Needle in a Haystack: IPhone 3G Availability Plummets

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Apple Inc.'s iPhone 3G supply dropped dramatically over the weekend, as the company's own inventory tool showed fewer than 9% of its stores had any phones to sell on Sunday.

As of 11 a.m. Eastern time, only 16 of Apple's U.S. retail stores, or 8.5% of the 188 total stores, listed iPhone 3Gs available. That figure is significantly down from Thursday, when 50 stores, or 27%, indicated that they had iPhones in stock.

And unlike last week, when as many as 13 stores said that they had all three iPhone 3G models for sale -- the 8GB version in black, and the 16GB version in both white and black -- by Sunday, no Apple store had all in inventory.

Even one of Apple's most prominent stores (and the only one open around the clock), located on 5th Avenue in New York City, didn't have a full complement of iPhones to sell.

In fact, according to Apple's own stock-checking tool , none of the 38 stores in California, Apple's home state, had iPhones.

The hardest-to-find iPhone 3G remained the $299 black 16GB model, which was available today in only 3 stores, or 1.6%, of the outlets. Supplies of the $199 8GB iPhone 3G and the $299 16 white model have also plummeted since last week, according to Apple. Only 10 stores reported the 8GB as available on Sunday (5.3% of the U.S. stores) compared to 24 stores on Thursday (12.8%), while just 6 stores claimed that the 16GB white iPhone 3G was in stock (3.2%), down from the 46 stores (24.5%) that had it Thursday.

It could be weeks before the deficit improves, one Wall Street analyst said last week. Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., said in a Thursday interview that it would take Apple two to four weeks to place orders with its suppliers, receive more iPhones and restock the depleted inventory.

AT&T Inc.'s 1,200 retail stores, meanwhile, were almost completely out iPhone inventory as early as last Tuesday.

However, some customers contributing to a massive thread on AT&T's support forum -- by Sunday it had collected more than 3,900 messages -- said that they had been told iPhones they ordered on July 11 or 12 using the mobile operator's "direct fulfillment" program had been shipped as of Friday, July 18 or Saturday, July 19. A few consumers said they had actually received iPhones.

AT&T's direct fulfillment program lets customers place orders at one the company's retail stores; the store notifies the customer when the iPhone 3G has arrived, at which time the customers must return to the store to pick up and activate the phone.

This story, "Needle in a Haystack: IPhone 3G Availability Plummets" was originally published by Computerworld.

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