Apple posts big quarter after fast sales start for iPhone 12

Apple’s delayed launch of its latest iPhones unleashed a seasonal buying frenzy that propelled sales of the company’s most popular product to its fastest start in years.

The apparently pent-up demand for four different iPhone 12 models highlighted Apple’s latest quarterly report on Wednesday.

iPhone sales during the October-December period totalled 65.6 billion dollars (£48.07 billion), a 17% increase from the same time the previous year.

Part of the gain reflected pandemic-driven production problems that pushed back the release of the new iPhone until October and November. In past years, including 2019, Apple rolled out its new iPhones in late September, resulting in a spike in sales in an earlier quarter.

But analysts also believe the past quarter’s sales surge was driven by consumers’ strong desire to own one of the new models. If that is true, Apple could be on its way to its biggest year of iPhone sales since its 2014 release of the iPhone 6, which tantalised consumers with larger screens.

Apple CEO Tim Cook described the consumer response to the iPhone 12 as “enthusiastic” during a conference call.

Tim Cook with the iPhone 12
Tim Cook with the iPhone 12

Although it may seem counterintuitive to see a big sales upswing against the backdrop of a pandemic that has battered the economy and squeezed household budgets, Apple has several factors working in its favour.

The iPhone 12 features a new design and also works on the new ultrafast 5G wireless networks gradually rolling out around the world, two factors that could spur many Apple fans to upgrade from their older models.

Apple also traditionally caters to an upscale demographic that may have remained employed during the past year. Those consumers have had even more disposable income to spend after restrictions aimed at fighting the spread of Covid-19 curtailed their ability to dine out or travel.

“We saw the largest number of upgraders we have ever seen in any quarter,” Mr Cook said, signalling many of the buyers have been snapping up the most expensive top-of-the-line models.

Apple is selling a lower-priced version of the iPhone 12, while also continuing to sell a discount model that came out last April during the early stages of the pandemic.

Now the big question appears to be whether Apple will be able to keep up with the iPhone demand. Some processors and other components may still be in short supply as factories continue try to catch up with the backlog caused last year’s pandemic-driven shutdowns.

Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives said he believes that if the momentum continues to build, Apple could become the first US company to be valued at 3 trillion dollars (£2.2 trillion). It already boasts a market value of 2.4 trillion dollars (£1.76 trillion), more than doubling from just a year ago.

In another measure of Apple’s financial heft, the company earned nearly 29 billion dollars (£21.25 billion) in its latest quarter, a 29% increase from the same time in the previous year.

Revenue surged 21% to 111.4 billion dollars (£81.63 billion). It marked the first time Apple has surpassed 100 billion dollars in quarterly revenue, a feat previously achieved by Walmart and General Motors.