Apple: One in Six iPhones Bought With “Intention to Unlock”

October 23, 2007, 11:18 AM UTC

One of the unanswered questions about Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone was answered yesterday by COO Tim Cook during the company’s Q4 earnings call with analysts. Responding to a query from Sanford Berstein’s Toni Sacconaghi about how high iPhone sales jumped after the $200 price cut, Cook disclosed a nugget of market data Sacconaghi hadn’t requested:

Timothy D. Cook

Toni, we were very happy with the elasticity that we saw. It enabled us to far surpass our expectation of hitting around a million units cumulatively by the end of the quarter. Some number of these were sold to people that have an intention to unlock and where we don’t know precisely how many people are doing that, our current guess is there is probably 250,000 of the 1.4 million that we sold where people had bought them with the intention of doing that. Many of those happened after the price cut. (full transcript here)

That’s an astonishing figure — higher than any analyst’s prediction and closer to the estimates of the iPhone Dev Team, which has registered half million downloads of its anySim unlock software. It means that more than 17% of the iPhones sold were at risk of being disabled when Apple released its notorious software update 1.1.1. That’s a ton of bricks.

How did Apple arrive at its estimate? Cook didn’t say, but it could have just subtracted the number of AT&T activations from the number of iPhone sold. Even that figure might be too low; it wouldn’t include iPhones activated with AT&T and subsequently unlocked for use with overseas carriers or with T-Mobile in the U.S.

The market for unlocked phones presumably shrank after the bricking incident and the announcement of deals to sell the iPhone in England, Germany and France. Apple says it plans to begin selling the iPhone in Asia in 2008.