In the run-up to Apple’s iPhone X launch, it was clear that the company could end up pinched by its own product plans. On paper, the plan looked solid: Refresh the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus at lower price points, before bringing in the iPhone X, with its $1,000 price point, new technology (at least for Apple), and premium sales pitch. But once it became clear customers weren’t biting on the iPhone 8, Apple faced a difficult situation. If demand for the iPhone X didn’t hold strong, the company could be left between a rock and a hard place, with customers who skipped upgrading to the iPhone 8 (because it wasn’t sexy enough) but who weren’t sold enough on the iPhone X, due to some mixture of cost and features.
Globally, Apple’s overall performance is a bit of a muddle. In the UK, US, and China, Apple continues to impress, with 49.4 percent, 39.8 percent, and almost 25 percent of the market in each nation respectively. But Nikkei reports Apple made the decision to cut production after slow holiday and end-of-year sales didn’t deliver the product shipments Apple wanted.
It Takes a Village
One thing the Nikkei piece does well is highlight how complex smartphone manufacturing is, and how the impact of one company’s allocation changes ripples throughout the entire ecosystem. If Apple slashes production orders for the iPhone X, it doesn’t just impact Apple — it impacts Sony, Samsung, and every other company that manufactures components for the iPhone X as well. The result could improve NAND supplies if fewer iPhone X shipments free up capacity in the market (and to that end, any chance we can get some more DDR4 for PCs?) Nikkei even speculates that we could see slower shifts to OLED panels from LCDs if Apple doesn’t keep pushing that technology into the market.
It’s absolutely true that what Apple says and does matters in the smartphone business. Android manufacturers have led the way with some features, like wireless charging, but what Apple is doing — or not doing — sends signals to other companies that compete with Cupertino. The most significant aspect of this trend may be in emerging technology, where Apple cash and resources can drive the development of tech that is then leveraged by everyone else as well.
But I’d hold off before declaring various tech adoption trends damaged because Apple’s $1,000 smartphone may not have sold particularly well. The iPhone X was a unique product from Apple, the first of its kind. Apple may not have known what kind of sales it could expect, and it’s probably still evaluating whether it makes sense to keep a $1,000 SKU available at all. If Apple thinks it can actually shift mainstream pricing in that direction, it absolutely will, but a sharper-than-expected decline in sales could be great news for everyone who doesn’t want to see smartphones get more, not less, expensive.
Apple’s overall level of sales isn’t expected to change much. The iPhone X only went on sale in November, so most of Apple’s sales would’ve been on conventional models — the iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, and iPhone 8 families. Apple reports its results on Thursday, so we’ll know more about the company’s performance by then.
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