Apple May Face Uphill Climb as iPhone's Punch Wanes
Technology Editor, CNBC.com
Following the launch of Apple's iPhone 5, the world's most coveted smartphone may not have the staying power they once had, some analysts say.
Several years ago it took a couple of quarters for iPhone sales to peak after a launch before there would be a "slow deceleration," according to Brian Marshall, an analyst for ISI Group. However, he said on CNBC's Squawk Box Thursday that may not be the case any longer.
Rather, the iPhone may become a victim of its own success, some think. Sales are hitting their high after a launch more quickly and then dropping off, Marshall said.
"What we are seeing subsequently is the first quarter is the peek and then a pretty rapid fall-off," Marshall said. "We have a sequential decline, sequential decline, sequential decline, then a huge ramp. I think that's going to be the trend going forward."
The new phone became available for pre-order at midnight on Friday and orders, which were originally scheduled to ship next week on Sept. 21, are already being pushed back another week. (Read More: Apple iPhone Shipment Dates Slip on First Day of Presales )
Consumers have become jaded to Apple's product cycle, which sees the company launching a new phone annually and a redesigned phone approximately every two years.
As a result, this causes increased seasonality of sales because consumers are waiting for the newer iPhone, a note from RBC highlighted Thursday.
The iPhone 5, which is available for pre-order Friday and in stores Sept. 21, isn't immune to this trend, analyst Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights said. The iPhone 5 will likely sell in the same pattern of its predecessor, the iPhone 4S, he said. (Read more: First Impressions of Apple's iPhone 5)
Apple's iPhone 4S hit shelves during the first-quarter of 2012. During that first-quarter 37.04 million iPhones were sold — a whopping 117 percent increase in sales from the previous quarter.
Yet sales of the iPhone eventually fell about 5 percent in the second-quarter of 2012, with sales of about 35 million units. By the end of the third-quarter in 2012, iPhone sales nosedived, falling almost 26 percent to 26 million iPhones.
The pronounced drop-off in sales during the third-quarter suggests that consumers were, in fact, waiting for the new iPhone 5, Moorhead said.
Several months before its launch, rumors about the new iPhone features, which include LTE connectivity and a bigger screen, began to leak. That spurred more consumers to wait for Apple's next iPhone launch, Moorhead said.
"Most people knew exactly what they were getting," Moorhead said. "If you know anything about technology, you are not going to buy anything until the iPhone 5 is ready...If you are waiting for the iPhone 5 you are not going to buy a Samsung S3."
Moorhead said he expectsApple to sell about 50 million iPhones in the fourth-quarter.
While the iPhone 5 has only been available for pre-order less than 24 hours, the technology behemoth certainly seems to be well on its way to hit that target.
Last year, Apple's iPhone 4S sold out of its pre-order launch day stock in 22 hours, but the iPhone 5 sold out of its launch day stock in just about an hour.
Brian White of Topeka Capital said in a note to clients that his firm expects for Apple to sell at least 1.3 million to 1.5 million during the pre-order phase, but noted that this outlook is conservative.
While global iPhone sales are peaking quicker than ever, White argues the trend could be misleading.
Apple is rolling out the iPhone 5 quicker than any other previous iPhone, with 100 countries and 240 carriers getting the new phone before the end of the year. Yet there's still the chance Apple could add a major carrier like China Mobile — the largest carrier in the world — and sales would continue to grow over several quarters.
"If they bring these guys on it's like bringing in multiple countries," he said. "It's the biggest in the world. It's the one that matters the most."
But White added, that if that is not the case, the iPhone sales are likely to peak just a few weeks earlier than last year.