Apple says its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have combined to sell a record four million preorders ahead of their retail release date, pointing to the two new iPhones combined being a major hit with the smartphone-buying public. But Apple declined to break down the sales by model, leaving the rest of us to wonder which of the two iPhone 6 models is selling better than the two. Some early data, both anecdotal and big picture, suggest that while the regular iPhone 6 is selling like gangbusters, the larger iPhone 6 may actually be a flop.
Usage data acquired by TechCrunch suggests that the regular iPhone 6 is outselling the iPhone 6 Plus by an astounding eight-to-one margin in the early going. That points to nearly all of those four million preorders being the iPhone 6 and not the 6 Plus. The in-store data I gathered today would seem to back that up. I spent roughly an hour at a Verizon retail store, and during that time every person who came in asking to look at the 6 Plus ended up putting it in their hand, making a remark about how big it was, and buying the regular iPhone 6 instead. Was that just a fluke?
The salesman I dealt with said no. He told me that most iPhone 6 sales in the first two days at his store had been the regular model. I asked if it was due to 6 Plus inventory shortages. He said that both sizes were partially sold out depending on color and capacity, but that there had initially been plenty of stock of both; the 6 Plus simply isn’t selling well, and for the reasons I witnessed: it’s significantly bigger than most people think it’s going to be. He also stated that “a few” people who had bought the 6 Plus had already brought it back to exchange it for the regular iPhone 6.
So what does this mean for Apple? If this is indeed the larger pattern and anything close to an eight-to-one sales ratio holds up, then it’ll mean that the iPhone 6 Plus is a flop by mainstream standards, little more than a niche. That’s in line with the Android side of the fence, where the Samsung Galaxy S5 – roughly the same size as the iPhone 6 – sells extremely well but the supersized Galaxy Note sells in niche numbers.
Apple can’t be blamed for trying the 5.5 inch smartphone space, even if there was no evidence going in to suggest it would sell well. In fact one has to wonder if Apple came up with the 6 Plus simply to get attention and get the critics off its back, knowing that most people would take a look at the Plus and then end up buying the regular iPhone 6. And while that would make the 6 Plus a flop, its significantly higher margins may be enough to justify having manufactured in the first place.
There’s only one problem with Apple’s strategy: it’s already clear that a 4.0 inch iPhone 6, the same size as the iPhone 5S, would have sold in far larger numbers than the 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus. Among the users who preferred the previous iPhone size, how many will end up accepting the 4.7 inch iPhone 6? How many will decide not to upgrade at all, costing Apple potential sales? And why didn’t Apple simply deliver the iPhone 6 in 4.0, 4.7 and 5.5 inch sizes to make everyone happy?
Those are the questions which Tim Cook and company will have to grapple with once the smoke clears from opening weekend. Could a smaller iPhone 6 model surface after the holidays? Who knows. But one thing is increasingly clear: despite the inevitable trickle of iPhone 6 Plus sales, and the willingness of those who bought one to brag loudly about having done so, we now know for certain that there is no (and never was any) mainstream market for a 5.5 inch smartphone. But then Samsung just spent the past year demonstrating that fact.