Why Apple can't keep the iPhone 4S on the shelves

Users in this age of personal IT know quality tech and are too smart to fall for bull from vendors or the press

I never quite understood the "selling like hotcakes" metaphor for a product that was in great demand. However you phrase it, demand for Apple's new iPhone 4S is so high that the company can't keep enough of them in stock, and customers at Apple stores, AT&T stores, Verizon Wireless stores, and Sprint stores are leaving empty-handed if they haven't reserved an iPhone 4S in advance. Lack of inventory is never a good business strategy, but in this case, the red-hot demand comes despite a barrage of negative publicity about problems, and alleged problems, with the iPhone 4S's software.

The news comes from a survey by Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Whitmore, who found that nearly all of the 30 Apple stores he checked were running out of phones every day. Demand that heavy is even more striking given that more than 4 million were sold in the first three days the new iPhone was available.

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There's no doubt that a software glitch is trashing iPhone 4S's battery life; after all, Apple has a patch on the way. And Siri, which Apple forthrightly calls a beta service, still has rough edges and odd quirks. But consumers apparently have a lot more faith in Apple than they do in the Chicken Little tech press that seemingly panics any time a user files a complaint on a vendor website -- and despite my ink-stained DNA, I have to agree with them.

Indeed, as the consumerization of IT -- the move of user-owned and -selected devices into the enterprise -- takes hold, we must assume that users aren't stupid and in fact often exhibit better judgment than the companies trying to foist off inferior products. Or that IT gives them credit for.

Note that Adobe said yesterday it is pulling back from mobile Flash development, and remember how much grief Apple got because it said the technology was too buggy and too resource-intensive to support within iOS. That decision to ban Flash didn't slow iPhone or iPad sales, and even more to the point, the inclusion of Flash didn't help sales of RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook or Hewlett-Packard's TouchPad, whose developers made a big deal of their ability to access Flash content.

Tech writer Harry McCracken's description of watching those devices play (or try to play) a mobile Flash video is dead on: "The experience has always ranged from unimpressive to excruciating. Watching video was frequently like going to see a movie at a theater with a projector that keeps breaking down."

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