Has the iPhone Finally Met Its Match?

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) has a formidable challenger on a specific Android model, according to mobile industry analyst Walter Piecyk of BTIG Research. After calling 150 Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) stores to check their sales patterns, Piecyk says that the HTC Thunderbolt outsells the Verizon iPhone 4 more often than not.

So the mythical iPhone killer has finally arrived, right? Not so fast.

The caveats around this research are plentiful indeed:

  • Piecyk didn't call any Apple stores, where the iPhone surely would outsell a Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android model that would probably explode upon entering the store.
  • Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) stores sell both the Verizon iPhone and the HTC Thunderbolt, but weren't included in the survey. Would a Best Buy study yield different results?
  • The Thunderbolt is a Verizon-only model while the iPhone is available from AT&T (NYSE: T  ) Wireless as well. Add Ma Bell's haul into the mix and you'd surely get a different result.

Taking that last argument to its logical conclusion would open a rat's nest for Apple fans, though: Where do you draw the lines to define a model, a platform, and a sales statistic? Android as a whole is engulfing the iPhone family, but no single Android model can claim to have bested Apple's finest -- yet.

That said, the Thunderbolt seems roughly comparable to the iPhone 4 in most respects, but sports one defining advantage in its "4G" network connectivity. It would be in Apple's best interest to get 4G radio chips into the iPhone 5, thus erasing the Android advantage before it grows unmanageable. Since the Verizon iPhone already has a unique chip configuration, it wouldn't be hard to imagine Apple dropping an LTE 4G chip into the next refresh and eating the cost difference -- anything less would leave a lot of potential sales on the table.

Or will Apple's quest for perfection leave 4G-thirsty customers unsatisfied? Verizon's 4G coverage is in its early stages and will remain downright spotty throughout 2011. Also, LTE chips are still new, and run the risk of being bulky and consuming an undesirable amount of power. If Apple does in fact delay the release of the iPhone 5, as has been reported but isn't confirmed, that'd give probable chip partner Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) a bit more time to work on its LTE chipset designs.

Would Apple be better off delaying 4G iPhones until the summer of 2012, when the coverage maps have filled out a bit? Discuss in the comments below, and don't forget to add Verizon and Apple to your watchlist so you don't miss the final decision.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Best Buy and Google are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple and Best Buy are Motley Fool Stock Advisor choices. The Fool has written puts on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a bull call spread position on Apple. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Qualcomm, Best Buy, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (8)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2011, at 3:47 PM, DefunctAcct wrote:

    Some perspective is necessary as everyone sought to hide the facts with percentages. I am not going to break out cheap, feature versus expensive and smart because NO ONE is doing that when they cite convenient numbers.

    In 2010:

    NOkia's Symbian sold 111.57 million units.

    Android sold 67.22 million units.

    RIM sold 47.4 units.

    iPhone 4 sold 46.5 million units.

    From manufacturer websites:

    Symbian: Nokia US shows 22 models.

    Berry OS: RIM offers 7 models.

    Android:

    =======

    HTC offers 19 models of Android phones.

    Samsung offers 10 models of Android phones.

    Motorola offers 18 models of Android phones.

    Sony-Ericsson offers 8 models of Android phones.

    LG offers 8 models of Android phones.

    Ignoring the smaller makers, there are at least 63, SIXTY-THREE, models of Android-based phones made by 5 (five) major manufacturers.

    Apple offers only iPhone 4.

    One lonely iPhone 4 against a horde of 92 models and 7 major manufacturers with ALL of them long-time cell phone makers and leaders.

    The single iPhone 4 manages 46.5 million units against 226.19 million units. Apple owns 20.55% of the market in 2010 with ONE PHONE! ONE single iPhone 4 captures 20.55% of the market.

    What is all the noise about Android this and Android that? A lot of really GIGO comments and a lot of mindless droning.

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2011, at 4:05 PM, DefunctAcct wrote:

    Some perspective is necessary as everyone sought to hide the facts with percentages. I am not going to break out cheap, feature versus expensive and smart because NO ONE is doing that when they cite convenient numbers.

    In 2010:

    NOkia's Symbian sold 111.57 million units.

    Android sold 67.22 million units.

    RIM sold 47.4 units.

    iPhone 4 sold 46.5 million units.

    From manufacturer websites:

    Symbian: Nokia US shows 22 models.

    Berry OS: RIM offers 7 models.

    Android:

    =======

    HTC offers 19 models of Android phones.

    Samsung offers 10 models of Android phones.

    Motorola offers 18 models of Android phones.

    Sony-Ericsson offers 8 models of Android phones.

    LG offers 8 models of Android phones.

    Ignoring the smaller makers, there are at least 63, SIXTY-THREE, models of Android-based phones made by 5 (five) major manufacturers.

    Apple offers only iPhone 4.

    One lonely iPhone 4 against a horde of 92 models and 7 major manufacturers with ALL of them long-time cell phone makers and leaders.

    The single iPhone 4 manages 46.5 million units against 226.19 million units. Apple owns 20.55% of the market in 2010 with ONE PHONE! ONE single iPhone 4 captures 20.55% of the market.

    What is all the noise about Android this and Android that? A lot of really GIGO comments and a lot of mindless droning.

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2011, at 5:26 PM, wasmick wrote:

    "...A lot of really GIGO comments and a lot of mindless droning. "

    I think you're being too tough on yourself.

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2011, at 5:36 PM, chilero wrote:

    Ah crap...

    From the headline I thought it was going to talk about my windows phone 7. ;)

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2011, at 6:34 PM, DefunctAcct wrote:

    @Wasmick

    Sure thanks, given no one else has any more hot air to add after mine. I must be doing something right.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2011, at 11:42 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    This review says that the Thunderbolt has a mere 4.5 hours of battery life when on 4G, and 4G can't be switched off without hacking the thing: http://www.bgr.com/2011/03/28/htc-thunderbolt-review/

    4.5 hours = complete fail, as far as I'm concerned. If other tests show similar results, I don't need to know another thing about it.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2011, at 12:52 PM, wasmick wrote:

    @Silivalley,

    That's certainly one way of looking at it; stay positive!

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2011, at 1:33 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    I agree with silivalley. Just because everyone needs an apple on their electronic devices doesn't mean its the best phone on the market. Android's shear volume doesn't even make it a fair fight, if you can call it that. The HTC Evo - which runs Android - is better than the iPhone in every category except battery life.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2011, at 2:02 PM, Brent2223 wrote:

    Wasn't betamax 'better' than VHS? Superior technology isn't a guarantee of success. I want the best working product, not the best product on paper. Apple products are the epitome of plug and play. Sacrificing a little performance, or paying a little more, is more than worth it for me to avoid constantly updating drives, dealing with compatibility issues, etc.

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