I'll tell you a secret: I was thinking of buying the aging iPhone XR recently when I was deciding whether I should go for a new iPhone 14 or just spend very little on one of the best iPhones I ever tested - albeit years ago..
I decided against it - mostly because I'm finishing a longer-term test of the iPhone 13 Pro Max and I'm intrigued as to what's coming with the iPhone 14 Max
Then I read, to my dismay, about possible delays to the 2022 Apple handset line-up, especially the new Max (opens in new tab). But then I found myself wondering: would such a slowdown really be a bad thing?
After all, the iPhone XR was heavily delayed, and that sold well over the years, so it's not necessarily a problem for Apple if there are issues this year, too.
Let's rewind slightly: Since last year, rumors have constantly suggested that Apple was going to struggle to get its new iPhone 14 series out on time, especially as a Covid outbreak in Shanghai had caused certain manufacturers of its handset, such as Pegatron, to halt production for a short while.
This would obviously have a knock-on effect for anyone hoping for a plentiful supply of new iPhones on launch day - the chances of that are slimmer if they can't actually be made rapidly at the moment.
Is that a bad thing though? Consider the case of the iPhone 13, launched last year. The ripple effects of Covid and the chip shortage meant that 2021's iPhone line-up wasn't being made at full capacity until February 2022, and yet it was one of the best-selling iPhone lines of all time.
How can that be the case when production wasn't at full capacity? Even in December 2021, months after launch, one would still struggle to get some of the iPhone models, with the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max constantly unavailable for in-store pickup and subject to long delivery times.
While I'm sure Apple wasn't limiting stock on purpose, we only have to look at the fervor generated by the lack of PS5 restock to see the mania that sets in when something appears to be out of stock.
Even now, I still hear of someone buying a PS5 and nod approvingly, like they've scaled a treacherous peak or won the lottery, where in reality the stock is more plentiful these days.
The psychology of the empty shelf is well-recognized: according to a study from the University of Alberta, shoppers will naturally respond to empty shelves with more mania than if they see plentiful supply:
"A lack of stock for common items can indicate to consumers that a store is not managed properly because supply wasn't ordered properly.
"But for newer items, stores can use it as a message: it wasn't that they didn't order enough, it may be that the product was just selling so fast that nobody could anticipate it, so buy it while you can." said Paul Messinger, professor at the University of Alberta's School of Business, whose study looked at the sale of numerous items including ski passes and wine.
The illusion of lust
So if Apple does have a shortage of product when the iPhone 14 launches, it will likely ensure that the stock sells out more rapidly, and creates a sense of urgency in those that thought they might want one but previously weren't decided.
The study also gives us a clue as to why the iPhone 13 was such a hot-seller, despite not being leagues ahead, critically, of previous models:
"Sold-out products create a sense of immediacy for customers; they feel that if one product is gone, the next item could also sell out," added Messinger.
That's a real selling point for Apple too. The rumors suggest that it's the new iPhone 14 Max that's at risk of not being fully available at launch, which would give a two-fold boost to consumers looking to upgrade: while many might wait for the intriguing new model (which would be cheaper but lower on power compared to the Pro Max, yet would still have the larger screen and bigger battery), others might be so caught up in the excitement of "new phone day" that they'd opt for one of the available models.
With a similar thing happening with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models, the sales suddenly make a lot more sense. Maybe now is the time to get an aging iPhone XR second-hand, after all.