Levin said he was not surprised that, in the U.S. at least, Apple didn't grab more Android switchers on the back of the 5.5-in. iPhone 6 Plus, the Cupertino, Calif. company's first so-called "phablet."
"The 6 Plus did really well in the U.S. — we said that about 30% of all new iPhones sold [in the fourth quarter in the U.S.] were the 6 Plus — but it's not clear if those people switched from another phablet or were part of the normal upgrade," said Levin. "Consumers are most loyal to their carrier; it's in the 80% to 90% range. After that, loyalty to the OS is strongest, then loyalty to the brand."
Levin said he expects the Android switching rate to climb in the current quarter, however, because as time goes by, more Android owners exhaust their carrier contracts and so become potential deserters to iOS.
During the Tuesday earning call, Cook made it clear that he believed there was still substantial upside to the iPhone, the huge sales in the past quarter notwithstanding. "We are incredibly bullish about iPhone going forward," Cook said, citing the small size of the upgrade so far — no more than 15% of the existing iPhone user base — and a record in the quarter for the percentage of those new to the iPhone.
But according to Levin, Apple has almost exhausted some of the consumer categories that have historically been part of what fueled U.S. iPhone sales. CIRP has seen a steady decline in the share coming from Blackberry owners as the Canadian firm's market evaporates, and a decline in those moving from a "feature" phone to a smartphone. The latter continues to shrink as well.
That has resulted in an ever-increasing share of iPhone sales attributed to upgraders who had an older iPhone. CIRP's trend line showed that while previous iPhone owners accounted for just over 40% as recently as mid-2013, by the final quarter of 2014 the number was around 70%.
"Apple still has plenty of prospective customers for the iPhone, but they're running out of basic [feature] phone owners," said Levin. "Their challenge has been, and will continue to be, trying to pick up Android owners."
That's no small task, as Android smartphone owners are, as a group, loyal to that OS and ensuing ecosystem. "Android loyalty has been up as well," said Levin. "It's lower than iOS's, but it's also trending up."
Levin declined to share exact statistics on iOS-to-Android switching, but in a follow-up email said that the percentage who dump an iPhone and buy an Android smartphone is about half that of the reverse. "So, in the past few quarters, iOS has gained more from Android than Android has gained from iOS," Levin said.
CIRP's data came from a survey it did this month of 500 U.S. customers who had bought an iPhone in preceding quarter.
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