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Cingular stores buzzing with iPhone inquiries

Although Apple's iPhone won't start shipping for another 6 months, exclusive wireless carrier Cingular is already fielding tons of inquiries on the communications device from enthused customers, an analyst for JMP Securities said on Thursday.

"Based on the buzz at Macworld and a number of channel calls we made to Cingular stores around the country since the product was announced, we believe the product will be successful," analyst Ingrid Ebeling wrote in a research note to clients on Thursday.

She said 75 percent of the 20 clerks she spoke with responded by saying they have received a lot of inquiries about the iPhone and overall the tone of the calls was extremely positive.

"We were very impressed with the form factor and features, especially the U/I, the visual voicemail feature, and touch screen controls, among other things," she told clients.

While Apple has projected it will sell 10 million units through calendar year 2008, Ebeling said she is taking a more conservative approach and is forecasting 8.5 million units through the same time period "with an approximate 2 million unit decline in iPod units" to account for some likely cannibalization.

"We’ve assumed modest share with Cingular’s 58 million subscribers (starting at 0.35 percent share rolling up to 1.75 percent share through the end of 2008) and very modest share of the estimated European market (250 million subs) and Asian market (1 billion subs)," she wrote.

The analyst on Thursday raised her revenue and earnings-per-share (EPS) estimates slightly for Apple's 2007 fiscal year, from revenue of $24.4 billion to $27.3 billion and EPS from $2.84 to $2.85.  For fiscal 2008, she raised her revenue estimate from $27.4 billion to $29.4 billion and EPS from $3.18 to $3.47.

Ebeling also raised her price target on shares of Apple from $93 to $100.