As CCS Insight analyst John Jackson neatly put it: “Apple is in that rarest of all positions where the Street will punish them for anything less than an excess of success. If there’s a positive spin on the iPhone story, it is one of latent demand.”
Latent demand may be the consequence of romanced customers who believe what is around the corner will solve all their problems, but it is a trend Apple will hope isn’t exacerbated. Predictable ‘slumps’ (if the Q3 figures can be seen in such a way) aren’t good long term, but Apple can’t shift from marketing practices so closely tied to its identity. The Apple Store must continue to needlessly go down when adding new products, a veil of absolute secrecy must be maintained to ensure excitement and build demand, keynotes must stick to a smug, drawn out formula of show and tell. And Apple will be fine… unless someone starts doing it better.
That someone may just be Samsung. Strategy Analytics this week announced the Korean giant shipped 51 million smartphones worldwide between March and June – the largest amount by a single vendor in history. Furthermore just 12 months ago Samsung shipped just 20.2m representing a 150 per cent gain. Of course Apple will think “this is ok, we aren’t purely about volume” but Samsung is also coming close to Apple’s famous hype.
In the run up to the launch of the Samsung Galaxy SIII the rumour escalated to iPhone levels: fans mocked up images, components were uncovered in blurry photographs and expectation went through the roof. The result: 10 million shipped SIIIs in under two months. If it can keep the momentum up and hit over 15m in a quarter Samsung will have a single model achieving 75 per cent of Apple’s iPhone 4 figures last year. What’s more Samsung has handsets at every price point and a less predictable release schedule – latent demand seems unlikely.
All the while Samsung and Apple continue to battle in court and legal rulings see Apple secrets brought out into the open. This week it was early iPhone and iPad prototypes, days before it was 58 per cent iPhone profit margins – all of which serve only to kill the mystery of the company’s famous design process and make us angry about the prices we pay.
Make no mistake Apple is not trembling, such margins alone guarantee the iPad remains hugely dominant and iOS still woos most developers. What has been unearthed for the first time, however, is Apple’s rhetoric is developing a distinct downside, a sense of stale predictability and this addition is far beyond ‘one more thing’…