last year’s?

That’s not easy to say. Sales estimates for the original iPhone were complicated by the fact that the first two days of sales fell in one fiscal quarter and the third was in another. Analysts’ numbers for the entire three-day weekend ranged from 375,000 (American Technology Research) to 700,000 (Goldman Sachs). (link)

The lower figure (supplied by Shaw Wu of ATR, who pegged sales at 125,000 per day) turned out to be more accurate. Actual sales for the first day and a half, according to Apple’s (AAPL) Q3 2007 earnings report, were 270,000 units. (link)

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