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The great 'iPhone 5C is a failure' freakout

John Cox | March 19, 2014
The iPhone 5C is six months old in March. It's been declared a disaster, a dud, a fiasco and a flop. The reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Here's why.

What about the iPhone 5c? "[CIRP] reported that the iPhone 5s accounted for 59 percent of total iPhone sales in the quarter, while the iPhone 5c accounted for 27 percent of total sales," according to CheatSheet. "The remaining 14 percent of total iPhone sales was attributed to that of the legacy iPhone 4S." That means "lower-priced" iPhones the 5c and 4S accounted for 41 percent of all iPhones sold during that quarter.

If CIRP's results are representative, it shows that the 5c performed almost as well as the 4S a year ago. Granted, the same data can be interpreted and has been — as saying "the 5c is not performing as well as the 4S."  But keep in mind what Cook said: "...if you looked at our sell-throughs not the sell-in but the sell-through of what I will just call our entry phone or mid-phone and our top part of the 5s: All of those grew year-over-year versus the phones that were in those categories previously."

The CIRP data shows a decline in the 2-year-old model sales, from 18 to 14 percent. Could that indicate the 5c is attracting some of these most cost-conscious buyers? There's no way to know at this point.

Dediu's estimates and modeling in the accompanying chart show a similar, potential dynamic. "Potential" because these charts only have data from September 2013 (the end of Apple's fiscal quarter/year) and the Oct-Dec 2013 quarter, the first full quarter of iPhone 5c and 5s sales. Apple's current quarter ends this month and its results will be announced in April.

Look at the "Mix" and "Revenues" charts. The last two "bars" at the right, represent calendar Q3 and Q4 of 2013. "Mix" shows the estimate of the percentage of different iPhones sold in each quarter. The style of the charts make precise numbers hard to calculate. Eyeballing and guestimating, the 5c in its first full quarter of availability seems to be about 23 percent of unit sales, with the 4S and 4 being another 3 to 5 percent. That mix seems quite close to the comparable mix in Q4 2012 in the first full quarter of the iPhone 5 availability. Then, the 4S and 4 together were about 25 to 26 percent of the mix.

That pattern is reflected in the "Revenues" chart, which shows Dediu's estimate that the iPhone 5c accounted for roughly $6 billion of the $32 billion in iPhone revenues for the quarter, with the 4s and 4 adding roughly another $3 billion. As noted at the outset, if the iPhone 5c was a business, it would already have landed on the Fortune 500 list. By comparison, in the second quarter of iPhone 5 availability (Oct-Dec 2012), the 4S and 4 seem to have accounted for just over $8 billion.


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