As my wife ran some errands downtown on Sunday, I found myself pacing in front of the local Apple store. This is ridiculous. My current "smart" phone is only six months old, capable of sending and receiving email, keeping my calendar, even playing a live television feed through my Slingbox. The last thing I need is a new phone. Yet I found myself drawn to the iPhone. I, like the rest of world, was hopelessly transfixed by the promise of being part of the future of telephony.
Why would a rational well phone-equipped person consider dropping a perfectly good device and plunking down $599 (because a 4 gig model is out of the question if an 8 gig model is available) for a new phone? With analysts estimating over 500,000 phones sold just last weekend, perhaps search term data could help us figure out why we've gone iPhone crazy.
Based on the demographics of visitors to the official iPhone site, we know that potential buyers skew slightly male (51.8%), are likely to be between the age of 18-24 (31%) and fit into an affluent urban demographic (11.6%). But it's interesting to note that over 47% of visitors to the site, where you can learn about and purchase the extravagant piece of hardware, earn less than $60,000 a year. Searches for the iPhone first peaked in January of this year as Steve Jobs uncharacteristically pre-announced the new device at the annual MacWorld Conference. Searches began ramping again the first week of June, in anticipation of last week's release. During that time, iPhone has surpassed iPod searches, which for most of the last three years held the distinction as the most searched for electronic device on the Internet.
The variations on iPhone queries tell an interesting story. Of the 1600 searches that contained "iPhone," the most common theme was cost, with five of the top 20 searches looking for pricing information. The 8th most popular (and optimistically naive) query confirms our suspicions from my last column, "free iPhone." The second most popular search mission is for reviews of the new phone. There were also a few disgruntled searchers "problems with iPhone" was at #6, and "smashing my iPhone" in the #20 position actually led to a YouTube video that has had over 100,000 views since last week.
The best indicator of equipment-lust would be the top sites where people ended up after entering "iPhone" into their favorite search engine. A total of 56% of searchers landed on the Apple iPhone page or at AT&T's site; these individuals, like myself, probably just wanted the phone and wondered if it was worth the high cost. And 3% visited a MySpace page from an iPhone query, most likely to show off their bling to their cyber-friends, while 2.8% visited Wikipedia, perhaps having just come out of a cave, wondering what all this iPhone craze was about.
As for myself, after 20 minutes of pacing in front of the Apple Store, my wife returned and pleaded with me to "just go ahead and buy the thing." Against better reason I did, happy in the knowledge that I'll be part of the future of telephony, or at least the coolest kid in the office.
Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise.