It is not unreasonable to suggest that, of late, Apple has had a fairly uncomfortable time of it. Riding high on the euphoria of the iPad launch, the company followed up in June with the global launch of the iPhone 4 – at which point things started to go a little awry thanks primarily to an unfortunately located antenna.
My anticipation at the time of launch was that the iPhone 4 would sell considerably more than its predecessor at the outset: and sure enough, three days after blast off 1.7 million iPhone 4’s had been sold, against 1 million 3GS’s the previous year. So far so good. But then came Antennagate, and, well, the medium term prospects have clouded over somewhat.
(A brief, tangential diversion here: who decided that, after any symbolic, game-changing act of a particular social or political narrative, we should simply tag the final syllable of “Watergate” onto the key dramatis res? And what happens if, say, something shocking were to occur involving the manufacturer of infant food Cow & Gate? Cow & Gategate? It’s a thought.)
The unusually maladroit way in which the issue was first handled – Steve Jobs’ emailed suggestion that one should “avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band” – was followed up by a somewhat more considered response allied to a software update. However, a certain amount of PR damage was certainly inflicted, as evinced by a consumer survey conducted by Opinium Research which found that one in four people in the UK was less likely to buy an iPhone in the wake of the bad publicity.
What makes this particularly galling for Apple is that perhaps for the first time, it is facing genuine competition in the consumer smartphone market. In the US, for example, Motorola reported a sharp rise in smartphone shipments, with sales of its flagship Droid X device exceeding expectations; other Android devices – and globally there are more than 50 by my reckoning – are now being activated at the rate of 160,000 a day. At nearly five million per month, that’s food for thought for Apple, which last quarter – a record quarter – shipped 8.4 million iPhones. While Apple still has a healthy lead over Android handsets in terms of the global user base, that lead is now being eroded rapidly.
Of course this is not Apple’s apocalypse, and with the aforementioned iPad now threatening to revolutionise the tablet market in the same way that the iPhone did the smartphone market, then we are likely to see some more impressive shipment figures from Apple come its fourth quarter results in late-October. But it is certainly a wakeup call for the company, and with Google breathing down its neck, it must hope that no further negative issues are raised in the coming months as it girds its loins for the pre-Christmas marketing campaigns.
Goodness, I’m talking about Christmas. And I still haven’t had my summer hols…