The Markets Are Right: Why the New iPhones Missed the Mark

September 11, 2013

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I spoke today with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” about the new iPhones announced this afternoon. As I expected, Apple’s launch event offered a lot of nice, but underwhelming, new features. Slightly faster gameplay. Better camera flash. New colors. As is typical in the “off year” announcements (think iPhone 3s, 4s, and now 5s), there is no game-changing new feature.

I’m not surprised, but I was hoping until the end that Tim Cook might pull a real surprise here. A bigger screen. A really different Apple TV. Or what we all wanted — a smartwatch to work with the iPhone.

TouchID, the new fingerprint identification system, could have been that killer app. But so far, it’s just a feature that saves you a couple seconds logging in. If they can manage to link it to multiple profiles on a device (like the new Google Nexus tablets), or make it a password to controlling smart devices in the home (your stereo, thermostat, etc.), that could make for a truly killer feature. But they just didn’t get there today. Consumers will be moderately impressed, though, and the iPhone will sell well in the US for another year.

The huge question though, is whether the iPhone 5c will make major inroads into the emerging markets like China, Brazil, and India. That is where all the growth remains in new smartphone owners. And this is the story Apple almost skipped over today, with no mention of a distribution deal with China Mobile (probably the #1 reason the market turned on Apple’s stock after the presentation). The bigger problem may be price, though. The 5c will start at $549 for an out-of-contract phone, which is how most smartphones are bought in emerging markets. That’s only $100 less than the iPhone 5s, and likely translates to a Chinese sticker price that’s double the competition from rising brands like Xiaomi. If that’s true, it’s hard to see how Apple will stop it’s declining revenues in Asia Pacific (see Josh Ong, for TNW, on this).

That’s disappointing news, because the iPhone 5c was really a phone for global markets. I’m not even sure they expect to sell these things in the US. it’s a mid-tier product, half-way between the starting price for the iPhone 5s (their new flagship phone), and the iPhone 4s (which Apple confirmed would still be offered free with a 2-year contract to US customers).

As I told Maria Bartiromo – “Americans don’t buy mid-price products. We either want low price with great value, or we want the premium customer experience.”

Maybe the pretty colors will prove me wrong, but I expect if the iPhone 5c sells here, it will be cannibalizing sales of the iPhone 5s.

-David

ADDENDUM:
Whew! It’s been a 24 hour press whirlwind. More links…

Le Figaro (in French) picked my brain about “Les Nouveaux iPhone” http://ow.ly/oMDQJ

CNN.com spoke to me about “The iPhone & Fingerprint Technology (Mileage May Vary)” http://ow.ly/oL4gu

ABC News talked with me about why Apple’s China pricing strategy may not work http://ow.ly/oMEgC

WATCH THE VIDEO of CNBC’s “Closing Bell”:
David Rogers interview with Maria Bartiromo on CNBC's "Closing Bell"
http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000198150&startTime=15&endTime=121