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iPhone 4S still running out at most retailers, says analyst

Some customers are still having trouble getting ahold of Apple's new iPhone as the device continues to sell out at Apple stores and other retail outlets, says an analyst with Deutsche Bank.

The iPhone 4S is still hard to find at most retailers.
The iPhone 4S is still hard to find at most retailers.

Those of you still unable to get an iPhone 4S are in good company.

Almost a month after its debut, Apple's new phone continues to run on low or empty at most retail outlets, according to a series of checks by Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore.

Contacting online and physical stores in the U.S. and abroad, Whitmore found that demand for the iPhone 4S is as heavy as ever. Wait times among online vendors, including, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, are averaging around 14 days in the U.S. and one to two weeks in other countries, according to the analyst.

Among the 30 Apple stores contacted, between 85 percent and 90 percent are running out of stock each day. New supplies of the phone do ship to Apple stores on a frequent, if not daily, basis. So employees are telling customers to make an appointment online between 9 p.m. and midnight to reserve one for the following day. This reservation process works on a first-come, first-served basis, so Whitmore advises potential buyers to start calling at 9 p.m. Reserving a phone this way also means little or no stock left for drop-in customers.

Further, Apple may be giving its own stores a higher priority over other retailers in iPhone 4S shipments, said the analyst.

"Lead times at Apple's online store are consistent at 11 days whereas carrier supply at AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon is more sporadic and attributable to carriers having less supply and less control of restocking shipments, which is translating into frequent stock outs," Whitmore said in a recent research note. "Our calls to carrier stores reveal infrequent shipments and no certainty when the next shipment will arrive with widespread shortages. It appears that Apple is prioritizing its own stores with new iPhones."

With the holiday season coming up and more countries due to get the new iPhone, Whitmore said that Deutsche Bank's current sales estimate for the iPhone may prove conservative.

"Continued strong demand (ahead of the holidays with more countries to be rolled out) makes our 28 million iPhone estimate for the December quarter appear increasingly conservative," the analyst said. "Looking forward, we expect the refreshed iPhone/iOS upgrade/Siri and channel/carrier expansion to support strong iPhone demand over multiple quarters."

Whitmore's findings are echoed in a new report from fellow Apple analyst Michael Walkley of Canaccord Genuity.

In his own check of retailers, Walkley found that the iPhone 4S was consistently out of stock at AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, with the 16GB model especially hard to find. The analyst said he believes that the new iPhone is actually outselling all other smartphones combined at the three carriers.

Demand for the iPhone 4S is also trickling down to the iPhone 4 and 3GS, especially with the price cuts on the older models, leading Walkley to anticipate strong iPhone sales overall throughout the holiday season. As a result, he now expects Apple to sell 29 million iPhones over the fourth quarter, up from his prior estimate of 27 million. Looking ahead to next year, the analyst has also raised his fiscal 2012 forecast to 104.4 million iPhones sold, up from 102.3 million.