Editors' Pick: Originally published March 22.
Apple (AAPL) - Get Report is waking up the echoes with the reintroduction of a 4-inch iPhone, a model its creators hope will lead the company to victory not just in emerging markets, but at home as well.
"There's significant pent-up demand within Apple's base of iPhone owners who want a smaller iPhone with up-to-date specs and newer features," Jackdaw Research Chief Analyst Jan Dawson said in e-mailed comments.
The new model, dubbed the iPhone SE, "should unleash a decent upgrade cycle over the coming months," Dawson said. Prior to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, introduced in 2014, Apple's iPhones were small, at 3.5 inches and 4 inches tall, respectively, compared with models by Samsung and others that approached 6 inches.
The reboot may benefit Apple's stock, which has taken a hit in recent months, as concerns about stagnating iPhone sales led investors to question whether the company's market share has peaked.
As of the end of the fourth quarter, Apple, a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS charitable portfolio, held 18.7% of the smartphone market, down from 19.7% in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to research firm IDC. Smartphone makers Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi all increased their market share, IDC noted.
While Apple sold 231 million iPhones in fiscal 2015, the 74.8 million that its customers bought in the first quarter of fiscal 2016 were below Wall Street estimates and up just 0.2% from a year earlier.
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During the presentation, Apple Vice President Greg Joswiak noted more than 30 million 4-inch iPhones were sold in fiscal 2015, indicating there's ample demand for a smaller phone with strong features.
Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple's foray into the mid-range of the smartphone market a few years ago, with the iPhone 5c, met with mixed results. The iPhone 5c was discontinued last year, with too many consumers opting to buy the iPhone 5s, which carried more competitive features.
Additionally, the majority of first time iPhone buyers in China, one of Apple's most important markets, purchased 4-inch iPhones, further boosting the rationale for its latest initiative. Makers such as Xiaomi, as well as Huawei and others, have all done well targeting mid-range smartphone buyers in emerging markets.
The iPhone SE, available for pre-order March 24 and shipping March 31, has many of the same features included in Apple's larger, higher-end iPhones: Apple Pay, the A9 and M9 chips, a 12-megapixel camera, Live Photos, 4K video and more.
It will be available in space gray, silver, gold and rose gold metallic finishes in 16GB and 64GB models, starting at $399.
Drexel Hamilton analyst Brian White, who has a "buy" rating on the shares and a $200 price target, said the new iPhone's low price point, nearly half of the company's usual price, "could help Apple in developing countries" including China and India.
India is significant: During the company's first-quarter earnings call, CFO Luca Maestri said the country's iPhone sales grew 76% year over year. Total revenue there was up 38% on the same basis, or 48% when factoring in currency volatility.
A turnaround in company wide iPhone sales, however, isn't expected this quarter. Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook has said iPhone sales will probably decline in the period, which would be a first.
Catering to users' previous preferences as well as the needs of emerging-market buyers may help address that: Restarting growth in the iconic device is something Apple desperately needs.
"For seven very profitable, high-growth years, consumers enjoyed using iPhones that were 4 inches or less," BTIG analyst Walt Piecyk said via e-mail. "Presumably there is a sizable market for those that have not seen that size upgraded for two years."