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Since its launch in 2007, the Apple iPhone story has been one of relentless rise on pretty much any metric you care to choose -- sales of new iPhones, the installed base of active iPhones, revenue from iPhone sales, revenue from services delivered via iPhones, and more.
In 2021, it's estimated that Apple sold a record 242 million iPhones, helping to fuel an active installed base of 1.23 billion and generating revenue of $191.9 billion. Revenue from Apple services -- about a third of which is generated by the iOS App Store -- was $68.4 billion in 2021.
A key factor in building a healthy active installed base is the extent to which phones have an after-life beyond their first owner. If handsets are traded or handed on to family members rather than retired or recycled, more of them remain plugged into the vendor's ecosystem, delivering revenue via services. By supporting devices longer than most rival smartphone vendors, this strategy has worked well for Apple:
When it comes to customer satisfaction versus the Android competition, the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) reported a tie between Apple and Samsung, based on a survey of over 23,000 US customers contacted between April 2021 and March 2022:
Customer satisfaction: top smartphone vendors
Data: American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)
The most popular smartphone model in ACSI's 2022 survey was Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra. Apple took four of the top ten slots (as did Samsung) with the iPhone 11 Pro Max leading the way in third place.
In a recent survey of US adults, 451 Research uncovered some interesting generational patterns in smartphone preferences between Apple and its main Android rival, Samsung. Generations up to and including Millennials show similar levels of moderate preference for Apple (41%-51%) over Samsung (29%-34%), but the youngest age group -- Generation Z -- is overwhelmingly Apple-focused: 83% of Gen Z respondents own an iPhone, compared to just 10% with a Samsung phone.
If this pattern continues as the Gen Z cohort ages, Apple's grip on the adult US smartphone buying and owning population -- already over 50% -- can only tighten. Apple's recent success in attracting 'switchers' from Android to iPhone certainly echoes this survey signal. In a recent analyst call, Apple CEO Tim Cook had this to say:
"Turning to iPhone, we set a June quarter record for both revenue and switchers to iPhone. With its advanced performance, capability, and ease of use, customers continue to find that iPhone remains the gold standard for smartphones. And they've been raving about the iPhone 13 lineup's extraordinary camera quality, with features like Cinematic Mode and macro photography to create eye-catching content."
Cook's comments are supported by further data from the 451 Research survey, which identified camera quality as the most important smartphone feature for all generations, followed by water resistance, internal storage capacity, durability, and charging speed:
As the iPhone 14 series comes to market, are there any clouds on Apple's smartphone horizon? The COVID-19 pandemic may have dented sales somewhat in 2020 due to supply chain issues, but the upward trend apparently continues apace: as noted above, Apple posted record iPhone revenue ($40.6 billion) in its most recent fiscal quarter (Q3 2022, or calendar Q2).
After COVID, the next worry is the fallout from the war in Ukraine, resulting in rising inflation, a high likelihood of widespread recession and reduced consumer demand. Will this cause smartphone buyers to look more towards mid-range and budget phones, rather than Apple's traditionally strong premium sector? Do Android vendors offer better value further down the smartphone food chain, or will the incremental improvements in the iPhone 14 series, plus headline features like crash detection and satellite connectivity, continue to fuel Apple's seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory?
For the moment, things look good for Apple in the premium smartphone market. Recent research by Counterpoint gave Apple a 57% share in Q2 2022, with Samsung a distant second on 19%.
The average selling price (ASP) for a premium phone rose 8% year-on-year to reach $780, driven mainly by 94% YoY growth in the 'ultra-premium' (>$1000) segment, where Apple has a 78% market share. Counterpoint's Varun Mishra noted several drivers behind these findings:
"This trend in the ultra-premium market is ubiquitous across regions, despite inflationary pressures. This is because affluent consumers are not affected by the current economic headwinds. Hence, the low-to-mid-price segment has been hit hard by the recent macro headwinds while the high-price segment still looks solid, further boosting the ASPs. Also, the increasing number of financing schemes and a growing ecosystem of trade-ins and EMIs are also helping consumers to upgrade their devices without paying the total price upfront."
To get a handle on all this, let's take a look at how Apple's portfolio shapes up against a range of offerings from Android vendors, whose leading representatives in Q2 2022 worldwide were Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo (including OnePlus), and Vivo. For each of these vendors, we've chosen phones in three different tiers to stack up against Apple's latest and recent iPhones:
Generally speaking, people prefer large-screen phones these days, and Apple serves them with its 6.7-inch Pro Max (13 & 14) and Plus (14) models. You can get slightly bigger screens from Samsung, Vivo and Xiaomi, but 6.7 inches should be enough for most large-screen enthusiasts. If you need much more, you'll have to consider a foldable phone (currently Android only). Apple also caters for those who want a more compact handset, with its 6.1-inch devices (iPhone 13/Pro and 14/Pro), the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini and the diminutive 4.7-inch iPhone SE. The iPhone Mini has not been carried forward into the 14 family, but the SE was updated in 2022 and an upgrade is expected next year.
Size isn't everything: resolution, expressed as pixel density (ppi) describes the sharpness of a display's image. The iPhone 13 and 14 families deliver solid pixel densities of around 460ppi, but premium Android smartphones from Samsung, Vivo, Xiaomi and OnePlus all offer 500ppi or more.
A key display metric is the panel's maximum refresh rate, which determines the smoothness of scrolling and animation, with a high refresh rate being essential for gaming. Although some gaming-focused smartphones offer refresh rates up to 144Hz or even higher, the current standard for premium handsets is 120Hz, with 90Hz and 60Hz common among more affordable phones. Apple's Pro models duly offer 120Hz, but it's noticeable that the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus remain at 60Hz, along with the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini, and a couple of budget Android phones from Samsung and Vivo.
A high refresh rate is desirable for certain use cases, but it's a drain on battery life and is not always necessary. That's why there's increasing focus on adaptive refresh rates that can vary automatically depending on the content being displayed. This is enabled by LTPO (Low Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) technology, which can go as low as 1Hz, enabling a low-power 'always on' display for notifications. LTPO is available on high-end OLED panels in premium phones; Apple calls its LTPO implementation ProMotion and reserves it for Pro iPhone models. Android phones with LTPO panels include the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, Xiaomi 12 Pro, OnePlus 9 and 10 series, and Vivo X80 Pro.
Another important display-related metric is the screen-to-body ratio: generally speaking, users prefer 'minimal bezel' displays with as much screen as possible (~90%) occupying the front of the phone. As the chart below shows, Apple isn't a leader on screen-to-body ratio, although high-80% figures for its 6.7-inch models are perfectly respectable. The obvious outlier is the 4.7-inch iPhone SE, whose wide top and bottom bezels make it look like a handset from another era. Hopefully the 2023 model will see a redesign.
There's also the issue of how the front-facing 'selfie' camera and components such as depth sensors for facial authentication are accommodated. Solutions include on-screen notches, hole-punches, water-drop designs -- and even sliding or pop-up mechanisms that maintain screen integrity at the expense of more moving parts. Unlike most of its Android competition, Apple has hung on to the notch design until the iPhone 14 series, which -- for the Pro models only -- introduces a shape-shifting screen cut-out called the Dynamic Island. Eventually the front camera issue may be solved by under-display cameras, as seen on Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 3 and 4 (4MP), and the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra (16MP). However, the jury is currently out regarding the quality of today's under-display cameras. It also remains to be seen how the Dynamic Island concept will go down with iPhone users, and whether something similar is offered on future Android phones.
All other things being equal, smartphone users prefer slim and lightweight devices, given that they are pretty much ever-present about the person. Of course there are trade-offs: users also like plenty of features and as big a battery as possible to power them, all of which take up space. Here's how Apple's iPhone portfolio shapes up and weighs compared to the Android competition:
If slim phones are your thing, Apple looks pretty good, with all of its 13- and 14-series iPhones coming in at under 8mm. However, remember that there will be a camera bump at the back and that most people will want to protect their shiny new iPhone purchase with a case.
Weight is a different story, with the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 and 14 at the lightweight end, the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Plus in the middle of the pack, and the 6.7-inch Pro Max models the heaviest in this comparison.
Many users value water resistance highly when choosing a smartphone -- which is wise, as anyone who has suffered a water-related phone mishap will confirm. The standard measure here is the IP rating, which also factors in dust resistance. The current smartphone 'gold standard' is IP68, with '6' signifying that a device is 'dust tight' and '8' that it can handle immersion in 1m or more of water for a specified amount of time (usually at least 30 minutes). With the exception of the iPhone SE, all of Apple's 13- and 14-series iPhones carry an IP68 rating. IP67 for the iPhone SE means you'd be unwise to dunk it in more than 1m of water for any length of time.
IP ratings are uncommon at the affordable end of the Android market, an exception here being Xiaomi's Redmi Note 11 Pro with IP53 ('dust protected' and resistant to 'spraying water'). Also note that the Xiaomi 12 Pro, a premium handset, lacks an IP rating.
It's easier to make a smartphone dust resistant and waterproof if it has minimal ports and slots that might allow the ingress of unwanted material. Apple has already dispensed with the 3.5mm headphone jack, and the US versions of the iPhone 14 series have ditched the physical SIM card slot in favour of eSIMs (up to six on iPhone 14, eight on iPhone 14 Pro). Eventually, with wireless charging and data transfer, we'll no doubt end up with entirely port-free -- and dust/water-tight -- smartphones.
Apple's flagship smartphone chipset is the new A16 Bionic in the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max. Built on a 4nm process, it includes 'nearly' 16 billion transistors, and has 6 CPU cores (2 performance, 4 efficiency), 5 GPU cores and a 16-core Neural Engine. Apple claims that the A16 Bionic is the 'fastest chip ever in a smartphone', with up to 40% faster CPU performance than the competition, while maintaining power efficiency so as not to impact battery life. All this remains to be confirmed by benchmarking, although early signs are promising. Meanwhile, the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus use the existing 5nm A15 Bionic with a 6-core CPU, a 5-core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine.
Premium Android handsets tend to run on Qualcomm's flagship 4nm, 8-core Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, although a Gen 2 model is expected later this year -- possibly to surface first in the OnePlus 11 Pro. Further down the Android food chain, we find earlier Qualcomm Snapdragon models, and chipsets from MediaTek. Here's how our comparison group looks, chipset-wise.
* 5-core GPU; remaining A15 Bionic iPhones have a 4-core GPU
In the absence of enough benchmarks from the A16 Bionic, here's Apple's A15 Bionic lineup compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-based OnePlus 10 Pro 5G on CPU performance:
To assess graphics performance, we've collated 3DMark Wildlife Extreme scores for most of the phones in our comparison group:
The two iPhone 13 Pro models with the 5-core GPU version of the A15 Bionic top the list, with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-based OnePlus 10 Pro 5G the leading Android phone. Note how graphics performance falls away sharply among the affordable/budget Android phones.
There's a lot more to smartphone photography than the number of cameras and their megapixel counts, with increasing amounts of effort going into AI-assisted computational photography and videography, enabled by today's powerful smartphone chipsets. That said, it's interesting to lay out the breadth of rear camera offerings in our comparison group:
Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra leads the way on this metric, with its 108MP wide angle, 12MP ultra wide angle (120˚), 10MP telephoto and 10MP periscope telephoto cameras. It's impressive that Xiaomi's budget Redmi Note 11 Pro, which costs just £209 in the UK (~$240), matches the highest main camera resolution on view (108MP). As for the iPhone, it's pretty clear that the upgrade to the 14-series Pro camera system -- 48MP wide angle, 12MP ultra wide angle, and a pair of 12MP telephoto (2x and 3x zoom) cameras -- was timely.
Android phones clearly have a lot to offer when it comes to photography -- witness the fact that the top five places in the DXOMARK smartphone rankings are currently occupied by Android handsets. Still, the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max take joint sixth place, so the trio of 12MP cameras (wide, ultra wide, telephoto) in these handsets clearly punch above their megapixel weight. It will be interesting to see how the upgraded iPhone 14 Pro camera system -- with its Photonic Engine and Deep Fusion for improved mid-/low-light performance, and ProRAW support -- fares when the reviews come in.
Front-facing 'selfie' cameras used to be something of an afterthought on smartphones, but social media and the advent of facial authentication put paid to that. Now you can get front cameras with resolutions that wouldn't be out of place in a main rear camera array (>30MP). Apple's front-facing TrueDepth camera has moderate photographic resolution (12MP), but is equipped with an infrared sensor that enables sophisticated Face ID biometric authentication. The iPhone SE's 7MP selfie camera does not support Face ID, the handset relying on a Home button-integrated fingerprint sensor and Touch ID instead.
Smartphone battery capacities can reach well over 10,000mAh, but the benchmark for mainstream phones is around 5000mAh. Apple hasn't disclosed the capacities of the batteries in its 14-series iPhones, so we'll have to wait for the teardowns. However, they're not expected to differ greatly from those in the 13-series handsets, which top out at 4352mAh in the 6.7-inch Pro Max model. Apple claims up to 20 hours of video playback for the iPhone 14, 26h for the 14 Plus, 23h for 14 Pro and 29h for the 14 Pro Max.
Apple doesn't trouble the top of the charts when it comes to charging, wired or wireless. Xiaomi takes the honours here, with 120W wired charging on its 12 Pro and Poco F4 GT handsets and 50W wireless charging on the premium 12 Pro. Pre-launch rumours had the iPhone 14 series supporting wired charging at up to 30W, but the spec sheets merely mention a '20W adapter or higher'. All of the new iPhones, like the 13 series, support Qi wireless charging at 7.5W and MagSafe wireless charging at 15W.
It's instructive to examine manufacturers' claims for wired charging speeds. For all of its iPhone 13 and 14 series, Apple claims 'up to 50% charge in around 30 minutes'. By contrast, Xiaomi claims 100% in just 18 minutes at 120W for its premium 12 Pro handset. Given that 451 Research's survey, quoted earlier, flagged charging speed as an influential feature, improving this might be something for Apple to consider in future models.
Prices for the iPhones and Android smartphones we've compared range from ultra-premium (>$1000) to budget (<$300), with many points in between. Here's how they stack up (dense bars are starting prices, lighter bars are top-end prices -- the difference generally being the amount of internal storage):
When fully loaded up with 1TB of storage, the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max are among the most expensive smartphones you can buy ($1,499 and $1,599 respectively). Still, if you're an early adopter who is fully invested in the Apple ecosystem, and you're insulated from economic headwinds, you'll probably want one of these devices, which start at $999 (14 Pro) and $1,099 (1 Pro Max).
At the more affordable end of the market, your new iPhone options are more limited: the 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini (from $599) and 3rd-generation 4.7-inch iPhone SE (from $429), plus the 2020 6.1-inch iPhone 12 (from $599). Unless you're willing to buy second-hand (or third-hand), Apple doesn't swim in sub-$300 budget waters.
In between the ultra-premium and budget sectors, there's a reasonable choice for iPhone buyers and a great many options for Android buyers (much more than is shown here, obviously). As business and consumer budgets tighten in the face of almost inevitable recession, this looks like a key battleground: will Apple continue to attract those Android 'switchers' -- attracted by high customer satisfaction ratings, for example -- or will those buyers pause and look at more affordable offerings from within their current ecosystem?