What Letdown? — iPhone 4S Initial Sales More Than Double iPhone 4 Initial Rate

In his MondayNote blog, Jean-Louis Gassée, former head of Apple France, later appointed to Steve Jobs’s former position as head of Macintosh development by Apple CEO John Sculley after Sculley fired Jobs in 1985, observes that what many of us had expected was for Apple to introduce the iPhone 5 on October 4 with twice the processor speed; seven times the graphics oomph; a new camera with an Apple-designed lens, 8 megapixels and improved image processing; the power of the new iOS 5; iCloud, upon which the “kommentariat” would gush approvingly approvingly.

What actually happened, Gassée observes, is that we did get that very phone just described, but Apple called it 4S instead of 5. “This changes everything,” he notes. “The pundits are indignant: The iPhone 4S is a lame, evolutionary product; management’s presentation… is flat, uninspiring. This dog won’t sell. Apple has lost its mojo,” reports that 45 percent of current current iPhone users were vowing not to buy iPhone 4S and to hold out for a “real” iPhone 5, yada, yada, yada.

Well, so much for those pundits. Apple today announced it sold more than four million iPhone 4S’s in the span of just three days after the new phone’s launch Friday — the most ever for an Apple phone model and more than double the rate sold at the iPhone 4′s launch during its first three days,” says Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing Philip Schiller. In addition, more than 25 million customers upgraded to iOS 5 in the first five days following its release, and more than 20 million have signed up for iCloud. So which dog would that be that’s not selling?

Jean-Louis Gassée, who was himself responsible for development of several Macintosh products in the late 80s including the 1989 Macintosh Portable (ancestor of MacBooks) and the “wicked fast” Macintosh IIfx, observes that the obsessiveness with which Apple jealously guards its unreleased product secrets serves to trigger an escalade of fantasies among what he calls “inquisitive barbarians,” noting that for months certain regions of the blogosphere had become a gigantic echo chamber for iPhone 5 rumors ranging from the bizarre (a new teardrop design) to saner predictions such as adoption of the iPad 2′s A5 processor and a better camera. He contends that while keeping everything tightly under wraps may protect revenue, preserve flexibility, and enhance the Apple mystique, the price Apple pays for totally clamming up is that they lose control of public discourse about unannounced products, leading to unreasonable expectations being formed, and as we’ve just seen, exposing the company to the perception of a letdown.

One antidote to that he thinks would be for Apple to tell one or two trusted friends, discreetly, to euthanize the more noxious rumors, although such practice must be handled very carefully since it carries with it serious potential for insider trading.

And given that the supposed “letdown” appears to have not hurt iPhone 4S sales a whit, perhaps Apple’s obsessive secrecy policies are on the right track after all. What do you think?



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