Did the iPhone XS sell better than the Samsung Note 9?

2 months ago by James Mattone in Facts, Features, Trends

Apple ($NASDAQ:AAPL) was about to face an uphill battle selling its new iPhone this year. For its 11th consecutive year putting out a new iPhone, Apple decided that its models would be sticking in the X family (making it an "S" year). Initial price points for these new phones were also about the same as its older sibling; across 64GB models on launch, the iPhone X listed for $1,099.99, the exact same price as the XS Max when it came out on September 21 for pre-order customers. The regular XS was $999.99, a full $100 cheaper but still a four-figure purchase.

As sales-rank data from Best Buy ($NYSE:BBY) shows, that all added up to a rougher launch for the iPhone XS and XS Max compared to last year's new model sales, at least at the largest technology vendor in the nation.

The iPhone XS and XS Max is following the trend of our sales predictions that we made back on September 7, but is not exceeding the performance of the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X when looking at the launch periods of each smartphone. And, more importantly, its average best-seller rank is not enough to unseat the new Samsung ($KRX:005930) Galaxy Note 9. However, it did have an affect on its sales rank through its first month of sales.

How the XS, XS Max sold at Best Buy

On Best Buy, the iPhone XS and XS Max had best-seller data for three days before its pre-order launch date of September 21. Because both of these phones have different colors, storage space, and carriers listed on the website, we've averaged all iterations as well as pulled the best selling phone by sales rank in order to show both statistical comparisons.

As it entered the retail market against all other items at Best Buy, the XS Max outperformed its smaller sibling, possibly due to its larger size and longer battery life.

When looking at individual models, phones with 256GB storage capacity ranked better (sold more) than ones with smaller capacity, especially for the different XS Max iterations. For the XS Max however, bigger wasn't always better; none of the 512GB versions ranked within the top-15 iterations and were at the bottom of the barrel across all versions of the smartphone.

Name Category Rank (Average)
Apple - iPhone XS 256GB - Space Gray (AT&T) 2853.178571
Apple - iPhone XS 256GB - Space Gray (Verizon) 3331.964286
Apple - iPhone XS 64GB - Space Gray (Verizon) 3461.964286
Apple - iPhone XS 256GB - Gold (AT&T) 3537.964286
Apple - iPhone XS 64GB - Space Gray (AT&T) 3725.071429
Apple - iPhone XS 64GB - Gold (Verizon) 4097.25
Apple - iPhone XS 256GB - Gold (Verizon) 4120.535714
Apple - iPhone XS 64GB - Gold (AT&T) 4144.964286
Apple - iPhone XS 256GB - Silver (AT&T) 5334.642857
Apple - iPhone XS 64GB - Silver (Verizon) 5710.964286

Name Category Rank (Average)
Apple - iPhone XS Max 256GB - Gold (AT&T) 1266
Apple - iPhone XS Max 256GB - Space Gray (AT&T) 1346.892857
Apple - iPhone XS Max 256GB - Space Gray (Verizon) 1627.928571
Apple - iPhone XS Max 256GB - Gold (Verizon) 1720.071429
Apple - iPhone XS Max 64GB - Gold (AT&T) 2149.607143
Apple - iPhone XS Max 64GB - Gold (Verizon) 2198.071429
Apple - iPhone XS Max 64GB - Space Gray (Verizon) 2226.071429
Apple - iPhone XS Max 64GB - Space Gray (AT&T) 2417.392857
Apple - iPhone XS Max 256GB - Silver (AT&T) 2572.75
Apple - iPhone XS Max 256GB - Silver (Verizon) 3111.964286

Of course, the Space Gray XS and the Gold XS Max — both 256GB and under AT&T ($NYSE:T) — outperformed the average in its category, having some triple-digit sales rank days within the phone's first month after launch.

Looking at the launches of other iPhones

On its own, the iPhone XS and XS Max sold well for Apple. Given that sales rank compares the number of products sold to every single item listed on Best Buy, being ranked within the top 5,000 or better consistently is an impressive feat.

However, when looking at similar periods of 28-day sales — starting from three days before each phone's release date — from other iPhones and Apple's rival smartphone — Samsung's Galaxy Note 9, which released a month prior — the XS and XS Max are not performing well against historical trends.

Here were the launch day trends for the previous year of iPhones, including the iPhone X.

Comparing these launch periods to that of the XS and XS Max shows a four-digit sales rank difference between the XS and 8, and the XS Max and 8 Plus. Furthermore, the X model completely dominated its brethren among the last five iPhone model releases.

This also holds true, for the most part, when looking at the best selling iterations of the 8, 8 Plus, and X.

The top iPhone XS Max version is outperforming the best 8 Plus version during the same launch periods, and was about on par with the best-selling iPhone X model. This shows some signs of hope for the XS Max at least, as overall sales of its 64GB and 256GB iterations made up for more expensive and worse selling 512GB versions.

iPhone vs. Galaxy, 2018 Edition

Looking at the iPhone's main competitor this year shows a similar murky outlook for the XS and XS Max. The Note 9, which released in only two colors on launch and got black and silver versions later in September, had a better best-seller rank at Best Buy for its two original colors on average.

It best-selling iteration, the Ocean Blue 128GB model from Verizon ($NYSE:VZ), also beat every iPhone at Best Buy in terms of sales rank, hovering under and around the top-200 products sold at the world's largest phone retailer.

While the Note 9 performed considerably well on its launch, its second month of sales — at least for its two original versions — trended downward around the same time as the launch of the new iPhones. 

(Note: a zero rank indicates that the iPhone XS Max was not on sale.)

This drop in rank might be a trend that will be followed over the next few months as the holiday smartphone shopping season ramps up. For now, however, the Note 9 looks to be winning this round of the yearly battle between the smartphone giants.

With lines for this year's new iPhones reportedly being significantly shorter than last year's Apple Store campouts, this data provides another clue that the XS and XS Max may not be as successful as iPhone's 10th anniversary lineup.

However, given that this is based on Best Buy's database, there could be sales from direct retailers — the Apple Store as well as the Sprint ($NYSE:S), Verizon and AT&T stores — that could have made up the difference. Furthermore, there is still plenty of time for the iPhone to pick up sales, especially with the XR on its way and Black Friday around the corner.

James Mattone

James is a recent Boston University graduate who calls the world of esports and video games his home. As a young journalist, he has already covered two E3 expos a...

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