Once more, the evidence mounts that Tim Cook and Apple seriously underestimated the appeal of the iPhone X, with ambitious orders for Q1 2018 having to be rowed back and analyst projections for Q2 and Q3 are being downgraded.
The tenth anniversary iPhone was meant to reset the story. It would bring a new styling to the smartphone, it would introduce new technology that would improve the user interface of the handset, it would be the first iPhone of a new generation and would kick off a super-cycle of sales. In anticipation of this Apple prepared the supply chain with orders that would accommodate forty million handsets.
Instead, orders were reset to around the twenty million mark for Q1… a volume of orders that would follow Apple’s year-on-year sales trend in Q1. Unfortunately, that trend is a falling trend, and I find it hard to believe that Apple would deliberately plan to sell fewer devices in 2018 than it had in 2017.
The biggest indicator of this troubled period remains Samsung, which detailed the financial impact of lost orders from ‘a large partner’ to its OLED production
To that, you can add numerous suppliers in the Asian supply chain who have been facing up to reduced order books and weaker sales compared to previous estimates. These are being picked up by analysts, and the increased volume has led to cold water being poured over Apple’s expected 2018 performance.
The latest downgrade comes from Longbow Research, which expects flat or declining sales for the rest of the year. That’s declining sales on the current lower estimates indicated by the twenty million target for Q1. That leads to a drop in the estimates for 2018’s total iPhone sales, with Nomura cutting 5 million from its own estimate of 221 million down to 216 million.
And yes, that would lead to another year-on-year fall in iPhone sales, continuing the downward trend since 2015.
In the short-term many believe that Apple should not be worried. Thanks to the high price of the iPhone X revenue is up and records continue to be broken. But the question is how long does the short-term remain short? Is the iPhone X the first device that is on the wrong side of the price/margin curve?
Because there will come a point where higher prices will not be able to maintain the individual margin required to gift Apple the revenue it is used to. There will come a point where unit sales will drop pull down the volumes below a critical point and Apple’s revenue will begin to fall. The smart CEO will spot that trend beforehand and change course. It’s difficult, because it means short-term pain in lost sales and revenue, but offers longevity for the company.
Addressing the falling sales is key. The more sales the more options you will be left with. As sales construct, options for generating revenue become limited. Apple’s first strategy for 2018 – sell more iPhone X handsets – has fallen through. The next line of attack appears to be to raise the price of the second generation of iPhone X devices and replace the $349 iPhone SE with a $799 iPhone X SE.
Boosting handset prices, reducing the bill of materials to increase the margin, and trying to squeeze more revenue out of lower sales didn’t work for Palm. Or Nokia. Or the various iterations of BlackBerry devices.
Explain to me why Apple will be any different?
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