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Everytime I try compare some other vendor's numbers with Apple, I get inundated with replies along the lines: 

"Shipments are not the same as sales, you fool! Apple only reports devices it has already sold to the end customer, while (Samsung, LG, HTC or Acer, etc; ) report shipments into the channel. Most of those devices are probably still sitting on some shelves in warehouse somewhere..."   

Please stop with this nonsense. 

Reporting sales to the distributors (not the end customers) is a standard consumer electronics industry practice. Everyone does it. Yes. Everyone. Even Apple. Because there is simply no way to do it otherwise. 

You ship a bunch of your devices to the distributor (a wholesaler, carrier like AT&T or Verizon, big retail chain like Best Buy or Walmart, etc;), it accepts your shipment, you take the money and you record a sale. There may be a negotiated period of a few days or weeks, until you get paid, but you don't wait for some notification from your distributor "Hey - we sold your gadget to end customer,  it is sold now!" 

And yes, even Apple officially reports sales into the channel, not sales to the end customers, with most of its products that it does not sell directly via its own Apple Stores. (And I'm not sure how Apple Stores inventory is accounted).   

Want to insist that it is not the case? That Apple does actually report only those devices that it actually already sold to the end customer?

Well, go to Best Buy and check out those iPhone 4Ss and iPad 2s. They are not such a hot products anymore, there's enough of them to go around, so there are no shortages. Buy one, and you can pick it up, boxed, right then and there at Best Buy. So there must be quite a few of them lying somewhere in BB warehouse. 

So how and where in Apple's books are those iPhone 4Ss and iPad 2s accounted for? They are accounted as sold already, even though they were only shipped to distributor -Best Buy - but not yet sold to the end customer. That's what "x to y weeks channel inventory" Apple usually has, means  

Still don't believe me?

Well, would you believe Tim Cook, if he stated that Apple's actual iPad sell-through numbers  (sales to end customers)  in Q3 2012, were different from the   17 million iPads sold, they have officially reported? Well, believe it or not - he actually said that. Here's a direct quote from Apple earnings conference call Q&A: 

"...the June quarter contained 1.2 million increase in (iPad) channel inventory and so the actual sell-through sequentially looks, the comparison looks very different than our reported sell-in numbers do..."

As you can see - sold and shipped is most certainly not the same for Apple. Right there, Tim Cook admits that what they officially report are "sell-in" numbers, and that those numbers are different from "sell-through" numbers - i.e. what they actually sold to the end customer that quarter.

So please, argue that Apple is the best at managing their channel inventories.That they sell everything they ship into the channel very fast. That they have trouble coping with the demand for their newest product. I will wholeheartedly agree.

Even argue that their reported quarterly sales (sell-in into the channel) may be much closer to actual sales numbers to the end customers (sell-through) than what competition provides. Or that details/granularity Apple provides into its product sales are among the best in the industry. Or that a lot of Apple's competitors barely provide any reliable numbers at all. There is a lot of truth to it. 

Also do argue that analyst estimates are quite often a bunch of BS, and we should always take them with a grain of salt. Again, I agree 100% 

But please stop with with this nonsense about how for Apple, and only for Apple, shipments=sales to end customers. And everyone else must be fudging their officially announced numbers somehow. 

It is simply not true most of the time. And even when it happens to be true, and some vendor does start a channel stuffing game, those kind of tricks get revealed pretty fast. As it happened with original "2 million Galaxy Tabs shipped", or endless profit warnings we saw from Nokia lately   

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