RSS
Why the disappointing iPhone 5 is smashing sales records: 4 theories
2 million customers went online last Friday to preorder Apple's bigger, faster handset — despite the protestations of underwhelmed tech critics
 
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters play with the new iPhone 5 on Sept. 12: Some analysts believe Apple will sell roughly 12 million new iPhones by month's end.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters play with the new iPhone 5 on Sept. 12: Some analysts believe Apple will sell roughly 12 million new iPhones by month's end.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The verdict is in: Customers really want the iPhone 5. Going against the recommendations of disappointed tech bloggers, more than 2 million consumers went online on Friday to put in their pre-orders for the new smartphone. That's twice as many pre-orders as the iPhone 4S had in its first 24 hours, and more than triple the number of pre-orders for the iPhone 4. Some analysts are now predicting that the iPhone 5 will sell 10 million to 12 million units in September alone, and 50 million by the time the holiday season peaks in December. Why is the new iPhone — which has a faster processor, larger 4-inch screen, and utilizes faster next-generation 4G LTE networks — shattering sales records even though it wasn't the revolutionary device everyone was holding their breath for? Here, four theories: 

1. Customers were holding out for the iPhone 5
"A lot of people will be upgrading to the iPhone 5 from their old 3GS or earlier iPhone," says Chris Martin at PC Advisor. And iPhone 4 owners could "probably be easily persuaded, too." Plenty of people don't always spring for the newest model every year — indeed, many passed on the tepidly reviewed iPhone 4S. Clearly, many Apple fans were holding out for this new model.

2. iPhones needn't be groundbreaking to sell well
"The iPhone 5 is a bit of an oddity in the mobile world," says Matt Burns at TechCrunch. Most other phone models require something special, or a "gimmick," to sell so many units so quickly. But the iPhone has always been an outlier, and for many customers, even a "slight evolution in design" is a good reason to buy. Think about it, says Curious Rat. Apple's new phone is "stable, cohesive, well-designed, beautiful, iterative, and on many levels, innovative." Apple only shatters expectations when it "enters a market, not when it's already entrenched in one." 

3. Samsung's loss is Apple's gain
Apple's recent patent lawsuit victory over Samsung threatens the Korean smartphone maker's ability to sell its popular products stateside, says Erik Sherman at CBS News. "Because Samsung is the biggest seller of Android handsets, concerns about availability" may have caused potential Android buyers to change their preference "to a model they knew would be available." 

4. Logistical difficulties didn't submarine the process
"Last year's iPhone preorders got off to a shaky start," says Stephen Shankland and Josh Lowensohn at CNET. When the initial wave of iPhone 4S inventory sold out, Apple delayed delivery of some preorders by three to four weeks, causing some buyers to cancel their online orders and brave retail lines instead. The iPhone 5 experienced a similar buying frenzy online, but "Apple's online store in the United States worked smoothly," and other "savvy users" found out that orders could be placed directly through Apple's iOS app. The result? Two million phones sold in a day.

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week