How many iPhones were sold last quarter i.e. at the end of 2011?

Quite a few people are asking me this – as I launch my new app building company.

My answer is that Pros and amateurs both expect a blow-out. They expect BIG things – but they’re just haggling over the percentage.

We will find out who (if any) of them are right on how much iPhones have smashed it.

Either way – we are building all our apps, both in house and for clients, on iOS first.

Click to enlarge. Source: Company reports; Apple 2.0

The most important metric  for Apple (AAPL) in the quarter that ended eight days ago — likely to account for more than half of the company’s revenue for fiscal Q1 2012 — is the number of iPhones it sold from Sep. 25 to Dec. 31.

We’ve polled nearly 40 Apple analysts — professionals and independents — and for once they agree. This was almost certainly a blow-out quarter, the scale of which is suggested by height of the rightmost two bars in the chart at right.

As usual, the estimates of the independent analysts are higher than the pros (see here for why), but even the most pessimistic expect Apple to report record unit sales.

The numbers from the 22 Wall Street analysts who have responded so far to our call for estimates range from a high of 35 million iPhones from BTIG’s Walter Piecyk to a low of 25.2 million from Gabelli’s Hendi Susanto. The average among this group is 29.74 million, which would represent a year-over-year increase of  83%.

The average among our panel of 15 independents — an assortment of bloggers, enthusiasts and individual investors — is 33.42 million iPhones, or an annual increase of nearly 106%. Among this group, the estimates range from a high of 35.75 million from Posts at Eventide‘s Robert Paul Leitao to a low of 30.17 million from Alexis Cabot of the MacObserver’s Apple Finance Board.

We’ll find out who was closest to the mark when Apple reports its earnings after the markets close on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Below the fold: The analysts’ individual estimates, with the pros in blue and the amateurs in green. The rank numbers show how well each analyst did over the past four quarters. The amateurs, who tend to do considerably better than the pros, got clobbered in the September quarter when the launch of the iPhone 4S was delayed until October.

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