AT&T's iPhone activation numbers disappointed many--especially Apple investors--but it's not a perfect measure of iPhone demand.
Counting iPhones is harder than it looks, at least from the outside.
Coming off iPhone Weekend, the numbers game flew through the air as financial analysts tried to guess how many iPhones were sold by Apple and AT&T on June 29 and June 30, the last two days of the second quarter. Estimates ranged from 200,000 to 700,000 for the whole weekend, which is why AT&T's report of 146,000 iPhone activations on Tuesday was quite the buzzkill heading into Apple's earnings Wednesday. Apple's stock closed down $8.81, or 6.13 percent, at $134.89.
To be clear, activations aren't equal to iPhone sales. The problems AT&T had activating iPhones the first weekend were well-documented, and that could have stretched the activation process past Saturday night and into AT&T's third quarter for many iPhone buyers.
The more important number will come Wednesday from Apple, which I suppose gives everyone a buying opportunity back into the stock if they like. Indeed, Apple's stock was up a dollar in after-hours trading. What's clear is that Apple sold at least 146,000 iPhones in about 30 hours. Wednesday's number should be larger, given the activation delays.
It's a classic, "buy on the rumor, sell on the news" scenario. Once numbers like 700,000 iPhones started getting tossed around, and solid analysts like Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster started floating 500,000 units, the expectations became unattainable and anything short was going to be profoundly disappointing for many.
After all, going into iPhone Weekend, the same group of analysts was predicting the companies would sell between 150,000 to 200,000 iPhones, which it seems they did. However, after the hoopla of iPhone weekend, estimates went through the roof.
Let's see what Apple has to say Wednesday before declaring iPhone Weekend a success or failure. Personally, I think it will be more interesting to wait until the end of the current quarter to see if Apple managed to sustain iPhone momentum after the diehard fans ruled the opening weekend, before pronouncing whether the iPhone exploded out of the gates or stumbled around the first turn.