What if Apple Threw an iPhone Party and Nobody Came?


The market's generally raving about Apple (NAS: AAPL) generating a million preorders for the iPhone 4S during its first 24 hours of availability.

Those who are just deciding now that Apple's latest smartphone would look good in their clutches are in a bit of a pickle. They can either put up with long lines at the local Apple store on Friday morning for limited in-store availability for walk-ins or order online and deal with what is now a one- to two-week shipping delay.

Just a week ago, everyone was ranting about how the new iPhone didn't have a bold new design, lacked NFC and 4G LTE whistles, and failed to deliver on the larger touchscreen displays that are growing more popular on some Android handsets.

Are we just supposed to forget about all of that because a million shiny new iPhones have been spoken for?

I'm not -- and I'm good for two of those million iPhone 4S preorders.

Why am I disappointed at the million fanboy march? Well, we have to put this in context.

For starters, a million isn't as big a number as you might think. Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android continues to grow its smartphone lead over Apple's iOS -- and this obviously isn't going to change with the iPhone 4S. The same Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) that many investors have left for dead has 70 million BlackBerry accounts under its watch -- and growing.

However, let me get to the two reasons why I think this number should have been higher. Apple had 600,000 preorders for last year's iPhone 4 in its first 24 hours. This clearly shatters that old record, but there are two asterisks that need to be added.

The iPhone 4 rolled out in June of last year, but it was only available through the country's second-largest wireless carrier. Verizon (NYS: VZ) ended AT&T's (NYS: T) exclusivity earlier this year, and Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) came on board with Friday's preorders. In other words, the iPhone's wireless carrier base has tripled. Orders? Not so much. Put another way: AT&T preorders are likely down sharply compared to the 600,000 it cleared on a day when the Apple and AT&T sites experienced outages last year.

We also need to discount the longer-than-usual gap between iPhone releases. Apple has historically updated its smartphones in June or July of each year. This time there is a 16-month gap between introductions. This may not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind that wireless carriers subsidize iPhones by sticking buyers with two-year service contracts. In other words, when a new Apple phone comes out, the vast majority of existing iPhone owners -- those who have bought in over the past 24 months -- can't upgrade because they are still under contract. Going from 12 months between releases to 16 months buys Apple 33% more time to grow its potential base of upgrades.

Maybe Apple has spoiled me, but yesterday's announcement didn't impress me at all.

If you want to see how the iPhone disrupts the industry, follow the relevant companies by addingGoogleandAppleto My Watchlist.

At the time thisarticle was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Apple, Google, and AT&T.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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