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Briefly: PiperJaffray on Apple, iPhone AppleCare surfaces

Researchers at PiperJaffray say that seemingly low AT&T iPhone numbers mean little in the long run for Apple. Meanwhile, iPhone customers finally have the opportunity to extend their warranties.

High analyst expectations for iPhone remain steady

Senior analyst Gene Munster of PiperJaffray was direct on Tuesday when he noted that AT&T's 146,000 iPhone activations were a "disappointment" for many experts, who had pumped up their estimated sales figures for the weekend to 500,000 or even 700,000 units. The letdown was reminiscent of the late 2004 iPod market as predictions were based more on impressions of the device than actual statistics, Munster said.

"Unpublished Street expectations for iPod numbers were 8m for the [December 2004] quarter, but during the keynote, Steve Jobs announced that only 4.6m iPods were sold in the quarter, which was viewed as a significant disappointment." Munster explained. "In our minds, the iPhone launch is reminiscent of [that past] quarter, because expectations for the product ran wild and the reality of how many were actually sold fell short."

The quality of the product was not a factor in the launch, he added. If anything, the iPhone had "largely exceeded" what could be expected and it was a question of when, not if, a steep increase in Apple's shipments would hit. 2007 and 2008 sales were never poised to see explosive growth, according to the analyst.

PiperJaffray continued holding its aggressive target of $205 per share, with Munster firm on his perception of the iPhone as a game-changing device that would see certain success by at least 2009.

The iPhone "has set the bar for the next generation of phones," he said. "Our belief all along has been that there is a surge of demand coming."

Apple offers up iPhone AppleCare package

Making its promised appearance shortly after the June debut of the iPhone, the AppleCare extended warranty has appeared at Apple's online store.

With the exception of a few states where the law prevents otherwise, the $69 service extension adds an extra year of coverage for hardware defects (but not accidents) relating to the handset. Notably, the warranty also applies to the official Apple Bluetooth Headset despite its selling as a separate accessory.

No extensions apply to over-the-phone technical support, which remains free for any iPhone user over the course of the two-year AT&T contract.