Months after Apple launched its much-hyped iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the company remains unable to meet the huge demand from consumers.
In late November, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster wrote in a research note that only 58 percent of iPhone 6/6 Plus models were in stock at retail stores nationwide. Thus, two months after the product launch, 42 percent were still unavailable for public sale.
In varying degrees, this scene has played out with each new iPhone release, but this year, the inevitable race to get one–whatever the cost, whatever the inconvenience–was particularly intense. Customers have reported waiting weeks, even months, for online orders, or standing in ridiculously long lines—and even so, many have gone home empty-handed.
"I'm surprised. That's pretty long at this stage," said Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "But this shows very strong and sustained demand. Good for Apple."
In its fourth-quarter earnings report, Apple CEO Tim Cookacknowledged supply-demand difficulties. "As of today—and certainly as of the end of the quarter, where you're looking at the data—we're not nearly balanced. We're not close. We're not on the same planet. "
He also hailed "the biggest iPhone launch ever with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus." Only weeks into the rollout, Cook told analysts that the demand for the new products was "staggering and geographically broad-based."
This has clearly not hurt Apple's bottom line. After the launch of the iPhone 6/6 Plus, Apple generated its strongest revenue growth rate in seven quarters, far surpassing the previous quarter's expectations and setting a new record for September quarter revenue.
And analysts expect the strong demand to continue. Last month, noting that public demand for the iPhone 6s continued to outstrip supply, analysts upped their earnings targets for Apple. On Nov. 20, one month after the Q4 earnings report announcement–and the same day Munster estimated that Apple was unable to meet the demand for 42 percent of its customers–Piper Jaffray raised its earnings target to $135 per share, up from his previous prediction of $120.
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Even with the huge demand, some industry professionals wonder whether the shortages are a simple supply/demand equation. (An Apple representative declined to discuss the supply shortages with CNBC, referring a reporter to the company's earnings report.)
Is the supply/demand imbalance a strategic move on the part of Apple?
"No one's really familiar with the inner workings of Apple, but my thinking is, this company is too big and too experienced to get it this wrong," said Marlene Morris Towns, a marketing strategy professor at Georgetown University.
"They can still forecast, they can still anticipate the demand. I don't see a plausible explanation as to how they could have miscalculated this much."
Having a shortage could in fact intensify demand for the product. "Apple's marketing plan seems to be to maintain the hype and promote the exclusivity of their products. To keep them hot and buzzworthy," she said. "It's like the nightclub principle—having a line outside is always desirable. It makes people think there's a hot party in there," she said.
Daniel Patterson, a New York-based technology writer and digital strategist, said limiting supply could be a Apple's strategy of controlling sales growth.
"Constricting a release allows [a product] to have an incremental increase in sales each year," he observed. "If, for example, Apple sells 18 million iPhones this time, what if they only sell 15 million the next time? It's better for them to have products that don't cannibalize each other. They know they have to feed the next cycle of their supply chain."
Perhaps there's a flaw in Apple's supply chain?