Photo: via gdgt
Apple (AAPL) surprised and disappointed most observers when it announced that its new iPhone model will be the “iPhone 4S” instead of the widely anticipated “iPhone 5.“Expectations for this launch were high. Every year since launching the iPhone, Apple has announced the new model in June. This year, however, Apple did not announce a new model in June, and this delay led many to speculate that the company wanted extra time to build a spectacular new model that it would release in the fall.
But now the new model has been released, and while it contains some cool new features, it’s hardly a quantum leap over the existing iPhone 4—in part because it looks and feels exactly the same.
So Apple’s decision to call the phone the “iPhone 4S” instead of the “iPhone 5” seems more than a mere labelling decision. This new phone does feel like a modest upgrade to the existing iPhone 4, rather than a revolutionary new iPhone 5.
So what will that mean for Apple’s product sales?
Here’s some initial thinking:
- First, the decision to sell the old iPhone 3GS for free (with contract) is brilliant. Smartphones are becoming a platform game, and this will help Apple gain more market share. Sticking with the 3GS (instead of giving the iPhone 4 away for free) is also smart, because lots of folks who covet the iPhone 4’s retina screen, camera, and other features but don’t really care about the additional 4S features would likely have taken the free phone.
- Apple will still sell a bajillion of 4Ss, and they’ll probably still be the best phone on the market. They just won’t sell quite as many as they would have if this had been an even more impressive iPhone 5.
- iPhone owners who own the iPhone 3GS or an earlier model will probably upgrade. Apple said in the press conference that half of all iPhones out there are iPhone 4s, so this means half of the phones are likely to go ahead and upgrade (i.e., there will be no difference here between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S).
- Many (most?) iPhone 4 owners, however, will probably NOT feel compelled to upgrade, whereas they might have if this iPhone had been a revolutionary new phone. The thinking here is that the iPhone 4S looks and feels the same as the iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4 will run iOS 5, Apple’s new operating system. The iPhone 4 already takes great pictures, has Face Time, and will have everything that iOS does. The only major features it will be missing versus the iPhone 4S are some speed (faster chip) and the new voice-assistant, Siri. Siri sounds cool enough to motivate Apple fanatics to upgrade, but not normal people.
- Anyone who upgrades to the iPhone 4S may miss out on the iPhone 5 when it is eventually released (presumably next year). This will be a disincentive for some of the iPhone 4 fence-sitters. Many of them will probably just decide to wait for the iPhone 5.
Supporting these conclusions, in our initial survey, 45% of iPhone 4 owners say they will NOT upgrade.
So, bottom line, it seems reasonable to think that announcing the “iPhone 4S” instead of the “iPhone 5” will hurt Apple’s sales over the next year, especially with Android phones improving all the time.
And given the delay in releasing the new phone until the fall, plus the naming of the latest operating system “iOS 5” and the new chip as “A5”, questions will linger about whether there wasn’t some big internal screw-up here. It certainly seems as though Apple should have announced the “iPhone 5,” so people can be forgiven for wondering what happened.
More qualitatively, the fact that so many people feel disappointed after today’s product announcement is not a good start to the post-Steve Jobs era.