How Big Could the iPhone US Market Reach?

It’s been long argued by Mac supporters that Android’s apparent “victory” in the smartphone wars is more of issue of availability/carrier access than some compelling product decision by buyers.  This argument started in 2009 and reached a fever pitch in 2010 with Android phones becoming available from a variety of vendors across all US carriers.

Recent US smartphone data from NPD post the launch of the new iPhone 4s/4 on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint at least from Q4 2011 supports that view.

Android’s success as the chart shows seemed to be unstoppable mainly while eating away at RIM’s market share. Apple dips in Q4 2010 while Android surges behind a number of successful Android devices at both Sprint and Verizon. However, the first major change occurs in Q1 2011 with the six month old iPhone 4 now available on Verizon. But Android does not suffer any losses due to the the continued attack on RIM. Q3 2011 looks like the biggest argument for Android’s dominance, but it’s looking now that it was simply due to iPhone purchasers on AT&T, Verizon, and even Sprint sitting on the sidelines waiting on the new device.

The first two months of Q4 2011 indicate that Apple has almost tied Android while still leaving one major carrier (T-Mobile) to Android.

Based on carrier data, we know that the iPhone dominates AT&T smartphone sales at an 80% clip. And a significant number of those sales are iPhone users upgrading. In Q4 2011, the iPhone now represents 55% of the smartphone sales at Verizon. That Verizon number could only increase year over year as the iPhone population on Verizon becomes more entrenched. The iPhone’s loyalty number is a ridiculously high 84%. Sprint’s numbers are unknown at this time. Based on Apple’s 37 million iPhones sales, it would not be a surprise if Apple beat Android on Sprint as well.

Now, Q2 will see a number of premium Android devices enter the market, and the WinFin Nokia Lumia series will be available with a huge marketing push by Microsoft as the Redmond Pony desperately tries to be become relevant in the smartphone race. In addition, the iPhone may see a reduction of Q2 2011 sales especially if rumors target a summer June-July launch of the iPhone 5. Apple has now learned the hard way that iPhone launch rumors are mainstream news impacting average consumer behavior and not just the fodder for technology blogs.

Imagine though a iPhone 5 launch in July on all 4 US carriers with iPhone 4s/4 available on the big 3 at reduced prices. While the majority of iPhone sales are the new model, Apple was able to get a 11%  sales lift from iPhone 4/3Gs sales, and $0 contract 3GS was only available on AT&T.

Presuming a summer launch scenario across all 4 carriers, an iPhone US market share of 60% percent by the end of the year is very possible, virtually flipping the relative percentages of Android’s record high of Q3 2011.

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