With Apple’s unusual iPhone launch strategy this year, questions have swirled about just how well the iPhone 8 series has done since sales started in late September.
Last month, stories emerged that the iPhone 7 series had continued to outsell the iPhone 8 series. This was attributed to both a lack of sizzling new features on the iPhone 8 and folks waiting for the real razzle-dazzle of the iPhone X in November. Throw in a nice price cut on the iPhone 7s, and it didn’t seem unreasonable to believe they were still outselling the iPhone 8s.
But on an earnings call this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook was adamant that this was not the case. Cook told analysts:
“In the last week and a half of September, we began shipping iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus to customers in more than 50 countries. They instantly became our two most popular iPhone models and have been every week since then.”
Period. Exclamation point.
So, the iPhone 8 is a hit, yes?
Not so fast, says a new report from market research firm Canalys.
The Canalys report notes that Apple sold 46.7 million iPhones in the quarter ending Sept. 30. The iPhone 8s were available for sale the last 10 days of that quarter, as Cook noted. That’s typical for new iPhones.
Canalys said that for the quarter the iPhone 7 remained the single best-selling smartphone in the world. This is not surprising since it was available for the whole quarter — and at a discount during the final 10 days. Canalys said Apple shipped 13 million units of the iPhone 7. The second most popular smartphone model was the iPhone 6s, with 7.9 million units shipped.
And the iPhone 8? Canalys says Apple shipped a combined 11.8 million units of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. That’s below the 14 million units of the iPhone 7 series Apple shipped in the same period one year ago.
So interest does seem softer compared to the iPhone 7. Still, it’s hard to believe Cook would flat-out lie about such a thing. In fact, both accounts could be true: The iPhone 8 got a slower start and it’s still the top seller.
How? In part, it’s likely because the company took the unusual step of continuing to sell five versions of the iPhone: SE, 6s, 7, 8, and the X. Consumers are likely spreading out their choices more, thus driving higher overall unit sales. While the iPhone 7 topped the quarter, it’s very likely the iPhone 8s have been the top sellers since then.
“Shipments of older devices, such as the iPhone 6s and SE, saw an uptick in Q3,” said Canalys analyst Ben Stanton in a statement. “The iPhone 7 also shipped strongly after its price cut in September. Apple grew in Q3, but it was these older, cheaper models that propped up total iPhone shipments. Apple is clearly making a portfolio play here. With the launch of the iPhone X, it now has five tiers of iPhone and delivers iOS at more price bands than ever before. This is a new strategy for Apple. It is aggressively defending its market share, but it will not compromise its rigid margin structure to do so.”
Interestingly, Canalys also noted the iPhone 8 Plus outsold the regular iPhone 8 by 6.3 million units to 5.4 units, the first time the larger design outpaced the standard one. The firm didn’t offer an explanation for this shift, but it’s certainly good news for Apple’s revenues and margins.
For the current holiday quarter, we’ll see if Apple can deliver enough iPhone X units to land that version at the top of the charts. In any case, with Apple predicting record revenues for this quarter, the question of which version is most popular is interesting, but also academic.
Either way, consumers are gobbling these devices up and, as a result, Apple appears to have regained its juggernaut status.