Apple iPhone: 8 million and counting

September 1, 2008, 6:54 PM UTC

On Saturday, Aug. 30, the daughters of “BillH” bought an iPhone at an AT&T store in Sunnyvale, Calif. The next day, their father, an Apple investor from Minneapolis, reported on The Mac Observer’s Apple Finance Board (AFB) that the so-called IMEI number on the phone was 01 171400 6049xx x (the last three digits X’d out for safety sake).

That number may not mean anything to you or me, but to a group of Apple watchers, it represents a significant milestone — and a sign that iPhone sales may be running significantly ahead of forecasts.

In a joint project of AFB and Investor Village’s AAPL Sanity board, several members have been collecting the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers of every iPhone 3G they can get their hands on and recording them on a big Google speadsheet here.

By tracking the sequence of IMEIs, they can now say, with a fair degree of certainty, that as of Aug. 30, when BillH’s daughters bought that phone, Apple had manufactured at least 5,649,000 iPhone 3Gs. Added to the 2.4 million first-generation iPhones the company reported it had sold in the first six months of 2008, that means that Apple has manufactured more than 8 million iPhones this year.

Moreover, with Apple’s overseas partners reportedly turning out iPhones at the rate of 800,000 units per week, it seems likely that Apple will build — if not sell — its 10 millionth iPhone before the end of September.

Apple (AAPL) has said repeatedly that it hopes to sell 10 million iPhones in calendar 2008. It looks like the company may meet that goal with several months to spare.

In 2007, Apple sold 3.71 million iPhones.