By John Gruber
Flatfile: Never format messy spreadsheets again.
Mike Wuerthele, writing for AppleInsider (headline: “If iPhone X Demand Is Less Than Expected, Analyst Expects It to Be ‘End of Life’ When Replacements Ship”):
In a research note seen by AppleInsider, KGI securities believes that Apple will ship around 18 million of the iPhone X in the first calendar quarter of 2018. Contrary to other predictions based on the supply chain, KGI says that the iPhone X has not been as impactful in China as predicted because of the notch holding the sensors for the device, giving consumers the impression that there is less usable space than on the iPhone 8 Plus.
KGI also expects a trio of iPhone models in the fall of 2018. He predicts the iPhone X will be “end of life” in the summer of 2018, instead of being retained as a lower-cost option in the following year. If this is the case, it would be the first time that Apple has not retained the previous year’s model to allow for a wide range of iPhones available at many price points.
This would not be the first time an iPhone flagship model didn’t stick around for a second year. In 2013, Apple introduced the iPhone 5S to replace the iPhone 5, and also introduced the iPhone 5C to occupy the second pricing tier. The iPhone 5 was dropped from the product line when the 5S and 5C debuted.1
That had nothing to do with the iPhone 5 being unpopular. I think Apple simply wanted a clear distinction between the top-tier and second-tier models. If this rumor is true about this year’s upcoming new lineup — if — I think the exact same logic stands. I think it’s also the case that it’s not just about what the iPhone X looks like, but how difficult (and therefore expensive) it is to produce — the OLED displays in particular. (That almost certainly also factored into the decision to use the plastic-bodied iPhone 5C as the second-tier model, rather than keep the iPhone 5 around for a second year: the iPhone 5 was the first unibody aluminum phone, and it was reportedly difficult to produce.)
It’s interesting news that the iPhone X might only be around for one year, to be sure (again, if true), but it’s not surprising in the least, and it’s of interest only for us obsessives who follow such things closely. Throw in some poor reading comprehension skills and sensationalist mendacity, though, and you get Anthony Cuthbertson’s report for the publication that today operates under the once-respected name Newsweek (headline: “Is Apple About to Cancel the iPhone X? Poor Sales Mean Device Faces ‘End of Life’”):
When Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the iPhone X last September, he said the $999 device would “set the path of technology for the next decade.” But while its technological credentials may not be in question, a poor reception for Apple’s most expensive iPhone may mean it is forced to step off that path within a year of going on sale.
Rumors stemming from Apple analysts suggest that a reduction in orders means iPhone X production may cease as early as this summer, which would be the first time Apple has discontinued an iPhone before unveiling a new model.
A research note by analysts at KGI Securities, seen by Apple news site AppleInsider, estimated iPhone X shipments in the first quarter of 2018 were at around 18 million devices — a significant reduction on previous flagship iPhones.
Cuthbertson’s only source is AppleInsider’s summary of Ming-Chi Kuo’s report — and he’s drawing conclusions that simply weren’t in the original. Cuthbertson is laying out a scenario where Apple stops selling the iPhone X this summer, months before new models are announced in September. That would indeed be a sensational — downright humiliating — setback for Apple. But there’s no way that’s going to happen, and it’s also not what AppleInsider says Kuo expects. What Kuo said is that Apple might stop producing new iPhone X units once they’ve made enough to keep shelves stocked until September. Kuo does suggest that this might be because sales of the iPhone X are disappointing (particularly in China), but Kuo’s record is only good regarding what is going on in Apple’s Asian supply chain, not why. If Kuo is correct that the iPhone X will be dropped from next year’s iPhone lineup, I don’t think the reason has anything to do with how well it sold.
Also, even if it’s true that Apple will “only” sell 18 million iPhone X units in the first calendar quarter of 2018, you have to put that in context with the fact that the iPhone X debuted alongside the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, which had the features, design, and prices of what in any previous year would have been the top-tier new iPhones.
Everything about Cuthbertson’s report — starting with that fucking headline,2 which arguably is all that matters for a publication like today’s Newsweek, which is, I would bet, hopelessly dependent upon social media traffic and utterly disdainful of the notion of building up a wellspring of trust with a devoted readership — seems written to paint a picture of the iPhone X being a sales failure, facts be damned, and nothing about it — not a single sentence — seems geared toward giving the reader an accurate, genuine understanding of what’s actually going on with sales of the current iPhone lineup.
And don’t even get me started about the dreck that is well-known-dipstick Forbes “contributor” Gordon Kelly’s jacktastically headlined piece, “Apple Leak Reveals Sudden iPhone X Cancellation”. This piece isn’t even up to Forbes’s usual standard of at least being worth rolling up and using as a sex toy on short-fingered vulgarians.
The original iPhone should count, too. When the iPhone 3G debuted, Apple stopped selling the original iPhone. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it feels like it’s fair to say that the norm is for radically new iPhone form factors not to remain in the lineup at a lower price the next year. To my mind, the new iPhones that qualify as “radically new form factors” are: the original iPhone in 2007 (of course), the iPhone 4 in 2010 (first retina display, glass back, external antenna), the iPhone 5 in 2012 (aluminum unibody), and the iPhone X (OLED display, Face ID sensor array). I don’t think the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus qualify, because I’m talking about things that make a new iPhone design difficult and/or unusually expensive to manufacture and assemble — they looked different just because they were bigger, but I don’t think there was anything about them that made them more difficult to assemble than the iPhone 5/5S. Of those radically new iPhones, only one, the iPhone 4, hung around in the product lineup at a lower price after its successor debuted. That’s particularly humorous, given that the iPhone 4 was the iPhone with the most-publicized design “flaw” — the antenna that was subject to attenuation issues if, you know, you held it wrong. And the iPhone 4 suffered from what was inarguably the worst manufacturing problem in the entire history of the product: the white models shipped almost an entire year late. ↩︎︎