Over the past several days several pieces of evidence have emerged that there is overwhelming interest from consumers in Apple’s latest handset, the iPhone 4S — including in Australia.
An Apple statement overnight revealed the company had received more than one million pre-orders for the device globally — topping the previous record of 600,000 held by the iPhone 4. And locally, things appear to be heating up as well. The Sydney Morning Herald has quoted both Telstra and Optus as highlighting a great deal of demand for the handset, which hits stores on Friday. Apparently some “tens of thousands” of customers have registered to receive info from Telstra about its iPhone 4S launch.
All of this is great for Apple, but personally, it leaves me pretty confused. I still don’t believe the iPhone 4S is really a substantial upgrade to the iPhone 4, and there is a great deal of competition out there right now from manufacturers focusing on the Android platform — and more to arrive, with top-end devices like the Nexus Prime and the Samsung Galaxy S III on the horizon. In addition, from my own extended circle of friends and family, I’m not getting a sense that people are excited about the iPhone 4S — with most still seeing it as a minor upgrade to the iPhone 4.
One argument goes that although the iPhone 4S has been panned by many technology commentators (including myself), mainstream buyers are much more interested in the handset — including many of those who previously owned an iPhone 3GS and are shortly coming to the end of their contract. The iPhone 4S might be a logical buy for that category of customer.
And yet, I’m not sure the evidence so far bears this argument out. If you look at the Sydney Morning Herald, a very mainstream Australian publication, most of the comments on the site’s article about the iPhone 4S demand are pretty dubious about the merits of the iPhone 4S, and Apple fans in general.
Another argument goes that many of those placing iPhone 4S owners are part of the massive number of people who don’t currently own a smartphone at all — they’ve still got an old-style Nokia or Sony Ericsson. The publicity around the passing of Steve Jobs and the still-growing understanding of the nature of smartphones may be stimulating these people to upgrade.
However, I don’t buy this argument either. Those “tens of thousands” of people who have registered for more info from Telstra on the iPhone 4S are not likely to be mainstreamers. They’re likely to be geeks interested to see what deals Telstra has to offer on the iPhone 4S.
Perhaps the argument that I am most persuaded by at the moment, is that the so-called “pent-up demand” for the iPhone 4S is not really the same kind of demand that we’ve previously seen for iPhone.
In Australia, we tend to think about iPhone releases as being regular as clockwork. New iPhones get announced in the US, and they then make their way into Australia and other first-world countries in the next month or so.
However, the truth is that this isn’t true for the rest of the world. Wikipedia chronicles the gradual release of the iPhone 4 around the globe — although it hit Australia in July 2010, it was only released gradually throughout the succeeding six months in countries like Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa, Vietnam and so on, and it didn’t reach India until May 2011.
When it comes to Android phones, of course, the global distribution cycle is even slower and more limited — as Apple’s rivals generally appear to have less manufacturing capacity; and of course they also typically release more than one form factor.
The iPhone 4S will launch faster, in a wider range of countries than the iPhone 4. When Apple launched the iPhone 4, the device went on sale in five countries (the US, France, Germany, Japan and the UK in June), with a total of 88 countries targeted by the end of September. However, the iPhone 4S will be available in seven countries straight away on Friday, with a total of 22 countries being targeted by the end of the month — and presumably many more in the several months after.
Could it be that Apple’s vastly improved global distribution platform is behind the increased iPhone 4S pre-orders? This would explain why the company is seeing such huge levels of raw demand for the iPhone 4 … but also explain why many commentators, including myself, do not expect to see huge levels of demand for the handset in Australia.
It also appears that not all Australian telcos feel the iPhone 4S will be a huge hit. Vodafone, for one, has already signalled it won’t hold a midnight launch party for the device — although it has with previous releases.
Image credit: Apple