Early iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sales herald big U.S. holiday season for Apple

Apple's new iPhones are poised to have a very strong holiday sales season in the U.S., Kantar's Carolina Milanesi said today.

Apple's new iPhones are poised to have a very strong holiday sales season in the U.S., said Kantar's Carolina Milanesi today.

"If all I have is the 12 days of sales [in September], what the iPhone 6 was able to do was quite remarkable," said Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech. "Looking at the competition, which is invigorated in the mid-tier by LG and Motorola, that will bother Samsung more than Apple.

"Apple will have a very strong holiday season," Milanesi said.

According to Kantar, which regularly surveys consumers in several countries to gauge smartphone ownership, purchasing plans and sales, Apple's share of all U.S. smartphone sales dropped in the three months ending September 30 when compared to the same period in 2013, falling 3.3 percentage points to 32.6%.

Android's share climbed to 61.8%, an increase of 4.5 percentage points, while Windows slumped slightly to 4.3%.

But it was the sales of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the waning days of the stretch Kantar measured that was impressive to Milanesi, iOS's decline notwithstanding. Although she declined to quantify her impression -- citing the small sample size for the 12 days in Kantar's polling -- she was confident that the early sales, and the figures she had for October but is holding close to the vest, would translate into big numbers in 2014's final quarter.

Part of her optimism on the iPhone's holiday opportunity came from weak competition. Samsung's premium-priced models, like the Edge and the Note 4, will either be in short supply or aren't major advancements from prior devices, Milanesi said. And the hard-charging LG and Motorola -- whose shares climbed to 11% and 7%, respectively, year-over-year -- aren't positioned to threaten the top-of-the-line iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

Another reason Milanesi is bullish on holiday sales for the Cupertino, Calif. company is that the iPhone has regularly been one of the top two "gifted" smartphones. Kantar's definition of "gifted" only requires that the phone was purchased for use by someone other than the buyer.

While Kantar said that iPhone 6 had outsold the 6 Plus by a ratio of 5:1 in Europe during the brief sales window last month, Milanesi was reluctant to share a similar number for the U.S., again concerned about the small size of the sample. But she did say that since its Sept. 19 retail debut, the larger iPhone 6 Plus and its 5.5-in. display has done "very well."

But smartphones with screens that size or larger will continue to be a very small slice of the smartphone market as a whole. "In the third quarter, sales in the 5-5-in. and above [category] went to 7% of the market in the U.S.," said Milanesi. In China, that number was 16%.

"I can see [the 5.5-in. and above category] growing to maybe 10% or 12% in the U.S., but that will take several quarters," said Milanesi.

Apple has tipped only one number for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus since their launch, and that figure -- 10 million sold in the opening weekend last month -- was not exclusive to those models, but also included an unknown number of older devices, like the iPhone 5S and 5C.

Like Milanesi, Apple also expects a banner fourth quarter: During last week's earnings call with Wall Street, CFO Luca Maestri set revenue guidance at between $63.5 billion and $66.5, which would represent year-over-year increases of between 10.2% and 15.5%.

Kantar's September numbers for smartphone sales share can be found on its website (download PDF).

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