It's easy to be cynical about sold out smartphones in these days of cutthroat competition – when a mobile maker wants to make their device look popular, it can simply limit supply.
Google, however, hasn't had to resort to such sleight of hand to sell out of its flagship Nexus 4. More gallingly it simply can't get enough of the handsets from manufacturing partner LG to meet demand.
But until now, it was difficult to estimate what level of demand would give Google such a headache. But now, thanks to a bunch of Android enthusiasts, the picture of how many Nexus 4s have been shifted is becoming clear. According to these estimates, Google has only managed to sell a paltry 390,000 units. To give that a little perspective, Apple sold five million iPhone 5s in its opening weekend sales.
The 390,000 figure was arrived at by members of the XDA Developers forum when the sharp-eyed Android fans there figured out the key to the serial codes on their devices.
Phone makers typically use International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers to identify individual handsets. As it happens, LG also provides links that helps users that know their IMEI number find new firmware.
The users at XDA Developers realised that if they could use that link to identify a production number for their handset, and set about gathering data on the latest number they could find. Currently, that appears to be around the 390,000 mark.
This is perhaps not a foolproof method of tracking smartphone shipments, but it seems about as sound as any other method for estimating.
However, if it's anything like a ballpark figure, you can bet Android execs at Google are spitting chips: Samsung sold 20 million Galaxy S3 handsets in its first 100 days; the Nexus 4 may have accrued a mere two percent of those sales.
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