The Apple iPhone may initially struggle to find a mass market, according to a Dallas-based research firm.

The iPhone, which is set to be launched this Friday by Apple and AT&T, will find strong demand among early adopter technophiles, but building an immediate larger market may be difficult because of the device’s US$500 price tag and two-year service commitment, according to Parks Associates.

Parks conducted a survey of 2,000 U.S. Internet users and found that only 3 percent of these consumers have a strong interest in purchasing the iPhone at its price point and contract commitment.

"The underlying drivers for converging music, multimedia and communications capabilities in a device such as an iPhone are certainly prevalent in today’s market," said Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst with Parks Associates.

"However, the high price point may prevent the iPhone from achieving greater adoption over the short term. It may be an early adopter product that appeals to technophiles but initially leaves other interested users on the outside looking in."

The iPhone: A Consumer Perspective is a free white paper available for download at the Parks Associates Web site. It pulls primary consumer data from Parks Associates’ consumer study Mobile Entertainment Platforms & Services (second edition).

Another research firm, Compete, also said consumers might balk at iPhone’s $500 (£250) price tag. IT research and consulting firm Gartner is discouraging enterprises from adopting iPhone because, the firm says, Apple has no plans to support enterprise use of the device – even though AT&T plans to market it to businesses.

Nonetheless, AT&T has hired 2,000 temporary workers in its retail stores to handle what is expected to be a consumer surge for the iPhone at Friday’s 6 p.m. launch. The carriers said it received 1 million inquiries on iPhone, 40 per cent from non-AT&T wireless service subscribers.

AT&T is offering three plans for the iPhone: $60 (£30) for 450 minutes of cellular talk time a month, $80 (£40) for 900 minutes a month, and $100 (£50) for 1,350 minutes a month. All of those plans include access to email and mobile Web services, visual voicemail and 200 text messages.

In addition to the two-year service commitment, users will be required to pay a $36 (£18) activation fee.