Apple knows the days of record iPhone sales are over, and wants you to stop obsessing over how many it now sells

Analysts, pundits, and Wall Street types have all become obsessed with iPhone unit sales, tying Apple's quarterly health to this single metric, that the Cupertino giant has decided to bring it to an end. And shareholders are far from happy about it.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

Are you the type of person who carefully tracks Apple hardware quarterly sales (ahem... like me)? Well, Apple executives are tired of us focusing on unit sales and instead want us to pay attention to the billions that those hardware sales are bringing in.

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Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told financial analysts during Thursday's conference call that the company will no longer provide unit sales data for iPhones, iPads, and Macs starting in the next quarter:

"... Starting with the December quarter, we will no longer be providing unit sales data for iPhone, iPad, and Mac," Maestri said during the call. "As we have stated many times, our objective is to make great products and services that enrich people's lives and to provide an unparalleled customer experience so that our users are highly satisfied, loyal and engaged."

"As we accomplish these objectives, strong financial results follow," Maestri continued. "As demonstrated by our financial performance in recent years, the number of units sold in any 90-day period is not necessarily representative of the underlying strength of our business. Furthermore, our unit of sale is less relevant for us today than it was in the past, given the breadth of our portfolio and the wider sales price dispersion within any given product line."

Or, to put that another way, stop obsessing about unit sales and focus on how much money we are making!

In many ways this makes sense. Apple's iPhone portfolio alone covers an exceptionally wide price spectrum, from $449 to $1,449, so focusing on units doesn't really tell the whole picture. And what seems to be happening is that Apple is able to make revenues grow while keeping sales the same by selling increasingly more expensive iPhones.

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How long will this continue? That remains to be seen, but from now on all eyes will be on revenue.

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It's important to remember that Apple itself been a big player in promoting unit sales as a vital measure of ecosystem growth, and as sales appear to be tapering off, it's now choking on that narrative.

Analysts seemed perturbed by this move, with Citigroup analyst Jim Suva choosing to pick up on this during the call and getting straight to the point.

"And then for Luca [Maestri], there'd probably be a lot of pushback about not giving iPhone unit data," Suva said. "It sounds like you're still going to give revenue data if I heard that correctly. But some people may fear that this now means that the iPhone units are going to start going negative year-over-year because it's easy to talk about great things and not show the details of things that aren't so great."

Both Maestri and CEO Tim Cook tried to diffuse this timebomb.

"Given the rationale on why we do not believe that providing unit sales is particularly relevant for our company at this point, I can reassure you that it is our objective to grow unit sales for every product category that we have," Maestri said, trying to calm analysts. "But as I said earlier, a unit of sale is less relevant today than it was in the past. To give you an example, the unit sales of iPhone at the top end of the line have been very strong during the September quarter."

Cook entered the conversation with a shopping cart analogy.

"Our installed base is growing at double-digit," said Cook. "And so there's no -- and that's probably a much more significant metric for us from an ecosystem point of view and customer loyalty, et cetera. The second thing is, this is a little bit like if you go to the market and you push your cart up to the cashier and she says or he says, 'How many units you have in there?' It doesn't matter a lot how many units there are in there in terms of the overall value of what's in the cart."

Additionally, Maestri confirmed that starting next quarter Apple will "be providing information on revenue and cost of sales, and therefore, gross margins for both products and services."

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This switch doesn't surprise me at all. In fact, it seemed to be what Tim Cook has wanted all along. Apple has never disclosed unit sales for the Apple Watch, which as released under his tenure as CEO, a clear sign that the company wanted to break with the tradition that founder and former CEO Steve Jobs had begun.

But shareholders were not impressed. Apple shares dropped about 4 percent on the results themselves and then dropped more than 7 percent during the company's earnings call after Apple said it would change its reporting structure. Then, in after-hours trading, Apple stock hit a low of $206.80 before recovering slightly to $207.81.

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