The 3G Apple iPhone is sold out (almost)

Stocks of the new iPhone 3G at Apple Inc.’s retail stores continue to dwindle, with just 26 per cent of the company’s U.S. outlets showing they have devices to sell Wednesday.

As of 12:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday, 48 of Apple’s 188 U.S. retail stores showed any iPhone 3Gs available for sale, leaving 140 with no phones in hand.

Only nine of the stores in the U.S., or fewer than five per cent, said they had all three models of the iPhone 3G — the 8GB version in black, and the 16GB version in both white and black — in stock.

Those numbers were down from stock-availability figures collected yesterday by a retired public relations executive, Jim Neal, who reported his findings to Fortune magazine, which used them as the basis for a posting to its site Tuesday morning.

Neal, who used the same Apple stock-checking tool that we accessed, found that as of 6 a.m. EDT Tuesday, 117 stores had no iPhone 3Gs, and 27 had all three models still available.

The hardest-to-get model, according to Apple’s tool, is the US$299 black 16GB iPhone 3G, which is available at just six per cent of the company’s U.S. stores. The US$299 white 16GB iPhone, on the other hand, is in stock at 20 per cent of the stores, while the US$199 8GB iPhone 3G is reportedly available at 22 per cent of the Apple outlets.

The drop in the number of stores showing iPhone 3Gs in stock — from 38 per cent of all the U.S. stores Tuesday to 25 per cent Wednesday — indicates that Apple underestimated demand on the new phone or wasn’t able to pull enough units from its suppliers, said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc.

“Apple did not have a significant in-stock problem last year,” Gottheil said, “but it’s clear that between the lower entry price and the much larger excitement over the 3G, Apple either underestimated demand or wasn’t able to meet it.”

Gottheil leaned toward the underestimating theory. “It’s hard to believe that they could not have built up enough inventory if they (had) wanted,” he said.

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