This year’s iPhones might not sell well, and it’s all the iPhone X’s fault

Chris Mills

When the iPhone X launched last year, it was widely expected to be Apple’s most popular device in years. The revolutionary device, so the breathless analyst predictions went, would drive a “super-cycle” of upgrades as consumers discarded their boring notchless iPhones in favor of the $1,000 future.

The “super-cycle” didn’t quite happen in the manner that the prophets foretold, but the iPhone X also certainly wasn’t a failure. The phone has sold well and driven Apple’s stock to new highs, and according to a new analyst note, it could put a damper on this year’s iPhone sales.


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“We expect a material disappointment in 2019,” New Street Research analyst Pierre Ferragu said in a note seen by CNBC. “The iPhone X has been very successful and well received by consumers. It has been so successful, that we think it has brought forward demand.”

All those preemptive upgrades will create an “air pocket” this year, Ferragu predicts, and 2018 iPhone sales will suffer. The analysis really says more about Ferragu’s opinion on the broader future of smartphones than it does about the iPhone X.

“History shows the stock suffers materially when iPhone revenues disappoint,” Ferragu said. “This may sound insane, but fits our thesis: iPhone shipments are on a multiple-year decline trend, as refresh cycles elongate, and 2018 was a bump in the trend, as 2016 was.”

Basically, Ferragu thinks that all things being equal, iPhone shipments should have fallen last year, but they didn’t, because the iPhone X was an exception that bucked the trend. Ferragu assumes that Apple won’t be able to pull off the same move this year, so iPhone sales will be significantly down.

Based on the rumors we’ve heard so far, he may well be right. This year’s three new iPhone models are more about price and choice than they are about new features, according to what we’ve heard. There’s going to be a cheaper iPhone X-esque device and a bigger iPhone X Plus, in addition to a new iPhone X with a handful of new features.

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