*DISCLAIMER - This is not an Airbus vs Boeing flamewar inciter. I fully endorse the deletion of any replies to this post that attempt to turn it into such a flamewar*
The 747X is not having a good time right now. It is being trounced in the order books by the A380. Perhaps, though, the biggest blow is the latest: FedEx opting for the A380. Here's why:
Boeing has stated that they believed the first orders for the 747XS would be from the freight world. They intended to build the freight aircraft, 747XSF, first, followed by the passanger variant, 747XS, and then shrink this down to the 747X. One of their potential customers is of course FedEx. However, FedEx have gone to the A380. Another is UPS, who operate 747s, however their business is very simmilar to FedEx's, and the A380 is clearly the better aircraft in this category (parcel freight, which dont require high pallets, and which). FedEx can carry two decks of standard containers on the A380, whereas they would only be able to carry about 3/4s as much in the same standard containers on the 747XSF. This is not a good sign for Boeing from the parcel freight industry.
So, they would of course be hoping to get a different reaction from the more general freight industry, that would take use of the 747's larger pallet size. However, the late Michael Chowdry, former CEO of Atlas Air, the largest 747F operator, said he prefered the A380, simply because it was a defined product, whereas the 747XSF was an ever changing collection of drawings and numbers.
It appears that the freight world is turning to the A380, away from the 747. This is great news for Airbus, but very bad for Boeing, as it means that they have already got the market wrong at an early stage. Their heel-dragging with the 747X project has not exactly helped either.
So, the question Boeing must be asking is this: "We have been caught off guard, and our competitor is offering a product that is totally outselling ours. Do we try and push our uncertain product in the hope that someone will order it, or do we drop out of the VLA 450+ seat market completely, and concentrate efforts on trumping Airbus in the 100-200 and 200-450 seat markets"
The way the A380 is outselling the 747X, it would almost make sense for Boeing to do this, perhaps squeezing even more range out of the present 747-400. But, then it runs the risk that its predictions were wrong, there is a large VLA market, and Airbus has it cornered.
In summary, it appears that, by coming late and a tad confused onto the market, Boeing has got themself stuck between a rock and a hard place.