Is Apple Manufacturing a First-Day iPhone Shortage?

There’s nothing like scarcity to make you want something more. Apple understands this, which is why it tightly controls how many iPhones are available at any given time. Some anecdotal evidence is coming in that its partner AT&T is selling out of iPhones in some of its own stores before Apple stores.

By noon ET today, for instance, at least ten AT&T stores in New York City were sold out of iPhones. Our own CrunchGear editor John Biggs, was turned away from an AT&T store in Brooklyn after waiting in line for hours and was devastated (see his bitter-sweet video where he asks, “Am I a person, AT&T and Apple? What if I was pregnant?”).

None of this is too surprising since Apple stores are bigger and can carry more phones in stock. But is Apple artificially limiting how many phones each AT&T store can sell today? One angry reader, Mark Feldman, suggests as much, detailing his ordeal today at an AT&T store in Waltham, Massachusetts. Excerpt:

The manager got up in front of everybody and asked who was here for an iPhone. He then went on to explain that the store was only able to take orders for iPhones that would be delivered to the store in the next 5-7 days. They would take our money and when the iPhones came in we would get a call to come in and pick them up. If they were not picked up in a week, they would be shipped back and the charges reversed. He also said — and this was the kicker – that he had more iPhones in stock but he could not start selling them until Saturday morning due to his contract with Apple! And those would be on a first come, first served basis. In other words, Apple had manufactured a sell out of iPhones for the first day so as to generate “every store sold out of iPhones” [hype].

It’s one thing to actually sell out of your product. It’s another thing to manufacture a sell out of your product.

I am pissed at Apple for taking me for granted! I loved my iPhone and was willing to shell out several hundred dollars for a 3G on Day 1. I feel used. Like a chump who was turned away so Apple could get a nice sound byte on the news and the Blogs. I am so angry that I am planning to vote with my wallet… I am going to wait and buy the BlackBerry Bold which is coming out next month.

(You can read Feldman’s entire e-mail at CrunchGear).

The artificial shortage theory would hold more water if Apple’s own stores started “running out” of iPhones as well. An alternative theory, assuming that this hold-back policy is effective in other AT&T stores besides the one in Waltham, is that Apple wanted to drive more first-day customers to its own stores where it could control the launch better. The problem, though, wasn’t in the stores, it was when everyone tried to update their iPhone software at once, and found themselves holding a brick instead.