The iPhone is everywhere and everyone has seemingly bought one, at least according to the court of public opinion. And while Apple did have a successful year with its iPhone, newly released numbers from Gartner suggest that shipments for mobile phones show that the sales were only really a blip on the radar when compared to all handset sales. In fact the iPhone market share was just 1.3 percent in the fourth quarter and only 0.9 percent for the year.
So why the hype about the iPhone, and why does it seem like the phone has become so popular? Well, this reporter’s opinion is that we’re seeing a repeat of the iPod introduction to the market. That eventually led to near domination of the Mp3 market. The iPod has reached a level in popular culture where it became Xerox or Kleenex or GameBoy. As a very frequent flyer you hear the flight attendants make the pre-flight announcement about powering off various devices. Tape recorders gave way to portable CD players and that gave way to portable music players, which often just became iPods.
Today there are still many rival Mp3 players – and actually it would be more correct to say digital music players as the iPod doesn’t technically play Mp3 tracks – but iPod is what people think of when they think of digital music players. Much of this is due to excellent marketing from Apple for those devices. No one else bothered to – or more correctly – could afford the TV ad campaign of the iPod. Thus the iPod essentially bought the market as much with a slick and cool ad campaign as with a streamlined interface and equally slick music store. Remember, before the iPod digital music stores were hard to find and the Napster shutdown in the late 1990s almost made Mp3 sound like a format merely for digital pirates.
Some of this is carrying over to the iPhone. While there are commercials on TV for other handsets, these don’t have the punch of the Apple ad campaign. Many have been as slick and stylizes as the iPhone ads, but because these campaigns are for phones that come out, sell for a while and then fade as a new model comes out, these aren’t as memorable.
And speaking of new models, the Gartner numbers show that the market for phones has slipped a bit, and people are hanging on to their old phones. 2008 saw total shipments of 1.22 billion units for 2008 worldwide, with 314.7 million handsets in the fourth quarter of last year. Impressive numbers, but clearly economic concerns have been an issue as the year saw a 6 percent decline, with a 4.6 decline just for the fourth quarter. However, Apple actually had growth over the previous year with 49.1 million sales in the final months of 2008, compared to 49 million during the same period in 2007. A small bit of growth yes, but in a tight economy I think Apple will be happy to see it.