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Apple, AT&T neophytes to define iPhone audience - report

A last-minute analysis of the iPhone's most eager buyers confirms stereotypes of successful younger men as its target market, but also reveals that Apple can expect a large number of converts.

Profiling a cross-section of those aware of the phone in May, Solutions Research Group has found that many of those who will "definitely" investigate the phone at its minimum $499 price are new to Apple, AT&T, or both.

Of the interested respondents culled from the 1,230 total, nearly half —48 percent —said they didn't already own an iPod, making the iPhone their only (if not very first) Apple-branded music player. The news could be very beneficial for the handset creator, which may bank on newcomers to reach its forecast of 10 million sales by the end of 2008.

"Half of the potential buyers are not current iPod users, so it will expand Apple's 'installed base' footprint," said the study's director, Kaan Yigit. If Apple followed its iPod strategy of launching less expensive hardware over time, he predicted, market growth would be steady.

Potentially as surprising is the typical choice of cellular service provider. Those most likely to queue in line on June 29th are existing subscribers to AT&T's only GSM-based rival, T-Mobile USA, at 15 percent. AT&T's existing customers are second to express an interest at 12 percent, the researchers note. Sprint and Verizon customers show the least attraction to the phone at 7 and 4 percent respectively.

This last point could be critical to AT&T, Yigit added, as the network is poised to snare the majority of iPhone buyers from its competitors rather than from the ranks of its faithful. The top-ranked carrier is in the midst of a transition away from the Cingular name and could see its new name gain added respect by offering the Apple device.

"The big winner is AT&T," he said. "In one nifty move, they are able to inject cool into their brand at a speed and scale that's hard to believe. Among T-Mobile customers whose contracts are coming up for renewal this year, a significant proportion will look at this product in place of, say, Sidekicks and the like. And among AT&T customers, a significant minority... will look at upgrading."

Who will line up for iPhone?

A full 73 percent of the complete survey were said to already know about the iPhone, which is "remarkable" for any pre-launch device, Yigit commented.

Less shocking were the cultural and gender demographics of the interested subjects. The majority fit the pattern of the young, successful male. According to Solutions Research Group, the average iPhone customer is a 31-year-old man with a college degree and an income of $75,600 per year —a salary 26 percent higher than the American average. Almost half (43 percent) of all likely buyers lived in technically adept states such as California and New York, but only 28 percent were female. Younger buyers dominated, with 63 percent aged 34 or younger.

These patterns were to be expected given Apple's image, Yigit claimed. Cautious respondents were more likely to be more "mainstream" and include more women, while the iPhone's early fans were more often bound to fit the Apple user stereotype.

"This product is still mainly a male urban-hipster object of desire at this stage and with this price point," the director said.

However much the survey might reinforce common perceptions of who will buy the iPhone, Yigit pledges that the results will be part of an ongoing study of digital consumerism tracking the iPhone as it reaches customer hands in coming months, proving whether or not Apple's promotional buzz translates to real subscribers.