Each of the 44 analysts whose predictions have been collated by Fortune's Philip Elmer-Dewitt foresee sales of at least 50 million handsets, with a consensus of 55.3 million units that would represent a 16 percent increase in sales from the year-ago quarter. The panel consists of 27 professional and 17 independent analysts.
Merill Lynch's Scott Craig is the most bullish of the professional group with an estimate of 58.5 million units, while Pacific Crest's Andy Hargreaves brings up the rear with 50.93 million.
Most well-known names skew toward the upper end of the range. Deutsche Bank's Chris Whitmore predicts sales of 58 million handsets, Evercore's Robert Cihra sees 57 million, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster comes in at 55.5 million, and Cowen & Company's Timothy Arcuri has Apple penciled in at 55 million.
The list is bookended by independent analysts with a connection to the Braeburn Group, a loose affiliation of amateur Apple watchers led by Faizal Kara's 59.73 million unit projection. Ilari Scheinin presents the bear case with an even 50 million units.
While the first quarter does not include sales from the long-awaited China Mobile partnership, it does include those from another new Asian carrier partner, Japan's NTT DoCoMo. Apple will reveal their final numbers on Jan. 27.