This morning was the beginning and almost immediate end of the iPhone X's first sales availability to consumers. Reports show that it sold out in minutes. So, is the new model a hit? Although the time frame sounds promising, there's a significant chance that sales will be iffy relative to some previous iPhone blockbusters. And that could mean tears in Cupertino headquarters and the gnashing of teeth by investors when the quarter's results are released early next year.

Historically, Apple has never been shy of bragging, but generally has done so only after results are known and strong enough to bolster its image. When the company chose to stop announcing first weekend sales with the iPhone 7, something seemed suspicious. Combine that with the iPhone X's outrageously high price and reported massive production problems, and you have a potential disaster for the next earnings announcement.

The easiest way to put this into perspective is to review the opening weekend sales of the last few major iPhone models when Apple still reported the unit numbers.

  • iPhone 4: 1.7 million
  • iPhone 4s: 4 million
  • iPhone 5: 5 million
  • iPhone 5 in China: 2 million
  • iPhone 5s and 5c: 9 million
  • iPhone 6 and 6 Plus: 10 million

The volume had kept building over time. We don't have figures for the 7 or 8. But the 7 seemed to lag the 6, according to outside data from Localytics. The iPhone 8 was behind even the 7. No reason to keep bragging when demand is declining, as it did with the iPad.

A big drop in average sales price suggests that many customers have opted for cheaper models. That's a tough situation for Apple, and its investors, because the iPhone is the major revenue and profit driver for the company. If people still buy the products but choose less expensive options (maybe because the new touted ones don't show the same innovation as they once did and competition is stiffer), revenue and profits could drop.

That is why everything hangs on the iPhone X. The high price would help buoy the average sales price and the quarter's numbers. But according to reports, the model has major production problems in the facial recognition hardware -- the highest profile addition to the line. That Apple pushed the first sales of the X back to late October alone is telling, because under accounting rules it can only recognize revenue for units put into the hands of customers. The move cut almost a month out of potential sales.

Some estimates say that only 20 million iPhone X units will be available during the quarter instead of the originally planned 40 million. The drop, if accurate, is astounding.

That's still an amazing number of products to sell in a short time, but tech and investors live and die by expectations and growth. Cut the top-end models in half and you have a disaster of a quarter brewing. Given that the quarter is the first of the 2018 fiscal year but the last of the 2017 calendar -- the critical period that historically sees the largest sales for Apple's -- and this could lead to an historical disaster for the company.

Published on: Oct 27, 2017