iPhone In A Class (and Category) By Itself

The iPhone may have recently been awarded Time’s Invention of the Year, but are consumers still interested? Recent Compete analysis showed that the iPhone launch generated more online interest at ATT.com than any other wireless handset launched in the last few years. The iPhone saw 10x the online interest of the Samsung Blackjack launch, which had the most online interest of any device at ATT.com last year (and that launch was during the holiday season). Comparing this to other industries, the iPhone generated even more online demand than the Nintendo Wii when it launched, or even TMX Elmo.

While there’s been no shortage of continuing iPhone media coverage (I admit: guilty as charged), some have suggested that demand for the iPhone since launch has shifted to fall more in line with other handsets — both in regards to online shopper interest and cross-shop (meaning when a shopper views a mobile phone s/he also views other mobile phones at the same site). This question was raised during Compete’s SmartPass session at CTIA IT & Entertainment last month, so to explore we thought we would update some research we did on the iPhone at AT&T at launch.

As you can see, at its launch the iPhone behaved quite differently than other mobile phones in AT&T’s portfolio. Over 500K unique visitors to AT&T’s website researched the iPhone during the week beginning June 24.

During the same week, 12% of iPhone viewers also viewed another handset on AT&T’s site. In comparison, 30% of online shoppers for AT&T’s most-popular phone (iPhone excluded) view the next most popular AT&T handset. This is a significant contrast to typical wireless shopping behavior, and suggests that consumers do not view the iPhone as comparable to any currently available handset. Do consumers view the iPhone as in a category by itself?

Pure curiosity may have been a factor at launch, so to test our hypothesis we looked at the demand and cross-shop trend today. Below is the same chart updated through October.

For September and October, iPhone weekly online demand at AT&T averaged just over 100K unique visitors. Curiosity may have subsided but demand remains healthy. Regarding cross-shop, only 6% of iPhone shoppers also viewed another AT&T handset during the week beginning October 21. It looks like iPhone shoppers still have their blinders on.

The fact that consumers are not increasingly considering other AT&T handsets while considering the iPhone suggests that, whether due to marketing or other factors, the iPhone has created its own category of handset. It doesn’t fit neatly into the category of smartphone, music/media phone or camera phone, which is typically how shoppers research handsets. That hasn’t been a hindrance on demand though, as consumers continue to seek out the iPhone despite its lack of conventional categorization.

With all the recent holiday handset announcements, including the HTC Touch, the LG Voyager and the AT&T Tilt, it will be interesting to see if a new device can break into the iPhone shoppers’ consideration set, or perhaps create their own isolated category of device. Can anyone take on the iPhone in terms of buzz and capture the mindshare of consumers? I think I remember hearing about a small search engine company working on something like that"¦

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