Update: 11/15/2011 3:57pm - Added info on the iPhone 4S launching in new regions.
As of this writing, the iPhone 4S has officially sold more than 4 million units in 3 days, and is on track to become the best-selling iPhone ever. It's also arguably the most popular smartphone in the world at the moment, based on individual hardware sales (not OS market share, a metric that Android still owns).
Best Buy is reporting that it is having a hard time keeping the new smartphone in stock, other stores are reporting demand that is outstripping supply, and iPhone 4S preorders in Hong Kong have sold out in just 10 minutes. South Korean news outlets are also reporting that the iPhone 4S outsold the Samsung Galaxy S II when launched in South Korea, moving 200,000 units in a single day. (It took the Galaxy S II three days to reach 120,000 units sold.) The iPhone 4S will also be rolling out in additional markets over the next few months, with a November 25 launch in India.
Analysts are also chiming in on iPhone 4S sales, with Deutsche Bank’s Chris Whitmore predicting that Apple will sell 28 million total iPhones in the current quarter, while Canaccord analyst Mike Walkley is reporting that the iPhone 4S is currently the top selling smartphone on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.
The iPhone 4S (from our iPhone 4S unboxing gallery)
So despite critics claiming the iPhone 4S was doomed to fail because it didn't have a new form factor, NFC support, or bear the iPhone 5 moniker, the iPhone 4S has proven to be the most successful smartphone that Apple has ever produced. AT&T seems to agree, releasing a statement that said that the iPhone 4S launch was their most successful iPhone launch ever.
So why has the iPhone 4S been so successful? Here's my analysis of the factors that helped propel the iPhone 4S to the top of the smartphone sales heap.
1. Best iPhone Ever
Despite the mountains of hype that the Internet rumor mill generated over the imaginary iPhone 5, the iPhone 4S is still the best iPhone ever made, with specs that exceed, equal, or are very close to the best Android smartphones currently available. The iPhone 4 was beginning to look long in the tooth, but the iPhone 4S helps keep Apple competitive with other leading smartphone handsets, including the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola Droid Razr. That said, Apple now has a host of competitors – namely LG, Samsung, and Motorola – that can produce hardware that meets or exceeds what the iPhone can offer. While the iPhone 4S may be the best iPhone ever, Consumer Reports recently rated several Android OS devices higher.
2. Upgrades that Count
The iPhone 4S may not have had a bigger screen, universal 4G support, a new form factor, or any of the many things that the internet rumor mill predicted it would have, but it did have significant upgrades where it counted: a faster, dual-core A5 processor; up to 64GB of storage; a vastly improved camera that is arguably the best smartphone camera now available; and Siri, a voice-recognition/personal assistant app that -- while still effectively in beta -- is a big step forward for voice recognition software.
3. Contract Math
Millions of iPhone 3GS users signed up for two-year contracts in Q4 2009, and all of those contracts are now expiring. I definitely fall into that camp, having purchased my 3GS back in October 2009. I could care less if its called an iPhone 4S or an iPhone 5, since the 4S represents a huge upgrade over my existing 3GS. I think millions of other 3GS users are in the same boat as me.
4. The Implosion of Blackberry and WebOS
Blackberry-maker RIM has been beset with falling market share, management failures, and highly-publicized service outages. The technically impressive WebOS had the rug pulled out from under it after only months under the HP umbrella, a costly, schizophrenic management decision that contributed to Leo Apotheker being bounced from the top post at HP. The smartphone world is now increasingly looking like a two-horse race between Android and Apple, with RIM and Microsoft battling for a distant third, and WebOS already a sad footnote to what might have been.
5. Android Woes
Speaking of Android, the world's most popular smartphone OS is quickly becoming a victim of its own success. Android hardware and OS fragmentation gives both Android developers and users headaches, and could potentially pose problems for the popular OS in the months and years to come. Android is also becoming the platform of choice for malware aimed at mobile devices, with more malware being developed for Android than all the other mobile OSes combined.
More trouble for Google and Android could come in the form of patent litigation, with both Microsoft and Apple doing their best to extract royalties from Android handset makers. The late Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Android was a “stolen product” that benefited largely from Apple’s work on the iPhone, telling Isaacson that he would burn through Apple’s 40 billion in cash reserves and go “thermonuclear” against Google to “right this wrong.”
Many of the analysts, reporters, bloggers, and journalists in the technology press – myself included -- love gadgets and gizmos and don't mind fiddling with settings, trying out new hardware, and tinkering with other options. As much as I can appreciate the iPhone 4S on its aforementioned technical merits, Apple excels at producing products that are easy for non-technically inclined people to use. There are dozens of stories about how the very young (and the very old) have quickly adapted to using an iPhone or iPad. Compare that to the often bewildering complexity of Android: dozens of devices from different manufacturers running slightly different version of the Android OS. Windows Phone promises to offer a happy middle ground between Apple’s walled garden and Android’s sprawling, chaotic jumble of an ecosystem, but still lags behind both Android and the iPhone on hardware and software feature parity.
7. The iPhone Ecosystem
Apple has many iPod and iPhone customers, and they've collectively purchased millions (if not billions) of songs, ebooks, games, videos, apps and other content from Apple. I definitely fall into this camp, with dozens of purchased iPhone apps and hundreds of songs. Granted, I could move my song and video collection to other mobile devices, but I'd have to repurchase all my apps for Android or Windows Phone 7. Who wants to go through all that hassle, especially when the iPhone 4S offers a significant phone upgrade while keeping all of your legacy investments intact? It’s a strategy that has worked extremely well for Microsoft for the Windows ecosystem, and Apple is clearly taking a page from their playbook here.
8. New Carriers
The iPhone 4S is the first iPhone to ever be available on Sprint, which now joins AT&T and Verizon as the three largest iPhone carriers in North America. The iPhone 4S is also available on CSpire (formerly Cellular South), the largest privately-held wireless carrier in the U.S. Millions of Sprint and CSpire customers now have access to the iPhone 4S, and that previously untapped customer base undoubtedly helped the push the iPhone 4S into sales record territory.
9. The Legacy of Steve Jobs
The death of Steve Jobs was tragic news, but it also had the unintended effect of monopolizing news coverage for the weeks leading up to the launch of the iPhone 4S. Thousands of stories sang the praises of Jobs and the iPhone, which were soon followed up by a rising flood of excerpts, leaks, and commentary from Walter Isaacson's excellent Steve Jobs biography. All of this Apple-focused news sucked up all the oxygen in the room around competing mobile devices, and undoubtedly helped the iPhone 4S receive more press coverage than it would have normally.
10. Apple is the Mass Market
What many Microsoft and Apple zealots fail to understand is that Apple is no longer just a niche computer manufacturer known for a distinctive design aesthetic. Apple is the world’s most valuable tech company and a producer of millions of goods – from iPods to iPhones to laptops – that are aimed squarely at the mass market. Microsoft fanboys overlook that Apple isn't a niche provider solely of expensive computers for self-absorbed people who only care about proving their superiority over others, and Apple zealots often don’t understand that the overwhelming majority of Apple customers don’t wear pajamas festooned with the Apple logo, or troll forums looking for Microsoft products to bash. The mass market wants consumer products that look good, work as advertised, and are simple to learn and use – and Apple understands and profits from that need better than any other technology company in business today.
What are your thoughts on the iPhone 4S? Let me know what you think by adding a comment to this blog post or starting up a conversation on Twitter.