by Rocco Pendola
While it's been widely reported, I don't think a big enough deal has been made of the sick deals Apple (AAPL) permits for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S in light of the release of iPhone 5.
Sign a two-year pact with a carrier and you can get iPhone 4S for $99. iPhone 4 comes in at free.
Lofty sales expectations for iPhone 5 concern me. They keep getting bigger and bigger. Former Piper Jaffray analyst turned Apple public relations cheerleader/executive Gene Munster (that's a joke; he still covers AAPL for Piper) thinks Apple will sell between 8 and 10 million iPhone 5 phones in September leading up to a total of 49 million come the holiday quarter.
Munster is beyond giddy over this new phone. I thought he was being original when he referred to iPhone 5 as "the Rolex of smartphones," labeling all others "Timexes" made of "less quality plastic." Then, I went to Apple's Website and discovered that the company markets iPhone 5 as "built with a level of precision you'd expect of a Swisswatch, not a smartphone."
(That language shows up in the summary of a Google search, as of this writing, however, it was absent from Apple's Website at last check. I'm not sure why).
Listen, Munster is probably right. iPhone sales for September as well as Oct-Nov-Dec should crush all previous records. Heck, Apple got me for not one, but two iPhone 5 smartphones. But, I can't help but wonder if these grand predictions skip slightly ahead of reality.
It's like the auction psychology that foolishly causes you to bid too much for an item on eBay. As analysts continue to one up each other on sales estimates and price targets, the potential for disappointment doesn't necessarily increase, but the carnage in the aftermath of a miss by Apple probably does.
As a consumer who appreciates Apple's products, particularly the attention the company pays to the user experience, I'm a buyer. However, I do not regret not being a buyer of the stock. When expectations get as high as they have been, I exercise caution. In this case, the approach caused me to leave money on the table. That said, it has allowed me to observe dozens of bloodbaths from the sidelines.
There's a silver bullet here that we're not paying enough attention to: iPhone 5 might not be what gets Apple's unit sales over the hump in the next four months. It just might be iPhone 4 and 4S.
In fact, as I consider the impact of free and $99 for what some consider not all different devices, I actually wonder if Munster's numbers are too low. Could Apple top 50 million in iPhone unit sales in the holiday quarter?
There's a bit of debate over how much difference actually exists between the iPhone 5, 4S and 4. We could argue this to the death. One thing rings certain, though - a considerable number of people will A) not see much of a difference or B) ignore any differences they see to save a couple of bucks.
Remember, different types of consumers of exist. Some want the latest and greatest. Some want a deal. Others appreciate incremental upgrades. I venture that a whole bunch don't care. They want an iPhone and they can get a pretty darn good one for nothing other than a two-year commitment to a wireless carrier. Given that iPhone 4 and 4S, let alone iPhone 5, are better than any other smartphone on the market, the discounts might have broadened Apple's realistic customer base.
I doubt Apple will parse out the numbers for us, but I bet iPhone 4 and 4S picks up the slack, if there ends up being any, from iPhone 5. Or they might just set Apple up for a bigger September through December than both cautious and the most optimistic souls expect.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.