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"In the U.S., Apple's supply of iPhones continues to be limited, but European carriers appear to be overstocked," analyst Gene Munster wrote in a note to clients. "These data points lead us to believe Apple will launch a new iPhone in the U.S. in June at the latest, with a European launch shortly thereafter."
The analyst said he's spoken with representatives from 18 more US-based Apple retail stores since his report on checks with 20 locations early in the week. This time he found "small amounts of iPhones, usually 8GB" that were selling out quickly. One store even imposed a two per-person limit, which is more restrictive than the company's broadly adopted five phone limit.
"This type of channel control is typical of Apple ahead of new products," Munster wrote. "In Europe, the opposite story seems to point to the same conclusion. Apple's carrier partners are a completely separate channel from its own retail stores, and the carrier partners appear to be overstocked with iPhones."
Although Apple is dealing with its mobile channel partners in the same way that it has been interacting with iPod resellers, the analyst believes there are some early wrinkles that need smoothing.
He points to the ongoing iPhone availability saga as one example of how Apple is still learning from the launch of its first mobile handset: although the company maintains tight control of its direct sales channels, which include its retail and online stores, wireless partners like AT&T and T-Mobile have struggled with that same kind of discipline, particularly in the area of inventory management.
"This has been compounded by weaker than expected iPhone sales in Europe," Munster told clients. "Therefore, it seems as if this has led to Apple trickling iPhones into its U.S. retails stores, while T-Mobile and other carrier partners seek to drain their stock of iPhones ahead of a new model."
The Piper Jaffray analyst, who maintains a Buy rating and $250 price target on shares of Apple, is forecasting for the iPhone to have a breakout year in 2009, in which he believes 45 million units will be shipped and sold.