With supply levels uncertain, analysts’ unit sales estimates are all over the lot



Source: Company reports and Q4 consensus

Almost lost amid the onslaught of Google GOOG Android devices and rumors about a Verizon VZ iPhone is that fact that Apple AAPL — despite all that Antennagate talk — just closed its books on the biggest iPhone quarter ever.

How big? That’s the multi-billion dollar question.

Of all its products, none is more important to Apple’s bottom line than its smartphone, which generated $5.4 billion in fiscal Q3 — 40% of the company’s total revenue. The iPhone 4, launched three days before the end of that quarter, has been in short supply ever since, making it trickier than usual for analysts trying to estimate sales in advance of Apple’s quarterly earnings report.

“The EPS Derby,” writes Jeff Fossberg, an independent analyst who posts on the Mac Observer’s Apple Finance Board, “will be won by the one who nails iPhone units.”

The Q4 iPhone estimates of the analysts we’ve polled vary wildly, from a low of 10 million units from Morgan Keegan’s Tavis McCourt to a high of 13.3 million from Rodman & Renshaw’s Ashok Kumar. At the low end, that represents a 35.7% increase from Q4 2009. At the high end, it’s more like 80% year over year.

We’ve used the average, 11.8 million (up 60%), in the bar chart above.

Below: The unit sales estimates (in millions) we’ve gathered so far. We’ll find out who was closest after the closing bell on Oct. 18.

Analyst, affiliation iPhones (millions) Date of est.
Ashok Kumar, Rodman & Renshaw 13.30 10/6/10
Matthew Hoffman, Cowen & Co. 13.10 9/14/10
Horace Dediu, Asymco 13.00 9/28/10
Ben Reitzes, Barclays Capital 12.80 9/29/10
Alexis Cabot, Apple Finance Board 12.58 10/1/10
Daniel Tello, Deagol’s AAPL Model 12.51 9/29/10
Kathryn Huberty, Morgan Stanley 12.50 10/7/10
Chris Whitmore, Deutsche Bank 12.50 10/4/10
Robert Cihra, Caris & Co. 12.40 9/23/10
Robert Paul Leitao, Apple Finance Board 12.30 10/1/10
Nicolae Mihalache, Traderhood 12.25 10/1/10
Brian Marshall, Gleacher & Co. 12.00 9/28/10
Turley Muller, Financial Alchemist 11.90 10/7/10
Doug Reid, Stifel Nicholaus 11.64 9/30/10
Jeff Fidacaro, Susquehanna 11.63 9/22/10
Jeff Fosberg, Apple Finance Board 11.60 9/30/10
Keith Bachman, BMO Capital 11.50 10/6/10
Shaw Wu, Kaufman Bros. 11.50 9/20/10
Andy Zaky, Bullish Cross 11.50 9/29/10
William Fearnley, Janney Capital 11.30 8/25/10
T. Michael Walkley, Canaccord Genuity 11.10 9/27/10
Yair Reiner, Oppenheimer 10.50 9/29/10
Dennis Hildebrand, Apple’s Gold 10.47 9/28/10
Rajesh Ghai, Think Equity 10.08 10/5/10
Tavis McCourt, Morgan Keegan 10.00 10/4/10

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]