By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
July 19, 2010

A slowdown in daily sales has some investors worried about fourth-quarter results

To support his contention that the press had blown the iPhone 4’s antenna issues wildly out of proportion, Steve Jobs announced at his July 16th press conference that Apple (AAPL) had sold “well over” 3 million units in three weeks.

That sounds like a lot. But is it?

Not compared with the astonishing 1.7 million iPhone 4s — including pre-orders — that Apple moved in the first three days, or an average of 566,667 per day. If Apple sold exactly 3 million units in its first 22 days — or 1.3 million in the subsequent 19 days — that works out to a rate of 68,421 iPhone 4s per day.

The Street is expecting Apple to sell at least 10 million iPhones in the fiscal quarter that ends Sept. 25 — or a minimum of roughly 110,000 per day.

But investors probably shouldn’t panic — at least not yet. We can think of four reasons:

  1. That 3 million figure doesn’t include sales of the entry-level $99 8GB iPhone 3GS.
  2. The iPhone 4 still has 3-week waiting list. Shipments will presumably pick up when Apple can finally make the devices fast enough to satisfy customer demand and begin to refill channel inventory.
  3. Sales will also pick up at the end of July when Apple rolls the device out to 17 more countries and starts selling the long-awaited white iPhone 4s.
  4. We don’t really know what Jobs meant by “well over 3 million” — a formulation that gives him a wiggle room several hundreds of thousands of units wide.

Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore, whose AAPL model has the company selling 12.5 million iPhones in the September quarter, isn’t worried. In a note to clients issued Sunday he interpreted “well over 3 million” to mean 3.4 million, or roughly 90,000 per day. That’s a run rate of 8 million iPhones for the quarter — before production catches up to demand, before the international roll-out, before the white iPhone 4 and before the iPhone 3GS is added to the mix.

But a lot of uncertainties remain. Perhaps we’ll get some hard answers when Apple releases its Q3 earnings results — and takes analysts’ questions — after the close of markets on Tuesday.

See also:

  • How many iPhones did Apple sell in Q3

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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