The rise and rise of the iPhone

This post is about the number of searches about the iPhone not the number of searches from an iphone which is a wholly different (and even more interesting) subject.

The annual release of a new iPhone model has become a significant media event and speculation over new features a favorite of topic of technology journalists, enthusiasts and consumers.

Apple follow a relatively consistent annual pattern of releases and it is therefore possible to compare over the five years since the launch of the original iPhone in 2007 just how excited the public are about each subsequent iPhone release by looking at search data.

To do this we can look first at the number of searches including ‘iphone’ since 2007.

This graph shows the number of Google searches containing the term ‘iphone’ made within the United States as reported by the Google Insights for Search tool. You can view the original data here.

US Google Searches for iPhone

We can see unmistakable peaks in interest around the time that each new iPhone is introduced.

However to truly understand the level of consumer interest we must factor in that the user base of iPhones has grown significantly, Apple have sold over 243 million units worldwide as of September 2012. These growing absolute numbers will result in cumulatively more searches that relate to care and maintenance rather than the interest in the coming model that we are trying to measure.

Therefore we can compare the variance in searches for the two weeks prior to the launch, with the two weeks of the launch to isolate consumer interest from the background noise.

The ‘Week of launch’ table show the number of Google searches including the term ‘iphone’ made within the U.S. for each of the launch dates, where the greatest number (approximately 37 million) is represented by 100.

Model Announcement
date
Preceeding two
week average
Week of
launch
% Change
iPhone 1st Generation 09/01/2007 0 20
iPhone 2nd Generation 03/03/2008 9.5 11 16%
iPhone 3G 09/06/2008 11.5 25 117%
iPhone 3Gs 08/06/2009 15 29 93%
iPhone 4 07/07/2010 42.5 37 -13%
iPhone 4s 04/08/2011 50 82 64%
iPhone 5 12/09/2012 42 100.00 138%

The figures reveal a very mixed picture for each of the models.

The 1st generation model was quite popular, when it was announced to Apple’s already loyal user base, wheras the very similar 2nd Generation was largely unnoticed.

The iPhone 3G was the first device to generate significant consumer interest, with the 3GS following close behind.

From the figures above it would seem that the iPhone 4 was received indifferently by consumers, however this is actually misleading. Search volume for ‘iphone’ actually doubled on the underlying base around one month prior to the announcement (difficult but possible to see if you look closely at the graph above), hence the lack of change or even slight drop in % versus the preceding two weeks. This nuance is what led to the wrong conclusion in this otherwise clever piece of investment analysis.

The iPhone 4s was a new record in absolute numbers, more akin to the sharp peak and fall for the 3GS, with the strong search volume corresponding to record numbers of pre-orders for this model.

The clear winner here however is the iPhone 5, despite arguably being a simple iteration on previous iPhones is in fact by far the phone that consumers are most excited about. Early sales data backs this up with search volume being more than double the 4s.

What we can therefore conclude;

  • That pre-announcement search volume correlates with sales in the days immediately following the launch
  • Even as the models become arguably more generic, consumers are not tiring of the iPhone range
  • Although absolute numbers of searches are increasing over time the level of consumer interest in each new model varies significantly

It will be interesting to see how long Apple can continue to generate the kind of fevered anticipation for it’s mobile releases that other consumer brands can only envy.

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