Another Set of iPhone Sales Stats Confounds the Critics

August 17th, 2017

Although Apple reported somewhat improved iPhone sales for the June quarter, there was, as usual, no breakdown for individual models. It was left to third parties to make good guesses. So we know the total was 41 million.

But before we look at the estimated breakdowns, consider that Apple achieved these results at a time when the iPhone 7 was getting old as smartphones go. At the same time, this was the first full quarter of sales for the Samsung Galaxy S8 and its big brother. This means that sales are apt to go downhill from here, though they should spike some during the holiday period.

Just wanted to make that clear.

So a market research firm, Strategy Analytics, has delivered its own estimates of worldwide smartphone sales. At the very least, the numbers seem logical enough, so they probably aren’t far off the mark. Based on these estimates, the firm’s Smartphone Model Tracker survey concludes that the iPhone 7 series was number one. Apple shipped some 16.9 million iPhone 7 units, and 15.1 million iPhone 7 Plus units.

If these numbers are reasonably accurate, it shows yet again that the larger iPhone fared better than many expect. Remember, this is the high-end model, with dual cameras and Portrait Mode. It tops out at $969 for the 256GB model, plus tax. In other words, for all practical purposes, it is a $1,000 iPhone to many buyers.

Let’s keep that in mind for a moment as I continue.

These figures are, remember, about iPhones that are getting long in the tooth. At the same time, there has been a avalanche of rumors and speculation about the alleged iPhone 8. Indeed, Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested that iPhone sales were depressed in the March quarter because of anticipation of what might come this fall. I would presume, then, that the situation grew much worse in the June quarter even if Cook evidently didn’t mention it.

Or maybe he wasn’t asked since sales were still a tad higher than last year, and analysts were pleased as punch how well Apple was doing.

Let’s also put this in perspective: Samsung’s new Galaxy handsets have received stellar reviews, for the most part. Consumer Reports gives them its highest ratings, ahead of the iPhone and all other comers. Compared to the “aging” iPhone, it’s a brand new model.

Despite that, Samsung shipped 10.2 million of the Galaxy S8 and 9.0 million of the Galaxy S8+, which puts them in third and fourth place. Even though prices are in the same league as the iPhone, carriers were more inclined to discount the new Samsungs to improve new customer signups. You usually expect that treatment for gear that’s been out for a while.

To be realistic, Android users have lots of choices, with high end smartphones from other makers, and a rich selection of the cheap stuff. So it’s not as if all the attention is necessarily focused on any single model, even though Samsung does far better than the rest.

If anything, I wonder why sales were ahead of other Android handsets in light of serious flaws discovered soon after these models were announced. It wasn’t just the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, or its proximity to the camera lens that often resulted in your fingers smudging the latter. It’s about the fact that the other two biometrics, facial and iris recognition, were seriously flawed. That both were readily defeated using photographs is troubling. But it’s not unusual for Samsung to introduce a new feature that’s not fully baked.

But there may be some hope. The Samsung’s Bixby virtual assistant — designed by former Siri engineers — is getting decent buzz.

CNET ran some comparisons that also included Google Assistant and Siri from beta 2 of iOS 11. Bixby mostly kept up and delivered credible results, so it is a valid contender despite being brand new. But you would expect former Siri engineers to know their stuff, and I’m not at all surprised.

On the other hand, Siri was handicapped here due to its beta status. iOS 11 is up to beta six now, and it will take a while for third party apps to deliver support. This is the shortcoming of testing betas, and one hopes CNET will update the tests this fall to reflect the released version of iOS 11, and to see how Bixby is coming along.

Returning to smartphone sales, the best picture of iPhone sales will come with the December quarter. Unless something changes drastically, Apple will again soar past Samsung’s flagship models. Of course, the excuse then will be that the Galaxy S8 series has been out for a while, and the iPhones are brand new. But even when the situation is reversed, Apple continues to do better.

And, yes, I do expect to see the “threat” of a $1,000 iPhone come true. The rumored iPhone 8 — or whatever it’s called — may be priced $100 more than the alleged iPhone 7s Plus. So it’ll be $1,069. Or maybe Apple will freak out the media and industry analysts by cutting $100 from the price of the “lesser” models, meaning that the most expensive 2017 iPhone will be priced the same as last year’s most expensive iPhone.

Sure, people rarely expect Apple to reduce prices. But sometimes they do. A notable example is the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. ‘Nuff said.

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