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Friday, July 15, 2005, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Apple selling one million iPod shuffles a month?

Apple Computer may have met an internally kept goal of selling one million iPod shuffles a month during the first fiscal quarter in which the flash-based digital music player was widely available.

Out of the nearly 6.2 million iPods the company shipped during its third fiscal quarter of 2005, about 3 million were likely iPod shuffles, according to research by American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu.

The analyst arrived at this conclusion through calculations that took into account the average selling price (ASP) of iPods during the quarter, and how this compared with volume and ASP prices from previous quarters.

If accurate, it's believed Apple would have met an internal goal it set for sales of the flash player in the latter months of 2004, just before it was announced. Fiscal quarters last three months.

According to Wu, the company's higher-than-expected iPod sales likely benefited from "a strong sell-in into Hewlett-Packard channels," accounting for nearly half a million iPods.

Massive sales of lower-margin iPods like the shuffle may have also done their part to lower Apple's overall gross margin, which came in at 29.7%, a decline of 10 basis points quarter to quarter. Wu had expected the gross margin to come in at over 30%.

Ignoring Apple's low-ball guidance, which Wu believes is an effort by Apple to temper expectations for successive quarters, American Technology Research raised estimates its Apple estimates to $1.44 for fiscal year 2005 (up from $1.38) and $1.60 for fiscal year 2006 (up from $1.55).

For the September quarter, the firm is modeling $3.6 billion in revenue, 36 cents earnings per share, and 7.1 million iPods verses its previous view of $3.6 billion in revenue, 35 cents per share earnings, and 6.6 million iPods.

Apple's official guidance for the quarter is $3.5 billion in revenue and earnings of 32 cents per share.