Apple: 'Trying to catch demand' on iPhones

Despite shortages, execs commit to launching in 20 more markets next month

Apple executives Monday brushed off questions about iPhone shortages, saying they are "very pleased" with their efforts to ramp up production.

However, they gave no indication when the iPhone would again be widely available, other than to say that the company has slated August 22 as the launch date for the smart phone in another 20 countries.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Apple's own stock-checking tool claimed that 31 per cent of the company's 188 US stores had one or more iPhone 3G models to sell, an uptick from Monday's tighter inventory when just 23 per cent of the stores reported the device in stock.

"As you say, there are a number of stock outs," Tim Cook, Apple's chief financial officer, said in an earnings call with Wall Street analysts Monday afternoon as he answered a question about low inventories. "This is a factor of the overwhelming demand. I am very pleased with the production ramp, very pleased with the trajectory of it. We're shipping units as fast as we can and, obviously, we're trying to catch the demand and serve our customers."

Cook then announced that Apple plans to roll-out the iPhone 3G in about 20 more countries on August 22, although he did not name the markets. Currently, the iPhone 3G is available in 22 nations: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

Asked when stocks would be replenished, Cook refused to answer. "I am confident in our ability to supply," he said. "I am not going to predict when supply will meet demand. We've been selling the phone for 10 days and so this is a very difficult thing to do with this level of data."

iPhones should be available at more of Apple's US retail stores Tuesday than Monday, according to the company's inventory tool, which would-be buyers can use to check local availability. As of 10:30am US EDT, 59 stores, or 31.4 per cent of all US stores, showed the iPhone 3G in stock to some extent. That's the highest percentage of stores for the four days that Computerworld has checked availability in the last week.

Of the three models -- the 8GB black iPhone 3G, and the 16GB in both white and black -- the US$199 8GB is the easiest to find: 42 stores, or 22.3 per cent of the total, reported it available.

Of the US$299 16GB models, the white iPhone was in stock at 41 stores, or 21.8 per cent of the total; the black 16GB phone was available at 32 stores, or 17 per cent of the total.

AT&T, however, continued to report that its 1,200 retail stores remain out of iPhones. Customers, however, can use the carriers "direct fulfillment" program to order an iPhone 3G at a local store, company spokesman Mark Siegel noted. When additional inventory arrives at the store -- the wait is currently running 10 days to two weeks, Siegel said -- customers are notified, at which time they must return to the store to pick up and activate the phone.

However, some customers contributing to a massive thread on AT&T's support forum -- by Sunday, it had collected more than 3,900 messages -- said that they had been told that iPhones they ordered on July 11 or 12 using the mobile operator's "direct fulfillment" program had been shipped as of Friday, July 18, or Saturday, July 19. A few consumers said they had actually received iPhones.

Consumers who placed orders via the direct fulfillment program flooded the support forum with tales of woe or success in getting the iPhone 3Gs they ordered. On one thread that sported nearly 5,200 messages as of mid-day Tuesday, for instance, one user reported that his 8GB iPhone 3G, ordered on July 14, shipped Tuesday and would be in hand Wednesday.

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Gregg Keizer

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