Mobile World Congress is too great a public relations opportunity for Apple to pass up. The company is notorious for stealing thunder from events like this one. That’s why something missing today is so revealing. There was no Apple press release touting Verizon iPhone weekend sales. Even if there was no industry mobile event in Barcelona, it would be typical for Apple to tout early sales, as it did with iPad (300,000 first day) and iPhone 4 (1.7 million first weekend).
Apple’s silence strongly suggets that those short lines on launch day were no flukes. I heard lots of excuses, in Betanews comments or Twitter, citing bad weather. For example, in response to my post “Verizon iPhone post mortem: Three lessons and some humble pie,” Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg tweeted: “You’re kidding right? Preorders and reservations along with frigid weather means no lines. But better prepared than not.” To which I responded: “It’s sunny here in San Diego and lines are short at Apple Store. ‘There’s not been a line at any point’ said one rep.”
If people want something bad enough, they’ll wait in the cold to buy it — and by measure of blog and news media hype plenty of people were ready to do just that. Last week, Bob Brown wrote at Macworld UK: “More than a quarter of AT&T customers and about a quarter of Verizon customers say they are willing to wait in line on Feb. 10 to switch over to Apple iPhones that will run on Verizon’s 3G wireless network.” He and others based first-day expectations on a 700-person survey conducted by uSamp. There were others.
As for the preorder excuse, which got tired real fast, Apple and AT&T took preorders for iPhone 4, too. They didn’t stop people from lining up on launch day; and if the preorders were enough to lift launch weekend sales above 1 million, surely there would have been an announcement from either Apple or Verizon, perhaps both, by now.
I’m not suggesting sales were bad, which is a relative measure. But there’s every indication, starting with those short lines all weekend long (for the most part none, really), that first-weekend sales weren’t what either Apple or Verizon expected. Otherwise, Apple would gloat and steal something from Mobile World Congress Day 1 announcements.
Perhaps many vocal AT&T iPhone users who vowed to switch because they were sick of dropped calls backed down when assessing switching costs or what they would give up — like the ability to make calls and do data simultaneously. It’s an addicting capability I wouldn’t give up. Perhaps Verizon so successfully marketed the Droid line over the past 18 months that there were fewer customers willing or capable of switching, despite sweet incentives to do just that. Perhaps many other potential buyers are holding out for iPhone 5 before getting locked into another two-year contractual commitment. There are probably plenty of possible reasons for which any combination could be right.
For my blogger friends or journalist colleagues, I’ve got some advice: If you read nothing else this month, or even this year, make it “The Order of Things: What college rankings really tell us,” by Malcolm Gladwell in the current The New Yorker. Gladwell uses rankings conducted by Car and Driver and US News & World Report to show how some statistical analyses can land far off the mark. It’s important reading, because right now it seems like every Tom, Dick and Harry with an Excel spreadsheet is making crazy predictions about iPad, iPhone and the mobile device market in general. To reiterate, based on analyses reported in the two weeks before Verizon iPhone went on sale, there should have been long lines and lots of switchers from Android handsets from within the carrier or coming from AT&T for more reliable service. Clearly somebody was wrong.
I’m very discerning of which analyst reports I write about, and I even treat industry heavyweights like Gartner and IDC with cautious eyes. Bloggers and journalists covering Apple or the mobile industry would do readers a service by balancing analyst reports against others; I pledge to do more of that myself. Many of these so-called analyses shouldn’t be reported at all, such as those making bold predictions based on how their service or advertising network is used on mobile devices.
As for Verizon iPhone sales, who knows? Maybe there will be a press release tomorrow or later this week. How long Apple takes to tout early sales, particularly that magic 1 million number, will reveal something important about expectations versus reality.