On Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) most recent earnings call, Apple CFO Luca Maestri provided some interesting data from research company 451 Research, a company from which Apple routinely cites data. Maestri said 451 Research's findings indicated a "96% satisfaction rating among iPhone 7 owners and 98% for iPhone 7 Plus."
Additionally, Maestri pointed out that 451 Research's data suggested that, of corporate smartphone buyers planning to buy smartphones in the June quarter -- Apple's fiscal third quarter -- 79% of them intend to pick up iPhones.
Analyst Steve Milunovich noted during the question-and-answer portion of the call that the figure cited represented a "nine-year low in iPhone purchase intent." He also observed that, in the United States, 451 Research's data indicated a "retention rate" that's on the decline and headed for 80%.
I thought Apple CEO Tim Cook's response to Milunovich's request for commentary on this data was interesting, to say the least. Let's dissect it.
Sidestepping the question
Cook admitted upfront that he only "glanced at" the data and that he hasn't "had time to study it." Cook then went on to address a question that wasn't explicitly asked, but was, nonetheless, of interest to investors.
"In general, what we are seeing, we're seeing what we believe to be a pause in purchases on iPhone, which we believe are due to the earlier and much more frequent reports about future iPhones," Cook said. "And so that part is clearly going on, and it could be what's behind the data," Cook opined. "I don't know, but we are seeing that, in full transparency."
Although what Cook said certainly makes sense, I don't know that it would affect the 451 Research numbers cited. Remember, the data supposedly measures the iPhone purchase intent among corporate buyers looking to purchase smartphones in the June quarter.
If an individual is looking to buy a phone in the June quarter, then that person isn't, by definition, waiting for a next-generation iPhone, which is expected to launch in the fall (as per usual).
The only way that I can make this argument "work" is to believe that customers who would have, in the past, been willing to buy iPhone models this late in the cycle in previous cycles are removing themselves from the pool of potential customers in the June quarter.
Additionally, there was a second part of the survey that Milunovich mentioned: the slippage of the iPhone retention rate. It's my understanding that a retention rate refers to the percentage of current iPhone users who plan to stick with iPhones over the long term.
If more current iPhone customers have indicated that they aren't planning to stick with the iPhone over the long term, then that's a hint that they're considering other options. That, again, doesn't reflect people waiting for the new iPhone, it reflects people potentially planning to switch from iPhone to an alternative product.
Cook is probably right, though
With all of that said, Cook is still probably right. While I personally use an iPhone 7 Plus and think it's a fantastic device -- and I'm not at all surprised by the reported 98% customer satisfaction rate for the device -- I wouldn't recommend that anybody buy it today unless he or she really needs to buy a device today (in which case, I would recommend the iPhone 7 Plus).
The new iPhone models are just around the corner and the premium OLED version should be a dramatic step up in features, usability, and aesthetics over the current iPhone 7 Plus -- and this information has been broadly disseminated.
I don't know how much the rumor mill ultimately affects purchasing decisions on a broader scale, but if the pool of individuals who pay attention to the rumor mill is substantial -- and even a relatively small percentage of multi-hundred million potential buyers could be significant -- then I could see Cook's view that current iPhone sales are being impacted as plausible, and even likely.