Why Dan Frommer and Scott Moritz Are Wrong on iPhone Sales
September 13th, 2007
Daniel Eran Dilger
Silicon Alley Insider’s Dan Frommer says Apple’s announcement of reaching its million mark goal in iPhone sales three weeks early is actually bad news for Apple and is convolutedly “below plan.” He also says the announcement only props up the speculative conjecture by Scott Moritz of the Street that Apple’s iPhones sales are somehow woefully below expectations. They’re wrong, here’s why.
Frommer wrote that Apple isn’t selling iPhones as fast as planned and is set to only sell around half of its 2008 goal.
His premise revolves around the idea that if Apple were selling iPhones at “a constant rate,” a million phones in 74 days would be five million per year. However, because it sold over a quarter of those in the opening day and a half at the end of June, Frommer calculates that sales of the remainder in the 72 days since the first of July mean that Apple is only hitting a “3.6 million annual run rate.”
By the end of 2008, that would only result in 5.8 million units instead of the ten million goal Apple.
Strike One: The Run Rate Myth.
The most obvious problem with that idea is the fact that devices don’t sell at a constant “run rate.” Apple’s iPhone sales took off at launch much faster than the original iPod due to the fact that a swell of early adopters were ready to buy it after being convinced over six months of anticipation. At the same time, many potential buyers held off on plans to buy the iPhone until they could read reviews and get a real sense of how it worked.
Many were also locked into contracts with Verizon or Sprint. With only six months of advanced notice, it will still be a few more months before the majority of buyers who want an iPhone even get the chance to buy one without having to pay outrageous fees to cancel their existing mobile contract. iPhone sales are also now taking on the network effect of the iPod, as early adopters show their friends. All these factors have difficult to estimate impacts upon sales that make trying to figure a static “run rate” a very simplistic and pointless exercise.
However, there is another factor that simply blows the entire idea of a static “run rate” out of the water. Last November, I predicted that sales of the Zune would bomb that winter because Microsoft had failed to critically examine Apple’s historical sales patterns. Sure enough, the Zune was thrown against the rocks by Apple’s riptide.
Frommer’s idea ignores that same reality by imagining that iPhone sales will schlep along at a linear pace. Had Frommer tried to calculate an “annual run rate” for the iPod based on a portion of third quarter sales at any point over the last half decade, he would never have been close to accurate. That’s because Apple’s iPod sales roughly triple every winter quarter.
- In 2002, it sold nearly as many iPods in its winter quarter as it did the first three quarters combined: 219,000
- In 2003, it actually sold more iPods in its winter quarter than in the first three combined: 733,000
- In 2004, it again sold more iPods in its winter quarter than in the first three: 4,580,000
- In 2005, it sold more than 4 million units every quarter, but still sold nearly three times as many in the winter: 14,480,000.
- In 2006, it sold more than 8 million units every quarter, and then sold over 21 million in the winter quarter.
- In 2007, it has maintained quarterly sales between 10.5 and 9.8 million per quarter.
Strike Two: The Have it Both Ways Myth.
One particularly annoying bit of analysts’ talk about Apple’s expectations is that they can’t seem to decide if Apple’s projections are bad because they are conservative lowballs, or if they are bad for being overly enthusiastic figures the company won’t be able to reach.
They often try to describe them as both, loading contempt on both sides of the scale. This makes them look very foolish. Do they think we have no memory, or are they just changing their stories back and forth in sheer desperation?
Frommer tried to argue both sides at once in the same article. Recall that Apple only ever gave two iPhone sales goals: one million by the end of the first quarter of sales, and ten million by the end of 2008. In his piece, Frommer suggests Apple will only be able to sell 5.8 million iPhones by the end of 2008, based on that fallacious “run rate.” That would be just over half of Apple’s ten million goal. However, he then says that Apple’s immediate short term goal was an unimpressive low ball, no doubt because Apple reached it three weeks early.
Apple’s stated goals must be a greatly frustrating logical conundrum for Frommer, because even at a “run rate” of one million in a quarter, Apple could only ever hope to sell six million iPhones by the end of 2008, another five quarters later. No wonder he’s faced with trying to say that the immediate goal was too low and the longer term one is too high! Frommer needs to stop trying to pound round facts into square holes just so they can be stacked up like bricks the way he would like them to be.
Strike Three: The Market Bearing Price Myth.
While Frommer and Moritz are enamored with the idea that iPhone prices could only be cut if sales were in crisis, a variety of obvious market realities don’t support that simpleton idea. Between now and the end of 2008, Apple has just two holiday seasons. If it wants to dramatically exploit its historical potential for selling roughly three times as many gadgets during the winter season, it makes sense to trade off unit pricing for volume sales, even if it could perhaps sell fewer at a higher price and make more short term profits doing so.
Such a strategy isn’t unique. Microsoft and Sony currently lose money on their new game consoles in desperate bids to establish their gaming and HD video playing platforms. Even so, this year they both cut prices again to accelerate volume demand. Nintendo purposely aimed low to capture volume sales using a more attractive price point. Given high demand for the Wii and extremely constrained availability, Nintendo “should” seemingly raise its console price and profiteer. It hasn’t.
While prices are clearly linked to demand, it is a common fallacy to think that the “right price” is always the highest the market will bear. Jobs’ 99 cent pricing in the iTunes store is clearly not the top price consumers will pay for downloads. Music labels are fuming that other licensees such as Verizon will collect $2.50 or more for portions of a song sold as a ringtone.
Jobs wants media prices low to induce volume sales and attract buyers to the legitimate market for music and movie downloads. Labels and studios want “market pricing,” in part so they can jack up the price of popular music to exploit consumers, and in part so they can exploit artists by threatening to release their work at lower tiered prices and signal to the market that their careers are over.
This All Happened Before.
Dial back the clock twenty years, and you’ll discover that Steve Jobs also fought with Apple CEO John Sculley over the price of the original Macintosh. The desire to use an expensive but pioneering amount of RAM and a futuristic new processor had inflated the price of the Mac, but the design team was still able to deliver it at a fairly attractive price point of $1,995. Scully determined that the Mac would still sell at $2495, delivering high profits to fund splashy advertising.
Nothing on the market was really similar to the Mac apart from Apple’s $9,995 Lisa. VisiOn for the PC similarly cost nearly $10,000 and did far less. Sculley thought that the market would bear anything Apple might charge. Andy Hertzfeld recalled on Folklore.org that in October 1983, “Steve Jobs strode into the software area one evening, looking angry. ‘You’re not going to like this,’ he told us, ‘but Sculley is insisting that we charge $2495 for the Mac instead of $1995, and use the extra money for a bigger marketing budget. He figures that the early adopters will buy it no matter what the price. He also wants more of a cushion to protect Apple II sales. But don’t worry, I’m not going to let him get away with it!’”
Jobs fought Sculley over the price increase, but Sculley prevailed. Sure enough, Macs did sell well out of the gate to early adopters at the higher price, but sales then began to stall. While Jobs couldn’t cut the price for the original Mac to induce wider adoption in the mid 80s, he could choose to cut the price of the iPhone early and use interest in the iPod Touch to ramp users toward the iPhone. That price cut will dramatically boost sales this winter, just as iPod price cuts and feature refreshes do every year.
Apple will earn less profit on individual hardware sales of the iPhone, and may even earn slightly less money overall this quarter than it might have selling the iPhone at $599. However, a $399 iPhone will dramatically boost the company’s sustainable subscriber revenues and devastatingly cut into stationary rivals like Palm and the Windows Mobile licensees, giving them little opportunity retool and strike back with copycat products.
Strike Four: The Myth of Unlimited Availability.
Another problem with idea that iPhone sales were in crisis–and that a price cut is a conspiracy to hide the truth–is that Apple sold out of iPhones in many of its retail stores throughout the first three weeks on sale.
Carl Howe of Blackfriar’s Communications tracked iPhone availability every day through July, and then animated the results in a movie that depicts just how constrained iPhone inventories in Apple’s retail stores were.
So not only did Apple meet its 94 day goal 20 days early, but it did so despite having no or few iPhones to sell in many of its stores during the first 21 days. Price isn’t just related to demand, but also to supply.
That also demonstrates the fallacy of Scott Moritz’ assertion that Apple secretly planned to sell a million iPhones in a day and a half, and was sorely disappointed after failing to do so. How could Apple have planned on selling a million units in one day when it didn’t even have a million units on the shelves of its stores during the first month?
Remember, Moritz wasn’t saying Apple had a delivery problem in getting enough units to stores as Nintendo is experiencing with its constrained supplies of the Wii. Instead, he tried to suggest that interest in the iPhone was far below Apple’s estimates, and buyers were leaving it on the shelf like Windows Vista. The result, he claimed, was that “rivals were rejoicing.”
The only real rejoicing by rivals was that Moritz was volunteering to repeat the talking points handed to him by Verizon shill Roger Entner of IAG Research. Just hours before Apple announced it had sold a million units, Moritz tried to get some traction out of the idea that Apple had dropped the price in desperation to find another half million or so customers over the next three weeks. Apple isn’t the typical tech company being run by visionless bean counters. It it were, it would have continued selling $600 iPhones at least through the end of September and then announced that it had sold its million.
Apple had to push out new iPods in early September and fit the iPhone into the price range because next month it will be rolling out Leopard and a series of new software updates. Apple feeds the press in small, consistent, and regular feedings so reporters know what to write. If Apple were a big stupid company such as, say HP, it would parade out a mix of dozens of consumer and business products all together in one big event, and nobody would ever hear about any of it. HP did.
[Why a million iPhones in 74 days is better than you think- Blackfriars]
[HP's marketing this week: fashionable but ineffective - Blackfriars]
[Unraveling Anti-Apple Panic: the iPhone Launch Success]
[More on Scott Moritz and the Jim Cramer Misinformation Engine]
Strike Five: It’s Too Late to Deny the iPhone.
The most comical part of Frommers’ analysis is that he’s trying to stuff a cat back into a bag and explain that there was never really any cat, long after everyone in the room heard the purr and pet the thing. Sorry, but the windows of opportunity to doubt the iPhone have long since closed.
Real Windows Enthusiasts were aware of the need to deny the iPhone well before its release. They all chimed in with reasons why the iPhone wouldn’t work, wouldn’t offer what consumers want, and wouldn’t sell well, all hoping that their non-stop misinformation campaigns would act as a self-fulfilling prophesy. They failed miserably.
John Dvorak began his smear campaign immediately, appearing on CNBC to say that the iPhone was “trending against what people are really liking in phones nowadays, which are those little keypads.” He explained, “The BlackJack, the Samsung, the BlackBerry obviously pushes this kind of thing. The Palm, all of these. I guess some of these stocks went down on the Apple announcement, thinking that Apple could do no wrong. But I think Apple can do wrong, and I think this is it.”
Reader Jim Barrow sent in a link to a MarketWatch article from March, where Dvorak scribed a rambling diatribe entitled “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone.” He offered no factual basis for worrying that the iPhone might not work out apart from the offhanded comment that “there is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive,” words which echoed Dvorak’s 1984 observation that “the Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse.’ There is no evidence that people want to use these things.”
In April, Dvorak inflamed his ‘pull the plug’ rhetoric further in a TWiT podcast, where he reported to an audience of hundreds of thousands that the iPhone only delivered “40 minutes of talk time” and “the interface fouls up constantly.” Dvorak said that his inside information on the iPhone came from a “guy at Cingular who’s testing the product,” adding, “he’s telling me confidentially and I shouldn’t be telling anybody.”
It’ll Be the Death of You.
Dvorak was joined by Rob Enderle, who called the iPhone “damned” and “not a very good phone” at every opportunity in the months before its launch, despite not really knowing anything about it, or even ever offering any rational criticism. Instead, Enderle appealed to fantasy fears of sexual assault, murder, and the violent death of children, all of which he suggested might somehow be related to the iPhone.
Unaware that a password protected iPhone–or even a unauthorized unit without a configured service plan–can still be used to make emergency phone calls, Enderle wrote about, “an emergency situation where, say, a woman was being raped and couldn’t call for help because she didn’t remember her iPhone password.” As I understand, with a Windows Mobile phone, even if the unit crashed while trying to place the call, at least the victim could use it like a brick as a blunt weapon.
Enderle also feared that being unable to take out the battery would somehow making recharging it impossible, resulting an a scenario where one might end up on “the wrong side of town” with a dead iPhone and be murdered because of it. Being on the wrong side of town was apparently the source of most murders prior to the arrival of the cell phone, which somehow made it safe to be in bad neighborhoods.
For those who unfazed by the prospect of one’s own grisly death in relation to the iPhone, Enderle appealed to his readers to please think of the children, particularly the potential for their brutal decapitation in an iPhone-related collision.
“If you are buying this phone for a child or another member of your family,” Enderle warned, “please emphasize that entering data on this phone while driving is dangerous.” In contrast, operating the slide out keyboards of an HTC brick phone, or using both hands to thumb type on a BlackBerry may or may not save your children as they drive off an embankment, but at least you’ll know they didn’t die at the hands of Apple’s “damned” iPhone.
Pure Concentrated Evil with a Multitouch Screen.
Brian Lam of Gizmodo published an impassioned plea to boycott the iPhone shortly before its launch, due to the fact that Cingular had purchased the AT&T name, a brand Gizmodo’s writer correlated with “monopoly tactics” in the late 70s.
Gizmodo hasn’t ever called for the boycotting of Verizon Wireless, which is well known for its anti-consumer tactics and which shares just as much blood with the old AT&T as its Baby Bell sibling Cingular, nor has it ever urged the boycott Microsoft products due to “monopoly tactics.” Gizmodo also failed to boycott any other GSM phones that are tied to AT&T.
Gizmodo’s Lam and Enderle then teamed up with Slate’s David Sessions in an article purporting to expose Apple’s rated battery life for the iPhone. Sessions complained about the attention the iPhone was getting, and tried to dismiss Apple’s announcement of a two fold increase in battery life over what was originally advertised. Unbelievably, Sessions and friends could only explain away the iPhone’s jump in talk time by crediting its glass screen, saying that “glass transmits light more efficiently than plastic.” That and some witchcraft.
However, all of these individuals sharply reduced their squirt rate of false information after the iPhone’s successful launch. In day and a half, Apple sold 270,000 iPhones compared to the 500,000 Palm OS Treos, 1.03 million RIM BlackBerrys, and 1.51 million Windows Mobile phones that were sold worldwide in the first 90 days of 2007.
Apple has since nearly matched highflying RIM in sales during July, despite being limited to a single carrier and only offered for sale in the US.
At this point, denying the iPhone is like saying the Earth is flat. It might be fun to do at a Renaissance Faire, but pretending to seriously doubt reality is not a good career move unless you work for the Street–or perhaps Rupert Murdoch, as Dvorak does.
And Now: a Warning.
Let it be known that anyone who publishes further misinformation or blows out similar inanity will risk being instantly awarded a Zoon on the spot. No complicated voting, no tedious application process. New Zoon nominees will be rubber stamped with the same effortless fast tracking as the ECMA declaring Microsoft technology as an international standard.
In fact, I’m going to totally Zoon Dan Frommer and Scott Moritz right now, as well as John Dvorak, Rob Enderle, Brian Lam, David Sessions, and even Roger Entner. And John Sculley.
And while I’m handing out an intellectual property construct that costs me nothing to distribute, I will also award Steve Jobs with a Zoon for the whole two month “just kidding” iPhone pricing situation, although I might take half of it back if I get a $100 coupon that doesn’t force me to spend $500 to actually use it.
So let that be a warning to you out there on the Tubes thinking about how to linkbait an article at the expense of the progress of technology. I have a rapid firing gun full of Zoons and I’m not shy about cranking them out.
Be sure to post any nominees.
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