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'Jesus phone' marks genesis of change

Neil Shoebridge (AFR) | Dec. 15, 2008
Apple's iPhone leads the list of top products for 2008, according to an Australian Financial Review survey.

Thousands of people queued overnight to be among the first to buy it. Fans excitedly claimed it sold 100,000 units on its first day in stores. Internet bloggers dubbed it the Jesus phone' because it supposedly signalled a new era in communication.

There is no doubt that Apple Inc's iPhone 3G mobile phone was one of the most-hyped product launches of 2008, generating enormous publicity in the 22 countries (including Australia) in which it was launched on July 11.

It also appears to be one of the most successful. Apple refuses to release sales figures, but telecommunication industry executives estimate that Telstra, Vodafone, Optus and Virgin Mobile have sold about 100,000 iPhones over the past five months (not 100,000 on day one).

The iPhone was also the best new product of 2008, according to a survey of senior marketing and media executives conducted by The Australian Financial Review, scoring more than eight times the votes of what was judged the second-best new product of 2008, Patties Foods' Four'n Twenty Magic Salad Plate (a plate with plastic salad stuck to it and a space for a meat pie).

Paul Williams, chief executive of ad agency Belgiovane Williams Mackay, says: "When something is called the Jesus phone, it has to be on the list of the most successful new products of the year. The queue outside the Apple store on the day of its release says it all."

Although iPhone generated widespread editorial coverage before July 11, Apple Australia did not start marketing it until its launch date. Since then, it has run an extensive public relations and television advertising campaign, with Optus, Vodafone and the other telecommunications companies covering part of the cost of the TV campaign. The sales spiel that iPhone is more than a phone has been embraced by marketing and media executives (Apple has introduced about 10,000 software programs that can be run on iPhone).

One marketer says: "It turns the mobile phone into a media and communication tool with broad application. If any product can transform the way mobile phones are used, iPhone can."

An Apple Australia executive says the company is "very pleased" with the local sales of iPhone.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde estimates it has sold 40,000 units in Australia since July 11 and says sales have "dropped off sharply over the last few months". But industry executives say his estimate is too low and say it has sold about 100,000.

The third-best new product of 2008, according to the AFR survey, was United States president-elect Barack Obama. The internet-dominated campaign the Democrats ran this year was also named as the best marketing campaign of 2008.

 

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