- Apple blamed a collapse in China for what it expects to be an unprecedented revenue shortfall in its most important quarter.
- Apple says it missed its own revenue projection by at least $US4 billion.
- There are a lot of factors, but one is clear: Apple’s iPhones have gotten more expensive, and it’s starting to hurt demand.
The primary reason given by Apple CEO Tim Cook was that new iPhones did not sell well in China during the holiday quarter because the economy is not doing well there.
But he also mentioned a strong dollar, supply constraints, and fewer smartphone subsidies from wireless carriers as reasons for an unprecedented shortfall in Apple’s revenue.
One thing he didn’t mention? That Apple raised prices for the iPhone across the board this fall. The least expensive new phone, the iPhone XR, is 7% more expensive than last year’s entry-level new phone, the iPhone 8. That’s in addition to releasing the most expensive smartphone ever, the iPhone XS Max, which starts at $US1,100 and can be configured to cost as much as $US1,459.
In fact, there’s a simple solution for Apple’s problems: It could release iPhones at lower prices to increase sales. It’s basic economics – people buy more widgets as prices goes down.
If iPhone prices are eye-watering for Americans, they’re even more expensive abroad, thanks to that strong dollar and prices that are often higher overseas than in the United States. For example, an iPhone XS costs 8,338 Chinese yuan. That works out to $US1,220 for a phone that retails in the US at $US999.
Analysts generally buy the fact that economic conditions in China declined quickly between November 1, when Apple said demand was good, and Wednesday, when the company lowered its guidance for the holiday quarter by billions of dollars. The Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart estimated that the decrease meant about 7 million fewer iPhones sold than expected.
“While Tim Cook blamed a slowing China economy and trade tension, we maintain that in our opinion the iPhone average sales price is the biggest problem given uninspiring specs and rising competition in China and in Europe,” Nicolas Baratte and Cherry Ma, analysts at the Hong Kong-based CLSA, wrote in a note on Friday.
“In particular, we think the Huawei P and Mate are a problem for Apple given similar hardware specs at 2/3rd or half the price,” the analysts continued.
There are reasons to keep iPhone prices high, some analysts suggest.
“It’s extremely easy to say Apple should just cut product pricing to boost demand,” Cybart wrote on Thursday. “However, it’s not clear how such a move leads to greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.”
Skyrocketing average sales price
The average price of an iPhone has been growing prodigiously. In the third quarter of 2018, the average iPhone sold for $US793, a massive rise from the $US618 Apple said it cost a year ago.
(Going forward, Apple announced in November, investors won’t have access to average selling price numbers.)
“The answer is absolutely” that average sales prices affect demand, Tom Forte, a senior research analyst at D.A. Davidson, told Business Insider, continuing: “Not only was I wrong on my optimism that higher ASP would offset weakness and result in better-than-expected sales performance, but they were too aggressive in their price increases.”
Some analysts wonder whether Apple will see its average selling price decline going forward.
“We believe that focus should now shift to ASP decline potential in 2019,” the Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall wrote on Thursday. “Weaker macro and [foreign exchange rates] may push consumers toward less expensive iPhone models.”
Those less expensive iPhone models are the older models, which do not get heavily marketed and are facing sales bans in Germany and China because of the global legal battle with Qualcomm.
Even Apple’s marketing now focuses on price, for the first time in memory. Apple’s advertising now often highlights the iPhone XR for a price below its $US749 retail price after factoring a trade-in device, suggesting that Apple knows its customers are price-sensitive.
Services as the bright spot
Apple did highlight some bright spots in its letter to investors: that products like online services, AirPods, Apple Watches, and Mac computers all reported record revenue. In fact, they grew by 19% annually.
But all of those products essentially require an iPhone. It’s unlikely someone would buy cloud storage or Apple Music if they weren’t already in Apple’s ecosystem. AirPods and the Apple Watch basically don’t work unless the customer already has an iPhone, and the Mac is a premium laptop that works best with an iPhone.
That’s why Apple emphasises it when the number of iPhone users remains growing. “Our installed base of active devices hit a new all-time high – growing by more than 100 million units in 12 months,” Cook wrote in Wednesday’s letter.
The installed base is the number that will continue driving all of these other products that Apple sells. And if Apple is serious about becoming a company that makes a lot of its money by selling online services, as it signalled in November, it needs the installed base to continue rising.
That means introducing lower-cost iPhones, some analysts believe.
“This year’s iPhone XR is 7.5% more expensive than the 8,” Forte said. “If we were having this conversation prior to the preannouncement, Apple still lacks in its product portfolio a low-priced smartphone to fully exploit emerging markets.”
“This still shows there’s a hole in the product strategy not having the lower-price device,” he said. “But that hole might never get plugged. It might be their permanent strategy.”
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