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iPhone sales to be higher than anticipated, analyst says

Sales for the iPhone may shoot as high as 51.1 million units this quarter, says UBS analyst Steven Milunovich, higher than Wall Street is predicting.

Apple should have another quarter of strong iPhone sales, says one analyst. Sarah Tew/CNET

iPhone 6 demand could trigger yet another stellar quarter for Apple.

iPhone sales to customers may reach as high as 51.1 million units for the April to June quarter, which would be Apple's third fiscal quarter for 2015, UBS analyst Steven Milunovich said in an investors note Thursday. If so, that would prove higher than Wall Street's consensus of around 45 million.

Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus last September in time to take advantage of the holiday season. Thanks in part to their larger screen sizes, the two new iPhones have won Apple more customers and market share as it does battle with its chief rival Samsung. The new iPhones have also boosted Apple's financial results way beyond those of past quarters. And that trend is likely to continue, according to Milunovich.

During last year's final quarter, Apple sold a record 74.5 million iPhones, a huge surge from the 51 million sold in the year-earlier quarter. Typically, the quarters following the holiday season are hit by a downturn in iPhone sales. That's been true again this year. But iPhone sales have managed to fare better than expected. Last quarter, Apple sold 61.2 million iPhones, up from 43.7 million in the year-earlier period and higher than the 57.2 million iPhones forecast by analysts polled by Fortune.

Assuming Milunovich's estimate of 51.1 million proves true for the current quarter, that number would be a healthy jump over the 35 million sold during the same quarter in 2014. What makes Milunovich more bullish than most of his Wall Street peers?

To come up with his estimate, the analyst relies on the UBS Evidence Lab iPhone Monitor, which uses past shipment data from 20 different countries, along with Google search requests for the iPhone, to forecast near-term demand for the device. As a result, Milunovich sees a 23 percent gain in Google search volume for the iPhone and indications of continued heavy demand in China, where the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been top sellers.

China recently surpassed the US as the biggest market for the iPhone. And for the three months ended this past February, the iPhone 6 was the top-selling phone in urban China with a market share of 10.2 percent, according to an April report from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

In eyeing huge sales for the iPhone this quarter, Milunovich joins KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, according to 9to5Mac. In a recent investors note, Kuo's crystal ball forecast 51.4 million iPhone sales this quarter. Apple will likely report its results for the current quarter toward the end of July.