Here's an interesting chart: iPhone unit sales have been declining steadily for 5 years

The number of iPhones Apple now sells is actually below 2014 numbers. So, why is the company making more money than King Midas? We look for answers in some lovely charts.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

We all know Apple is far from hurting for money. In fact, as Bloomberg reports, "Apple shares have soared 76% this year, making it the first US company to surpass $2 trillion in market value."

And yet, sometimes it takes looking at something differently -- dare we say, sometimes we have to think different -- to get behind the numbers to understand some interesting trends.

Take iPhones, for example. Apple derives a huge chunk of its revenue from iPhones and despite the challenges of COVID-19 and lockdowns, Apple continues to print cash at a prodigious rate.

Apple publishes a consolidated statement of operations as part of each fiscal quarter financial reports. As of the July 30, 2020 quarterly report, Apple's iPhone revenues (for nine months, not a year) jumped from $109 billion in 2019 to $111 billion in 2020. Interesting FY2020 Q2 numbers were down year-over-year.

Apple did hit a bump in the road in April, at the end of its second quarter (and right in the middle of the lockdowns from the novel coronavirus). Apple reported iPhone sales of $28.96 billion in the second quarter of FY2020, compared to $31.05 billion in Q2 2019. But, by the end of Q3, year-over-year iPhone sales rebounded. Apple's Q3 2020 reports $26.42 billion this year, compared to $25.9 billion in the same quarter last year.

So, revenue is going up, a trend Apple has generally enjoyed since the launch of the iPhone. But what about unit sales? That's where our new chart gets interesting. Taking data quoted from IDG in Bloomberg, I dropped iPhone unit sale estimates into Excel and did some tinkering.

This first chart shows iPhone sales as they are normally depicted. The scale starts at $0 and goes up to $250B. The red line does indicate a declining unit sales trend, which must be moderately alarming from Apple's perspective.


But now, let's take the same chart and isolate the changes. In this version, I made the overall chart taller, which accentuates value differences. I also focused on the values in play, so I set my scale to start at 130 and ended it at 220. These two changes strongly reinforce the unit sales drop over the past few years, as shown by the red line.


Additionally, as the green line shows, Apple's iPhone currently reported unit sales are actually lower than every year since 2013.

But here's another chart that really tells the tale; this is a chart that shows the range between the lowest-priced iPhone introduced in the specified year and the highest-priced iPhone introduced in that same year.


As you can see, the top end has been steadily rising. In 2016, the top price (in US dollars) was $969. You couldn't buy an iPhone for more. In 2017, that jumped to $1,149 when Apple introduced the iPhone X. In 2018, the XS Max soared to $1,449. That top-end stayed the same in 2019, at $1,449.

In three years, from 2016 to 2018, Apple's top-end price more than doubled. Since many Apple buyers succumb to the Apple reality distortion field and like buying high-end, fully-equipped phones, that's going straight to Apple's bottom line, despite the reduction in actual units sold.

As for the future, Apple is expected to introduce 5G models later this month. All that extra hardware has got to cost. Additionally, the Bloomberg article I cited earlier shares the rumor that Apple is expected to introduce a 6.7-inch phone, the largest it has ever produced.

I'm betting the addition of 5G, the large 6.7-inch screen, the possible addition of LIDAR, and, of course, the magical unicorn dust that Apple ships in every new iPhone will all conspire to boost the top-end price. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw $1,799 or even -- hang on, this is gonna hurt -- $1,999.

So, there you go. The charts show what we've known in more extreme light. Apple is losing new iPhone users at a drip-drip-drip pace, but the users it's keeping are spending more. And that doesn't even include what they spend on all the AirPods, Macs, iPads, and Watches that are sealed with dragon's breath and come in special white boxes enchanted by elves.

Correction: The first chart was updated with proper 2015 data. Thanks to eagle-eyed readers for pointing this out.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Editorial standards