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Apple's iPhone: Great -- or Greatest?

CNBC.com

Apple shares are closing in on $200 per share, as speculation grows that iPhone sales are far better than anyone anticipated.

There are rumors all over the web that Apple will announce staggering handset unit sales at Macworld next month. And while I fully anticipate strong numbers, I'm a little skeptical that they'll measure up to some of the wild estimates making the rounds.

9to5mac.com, for one, suspects Apple will announce 5 million iPhones sold so far at Macworld. The site adds that, "If that's true, it would put Apple at half of its 2008 sales goal before 2008 even starts."

The site goes on to suggest such huge numbers would mean that "despite Apple only selling one model of GSM iPhone in four countries with four dedicated carriers, Apple's shipments in this quarter -- around 3.5 million -- will be very close to the 3.9 million Blackberry smartphones Research In Motion shipped in its most recent quarter across more than 100 carriers and 13 product lines."

To say that outlook is optimistic is a dramatic understatement, and if true, it would blow past the most bullish estimates on the Street.

Piper Jaffray says the 5 million number would be mean a huge jump in handset sales during the December quarter. Piper is modeling 2 million units sold. This 5 million unit figure would mean something closer to 3.6 million units. That's a long shot. Gene Munster tells me this morning, "The phone is selling well, but not that well."

As for the rest of 2008, Piper does anticipate a 3G version of iPhone by June as I have previously written, and also suggests that if that happens, and the price still hovers at $300, the Apple could overtake RIM's Blackberry as the best-selling high-end smart phone on the market.

That'd be some trick for a product that's so brand new to the marketplace. But all this suggests that Apple's strong move today may come from investors looking ahead to another robust product pipeline from Apple in 2008. I've written about what my sources have told me about the new sub-notebook coming -- which should be unveiled at Macworld. Now we're hearing rumblings about ongoing, strong sales of the iPhone.

We'll see what Apple does with iPod.

Macworld is a Mac-centric event, sure. But the company took the wraps off iPhone at the last one. That could mean a nice iPhone update this time around. It's due for one: revised sales figures, new markets (China?) and new capabilities all would be big news for the Mac faithful. And the company's shareholders. Strap in, folks: This could be a very happy new year indeed for Apple.

Have a terrific holiday!

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com