Who’s buying Verizon’s long-awaited Apple iPhone 4? Verizon customers, certainly, judging by the way Verizon sold out of its set-aside stock in a matter of hours during a preorder offer Feb. 3. Also accounting for significant numbers of sales, however, may be a good number existing iPhone and iPod Touch owners, suggests Marco Arment, founder of the app Instapaper and a former lead developer of Tumblr.
In the Apple App Store, Instapaper-a tool that bookmarks Web pages for reading later-is very stable, Arment explains in a Feb. 20 post on his blog, Marco.org. Since its ranking rarely changes, jumps in sales indicate changes in the entire App Store market.
“I see huge spikes whenever there’s a new iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad released,” he wrote in the post, “whenever they become available in a major new country, or whenever there’s a major reason for people to buy a lot them (like the holidays).”
Arment notes that recent jumps occurred on Nov. 11, the day of a “major new version”; Dec. 12, when the New York Times included Instapaper in a story about 10 must-have apps for the iPhone; and on Christmas Day, when a lot of new iPhone owners came online.
When the Verizon iPhone 4 launched Feb. 10, Arment expected-and was looking forward to-another jump. Instead, he wrote, “My sales haven’t noticed. Ranks have held nearly constant, but so have volumes.”
Three scenarios might explain this, he suggests. One, Verizon sold very few iPhone 4 handsets (not likely, he adds). Two, Verizon iPhone owners don’t download as many apps as other iPhone owners (again, not so likely). Or, three, “most Verizon iPhones have been sold to existing iPhone or iPod Touch owners, who therefore already own most or all of the apps they want,” wrote Arment, adding that this seems by far the most likely explanation.
If only iPhone owners are buying iPhones, is Verizon-along with the rest of the iOS community that benefits from it-in trouble? Arment says this is doubtful. Unlike AT&T’s sales of the device, Verizon’s success will come slowly, he suggests. Buyers will fall into two camps. First there are the geeks, who either woke up at-or stayed up until-3 a.m. Feb. 3 to preorder a phone, or were willing to break their contract with another carrier and pay a hefty fee to get their hands on a Verizon iPhone 4.
Second, there are the non-geeks, the casual Verizon buyers who are waiting for their contracts to expire-and whom Arment is waiting for. He continues:
“These buyers have different priorities than us geeks. They’re more patient for upgrades and more tolerant of crappy phones (after all, crappy phones are all they know). For potentially the same reasons that they didn’t jump carriers to get the iPhone, they also aren’t willing to pay the unsubsidized cost to get one early. (And they’re also more likely to choose to wait until this summer if their geeky friends tell them that the iPhone 5 is around the corner.)”
Because of this, Arment adds, he now believes that Verizon’s iPhone sales are going to grow more gradually than he and others first thought. But that Verizon’s iPhone sales, like he and others also suspected, “are going to be strong overall.”