Remember when Steve Jobs stood on stage at MacWorld to introduce the world to the iPhone, and told us all that Apple planned to sell 10 million in their first year. (That was later clarified to be the first full calendar year, namely, 2008.) Well, Apple have already hit that mark with a few months up their sleeve, and — as pointed out by others — they are not the slowest months for sales.
Good for Apple and the iPhone, but why did Jobs even make the 10-million-iPhone claim to begin with? It’s quite unlike the company to be so open with their expectations, and yet you know that nothing they do is by accident. Jobs and Apple planned the announcement of this prediction very carefully, firstly, to seem impressive, and yet achievable, at least in theory (“It’s only 1% of global sales”); and secondly, to be reasonably conservative, and easily achievable in practice. They probably knew all along they would sell closer to 20 million in 2008 than 10 million, but they opted for the more conservative estimate to avoid any risk of an egg-on-face scenario.
This still doesn’t explain why Apple made the prediction. In my view, it was a case of the old self-fulfilling prophecy trick. Apple had no credibility whatsoever as a mobile phone manufacturer. Why would anyone take them seriously? If nobody takes you seriously, it doesn’t matter how good your product is, no-one will risk actually buying it, for fear of ending up with next year’s HDDVD or BetaMax player taking up space in the attic.
But if 10 million others are buying one too — and why would Apple make such a prediction if it it wasn’t confident it was going to happen — then the risk of it being a flop is minimal. By predicting that it would sell a significant number of phones, Apple told us it was a serious mobile phone manufacturer, even when it hadn’t shipped a single device.
It’s quite brilliant marketing when you think about it. Breaking into any industry is difficult, even for a company like Apple, and the mobile phone industry is well established, unlike, say, the MP3 industry was when the iPod entered the fray. By predicting that they would be big, Apple ensured that they would be. Who knows what would have happened if they didn’t make the prediction. The iPhone probably would still have succeeded, but it sure helps to know you won’t be the only one pinching your phone when you go in to hand over 600 bucks to buy the first mobile offering from a company that previously hasn’t produced so much as a baby intercom.