Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Missing iPhones

Published on January 29, 2008
by John Paczkowski

The number of iPhones bought with the intention of unlocking was significant in the quarter, but we are unsure how to reliably estimate the number. We are unsure when all the recipients will activate.”

Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook, Jan. 22

So those “missing” iPhones? They’re not missing at all. They’re unlocked. That’s the opinion of a number of analysts who this week are looking askance at Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi’s claim that about 1.45 million phones were “missing in action” at the end of 2007–built but not subscribed to AT&T.

“Some unknown number of iPhones are being unlocked by purchasers and some, probably a larger number, are being unlocked for resale,” said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. “Some are in inventory. Some will be returned. And some are being used for the nonphone features, as iPhone Touches, until the owners can change their wireless contracts. We don’t know the proportions.”

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster offered a similar theory, noting that his recent check of Apple’s retail stores found a significant percentage of consumers to be purchasing multiple iPhones. “The majority of the people who were buying more than one phone were Asian, and they were bringing small buses of people who all buy more than one phone,” he told the New York Times. “With the value of the dollar, the cost of the phone is much less here.”

And Munster’s contention would seem to be borne out by anecdotal reports from abroad. “In my travels around the world, two out of three iPhones I’ve seen outside of the U.S. have been unlocked,” Richard Doherty, director at consultant Envisioneering Group, told BusinessWeek. “In China, nine out of 10 phones are hacked.”

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