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Reports of 'weak' iPhone 5 demand don't tell whole story

Dan Moren | Jan. 16, 2013
When it comes to Apple, tea-leaf reading is always in season.

Multiple choice

So if demand continues strong through Apple's first fiscal quarter of 2013, why would it drop off suddenly--and so precipitously--in the year's second quarter? There's a spectrum of speculation about what might be behind Apple's cuts, and not all of it is about people not wanting the iPhone 5.

Writing elsewhere at the Journal, Matthew Lynley suggests that a number of other things could account for the company's order changes: Apple might have ordered too many components; the iPhone 4 and 4S, with their lower price points, might be cannibalizing iPhone 5 sales; or consumers might be waiting for the next iPhone, already.

Lynley also points out that problems within the supply chain could account for Apple reducing its orders. Of his theories, this seems to have the most evidence behind it, as we've already seen reports that attribute the company's difficulty meeting demand to supply issues. Reuters cites similar evidence, noting that some analysts believe the problems lies with an inability to actually build the phones fast enough. That could lead Apple to amass a higher inventory of parts for its current phone, even as it may need to look ahead to making component deals for the parts in its next phone.

Along those lines, Michael Grothaus at The Unofficial Apple Weblog suggests that this may be a sign that Apple's moving to a six-month refresh cycle on its entire iOS device line. I have to admit, that seems unlikely to me--I suspect the recent third-generation to fourth-generation iPad refresh was more a case of the exception than the rule.

As with so many things in life, though, the likely explanation is a combination of factors. Price drops for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S move fairly modern, Retina-display-equipped iPhones into pretty much any price range--and for many, those earlier phones are good enough. Meanwhile, rumors constantly have Apple on the verge of introducing a new model--the buzz du jour is that the company will roll out a low-cost iPhone.

And, make no mistake, Apple does face increased competition from the rest of the smartphone market. Android--particularly in the form of Samsung--has made gains in market share, if not in profit share. While not all of its gains may be at the expense of Apple, there are clearly some consumers who are choosing Android phones over Apple, whatever the reason.

But despite the day-to-day fluctuations of the stock market, none of this presages the demise of the iPhone, or of Apple. As my colleague Lex Friedman recently noted, it's pretty hard to come up with any reasonable scenario that involves Apple's doom these days. So rather than spend an inordinate amount of time staring at those tea leaves, you might be better off finding a more productive use for them--like brewing yourself another cup.


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