Apple said it landed 2 million iPhone 5 preorders in just 24 hours and handily topped previous records for the device. Meanwhile, Apple is seeing iPhone 5 demand outstrip supply. More importantly, the iPhone 5's preorders may be highlighting a fundamentally different upgrade cycle for Apple's iconic device.
And pressure for Apple to fill the product and revenue void as customers wait for the next latest greatest device after 6 months or so.
Apple's iPhone 5 has been billed as the greatest consumer electronics upgrade off all time. The iPhone 5 has a better chip, larger screen and more importantly works with 4G LTE networks. That 4G boost is the biggest reason Apple will enjoy a powerful upgrade cycle. Tack on international coverage and carrier agreements and Apple will rock the iPhone 5 sales.
Today it's all roses for iPhone 5 demand. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in a research note:
We believe that while the media bubble around the iPhone 5 has met the phone launch with mixed opinion, the reality is that when actual consumers have the product in hand, we believe they will be impressed. We view the iPhone 5 as the Rolex of smartphones in terms of quality and build, while the majority of other phones are dominated by lesser quality plastic and feel more like Timexes. Why would someone by a Timex when they can have a Rolex for the same price? Additionally, we believe that consumer sentiment around the iPhone 5 is significantly better than it was for iPhone 4S despite the lack of excitement by the tech media. We remain confident in our 6-10 million unit estimate for iPhone 5 for the remainder of September and 49 million iPhone estimate for December.
I agree with Munster's take. My focus for this iPhone upgrade cycle revolves around duration. What remains to be seen is how long the iPhone 5 upgrade cycle will last. Apple's September and December quarters are largely set. What happens to iPhone demand in February and beyond remains to be seen.
Let's assume that iPhone 5 demand normalizes beginning in February. Apple's iPhone 6---and all the leaks that'll go with it---won't show up until September or October 2013. The conundrum for Apple is finding a new upgrade cycle to fill that void. My hunch is that the iPhone 6 waiting game will start earlier each year.
Customers with expiring contracts will stretch their phones out a few months for the next iPhone. As a result, you'll get a pop of pent-up demand and then slower growth. Sure, Apple will fill that demand void with the iPad. However, the waiting game starts earlier for Apple's next-gen tablet too. The likely cadence for Apple product demand goes like this:
New announcement from Apple.
Demand surge from customers waiting as well as Apple faithful.
A compressed upgrade cycle of 6 months maximum.
A waiting game and lull that becomes intensified by product leaks (Apple can't keep secrets anymore).
New Apple launch.
Rinse and repeat.
That's why in the grand scheme of things Apple needs another product. To date, the iTV chatter has been on and off. Apple has iPhone, iPad and Mac upgrade cycles to ride through its fiscal year. The company may ultimately find that it needs one more big product category to keep the machine humming and ultimately translate into a $1 trillion market capitalization.