Apple has "significantly reduced" its iPhone orders to its manufacturers, as it "begins prepping" for iPhone 5. That's how Neil Hughes at AppleInsider sees it, based on an investors note from Sterne Agee stock analyst Shaw Wu. See also iPhone 5 release date, specs and rumour round up.

In the note, Wu told his readers that "he has found in his checks with suppliers that Apple has reduced iPhone orders by between 20 and 25 percent from the 35.1 million units the company shipped in the March quarter," according to Hughes. Go to iPhone 5 will "launch" in September.

If it's ordering fewer phones, it will be shipping fewer phones. "If those numbers hold for the current June quarter, that would result in shipments of between 26 million and 28 million iPhones. That result would be below Wall Street consensus of between 30 million and 31 million." Visit iPhone 5's iOS 6 firmware to be revealed in June.

But, there are the phones already in the channel inventory. Wu estimates that there 8.6 million iPhones in the channel inventory, with 2.6 million added in the most recent quarter. "That channel inventory allowed the company to reach a supply-demand balance of between 4 and 6 weeks," according to the AppleInsider story.

Based on past history, Apple can expect a slowdown in iPhone sales, the closer we come to the expected announcement of the next iPhone. At the same time, it presumably wants to have enough phones to meet all the demand during the run-up to that announcement, while making sure there's manufacturing capacity to meet expected demand for the Next iPhone.

AppleInsider quotes Wu: "It appears AAPL is opting to be conservative with its suppliers to factor in a potential 2-quarter pause ahead of the refresh and also to manage inventory."

In 2011, as AppleInsider notes, Apple reported record sales of 20.34 million iPhones during the June quarter, and 17.07 million in the September quarter, "as Apple drew down inventories ahead of the iPhone 4S launch." But that seems to assume that Apple, in effect, didn't have enough iPhones to meet demand. Apple CEO Tim Cook said that demand for iPhone 4 fell off, especially in the second half of the September quarter, but not as much as Apple executives had feared.

Wu "believes investor expectations should be drawn in for the June quarter as well as the following September quarter," according to AppleInsider.

Rollup isn't a corporate inventory management specialist, and Apple's Tim Cook definitely is, but low-balling Apple sales for two quarters -- half of the year -- doesn't seem like a great inventory management strategy.