By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
November 4, 2009

Analysts adjust their Chinese iPhone estimates following sales that one describes as “soft”

Following press reports that China Unicom (CHU) only managed to sign up 5,000 new iPhone subscribers after four days of sales, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster and Barclays Capital’s Ben Reitzes each issued notes to clients Tuesday that tried to put a positive spin on the news.

“The China launch is a disappointment,” Munster acknowledged. But he added that it reminded him of the launch of the original iPhone in June 2007, when reports that AT&T had activated only 146,000 iPhones in two days caused “unfounded concerns among investors” about the device’s long-term potential.

Doing some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations, Munster estimates that 1,500 iPhones per day works out to 550,000 per year — considerably less than the 1 to 2 million iPhones he had expected Apple (AAPL) to ship to China in 2010. But he anticipates that the cost of unsubsidized iPhones in China (currently about $800) will come down, and he’s sticking with his prediction that Apple will sell 9.2 million iPhones worldwide in the current quarter and 36 million in calendar 2010.

Similarly, Barclays’ Reitzes expressed confidence in his report that with additional carriers, demand for the iPhone in China could “ramp up to multiple millions” over time.

Meanwhile, iPhonAsia’s Dan Butterfield, sampling Chinese language press reports from the 30 provinces where the iPhone went on sale last weekend, suggests that the launch might not have been the bust it’s being portrayed as.

“Despite western media predictions that the iPhone launch in China would be met with a yawn,” he writes,  “there were many enthusiastic buyers at iPhone retailers. The Suning store at Nanjing Commerce Plaza had some 1,000 visitors on launch day.”

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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