On Tuesday, two days before the much-anticipated smart phone officially goes on sale, Apple sent some pre-order customers e-mails confirming that "your delivery will occur on June 23," while others reported actually receiving the phone.
These early deliveries may be an attempt by Apple to diminish the potential for problems on AT&T networks as thousands of iPhone 4's are activated while owners of older iPhone models attempt to upgrade their mobile operating system to iOS 4, the newest version that became available Monday.
"Apple has been through activation problems in the past, so that's not so much the problem," said Richard Doherty, research director at the consulting firm Envisioneering Group. "It's the upgrading of existing phones to iOS 4 that creates a huge data backlog."
The iPhone 4 will come with iOS 4 and activation should be a relatively brief process, Doherty said. "Whereas the tens of millions who are trying to do a 20-minute upgrade [on older phones] are experiencing huge disappointments."
Fast shipping through FedEx may also be a factor, experts say.
"The most likely scenario is that Apple was conservative with shipping estimations," said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis at the NPD Group. "Then found out that some of the orders were arriving earlier and there was no need to artificially delay them and perhaps no way to do so."
Rubin dismissed speculation that concerns over activation glitches, which have plagued previous rollouts, were behind the early deliveries. "There's certainly been a lot of interest in that area, and we've seen issues in pre-ordering overwhelming AT&T's capabilities," he said. "But I don't think that's the driving factor here."
Apple sold 600,000 phones June 15, the day it began taking orders online. Total advance orders for the iPhone 4 were 10 times the volume Apple received for the previous version last year, prompting a temporary suspension of preordering