When it comes to Apple, up is down and down is up. For some time now, analysts and tech pundits have demonstrated an uncanny ability to view encouraging news about the company through a pessimistic lens. What’s more, it remains mind-boggling that these same people — who are tasked with keeping a closer eye on Apple than anyone else — continuously glance over important metrics while issuing reports that lack even a semblance of nuance or relevant context. Nowhere was this dynamic more apparent than in the investor backlash Apple received after recently announcing it would no longer release quarterly unit sales for the iPhone, the Mac, and the iPad.
Many analysts quickly proclaimed that Apple had something to hide with respect to iPhone sales, never mind the fact that Apple’s strategy here is no different from any number of competitors who keep such information confidential. Still, many viewed Apple’s decision as a sign that the company is unsure about the future success of its iconic smartphone. After all, the reasoning went, if Apple was confident iPhone sales were poised to increase, wouldn’t it make those figures public? The question, however, is itself misleading and completely glances over the fact that Apple has been doing exactly what analysts and industry observers have been demanding for years: preparing for a world without huge iPhone refresh cycles.
For years, pundits have exclaimed that we’ve reached peak iPhone. If anything, the sentiment has almost become something of a running joke at this point. For years, we’ve been inundated with reports claiming that the iPhone has nowhere to go but down. Now is it possible that in 2018, we have at long last reached peak iPhone? Sure, but making such sweeping declarations without even seeing how Apple’s 2018 iPhone lineup does during the busy holiday shopping season seems patently absurd. It also seems short-sighted given the imminent roll out of 5G iPhones in the not-too-distant future.
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that the iPhone has, in fact, peaked. Should this be a huge cause for concern when Apple has shown an unrivaled adeptness at increasing profitability even in the face of stagnant iPhone sales growth? Apple’s recent September quarter provides a perfect case study in this regard.
Consider this: Year-over-year iPhone sales essentially remained unchanged during the September quarter. Revenue from the iPhone, however, jumped by a whopping 29% year-over-year on account of the pricey — and more margin-friendly — iPhone X. That’s an unabashedly incredible feat that analysts and pundits conveniently seem to ignore.
Put simply, analysts and pundits over the past few years lambasted Apple for not having a post-iPhone succession plan. Now, in 2018, Apple has demonstrated that it can not only survive amid flat iPhone sales, but actually thrive.
The numbers simply don’t lie.
Apple in the September quarter of 2016 sold 46.5 million iPhones. During the September quarter of 2018, iPhone sales checked in at 46.8 million units, a rather negligible difference. And yet, Apple’s quarterly revenue during that two-year time frame skyrocketed by more than $5 billion.
Let that sink in.
Relative to the company’s 2016 September quarter, Apple in 2018 saw a $5 billion jump in revenue with iPhone sales essentially staying the same. All the while, both revenue and profits reached all-time highs for the quarter. Put simply, Apple is still finding a way to generate boatloads of cash while continuously setting record-breaking quarters with impressive consistency.
Shouldn’t this be viewed as a positive rather than a negative? The reality is that Apple today is more well-rounded a company than it was a few years ago. And yet, analysts are still enamored with iPhone unit sales exclusively because it gives them an easy, and arguably lazy and outdated, way to measure the state of Apple’s business.
Apple’s impressive financial success in this regard can be traced back to the Apple Watch and the company’s burgeoning services division. During the last quarter alone, Apple generated $9.9 billion in revenue from services, a broad category that encapsulates revenue from services like the App Store and Apple Music. To put the $9.9 billion figure into perspective, Netflix during the same time period generated $4 billion in revenue, which is to say that Apple’s services are already generating more than twice as much money as Netflix.
Meanwhile, revenue from Apple’s “Other Products” category — a division which includes the Apple Watch — jumped by 31% to $4.24 billion, once again eclipsing Netflix’s quarterly revenue.
Faced with longer refresh cycles, pundits have for quite some while said that Apple is too reliant on the iPhone and that it needs to find new revenue streams or, at the very least, generate more revenue per iPhone unit sold, Without exaggeration, Apple has done exactly that, and now these same pundits and analysts are all of a sudden becoming hyper focused on iPhone unit sales. Per usual, Apple is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
What Apple has done is no small thing. It’s squeezing more money out of the iPhone than ever before and its growing wearables and services business is growing fast enough as to make a dent on the company’s balance sheet.
Is Apple ready for a life beyond the iPhone? That question has already been answered.