The iPhone Economy

Apple’s earnings this week were such that it’s almost impossible not to be distracted by the sheer scale. However, since that’s been well covered every where the last couple of days, I wanted to focus on a particular way of looking at Apple, which I suspect fits well with where the company will go in the coming years. I’ll start with this chart, which is a datapoint you probably won’t have seen anywhere else – it’s the total revenue Apple generates as a company divided by the number of iPhones sold. Note: it’s not iPhone revenue per iPhone sold (i.e. average selling price), but the total revenue from all products and services per iPhone sold in each quarter:

Revenue per iPhone soldWhat I want to look at today is the degree to which the iPhone has become central to the Apple ecosystem and the degree to which Apple can essentially be seen as the iPhone company. To some extent, we can also begin thinking about “the iPhone economy” as existing beyond the confines of Apple itself. What the chart shows is Apple is starting to stabilize at around $1,000-$1,100 per quarter per iPhone sold in total revenue. Now, iPhones themselves account for somewhere between $600 and $700 of that $1000, but the rest is made up of other devices and services and that’s where I want to focus our analysis.

Other devices – today

About 30% of Apple’s unit shipments in the quarter were something else – iPads, Macs and a few iPods. As the iPod goes away, the other devices are essentially becoming companions to – or extensions of – the iPhone. I’d bet a very high percentage of iPad and Mac owners are also iPhone owners and, with concepts such as Continuity and its implementation in features such as Handoff, the iPhone is becoming more and more interconnected with those other devices. These devices will largely be sold in future to iPhone owners and their interconnectedness with the iPhone will make them more and more attractive purchases, which will have a positive effect on sales over time (witness what’s happening with Mac sales, in contrast to the broader PC market). Today, these other devices make up about 25-30% of Apple’s revenue in an average quarter.

Other devices – tomorrow

But of course these aren’t the only devices Apple will be selling going forward. With the launch of the Apple Watch in April, Apple will have another companion device to the iPhone – the first to be explicitly tied to it (and of very little use without it). The revenue opportunity around the Apple Watch is significant – if it ships 20 million or more in 2015, as I think it might well do, then it could generate $10 billion or more in revenue, contributing about 5% of Apple’s overall revenue after it launches. Over time of course, it’s likely to generate significantly more than that and will make an increasing contribution to overall revenues. Then there are other devices that become part of the iPhone ecosystem: home automation devices connected to HomeKit, other wearables connected to HealthKit and the Health App, and so on. Apple will likely sell many of these in its stores and so capture revenue that way. But it’s also possible Apple will launch some of its own hardware in these categories, further stimulating sales. The Apple TV, of course, is another device tied in many ways to the iPhone, and which plays a role in HomeKit too. If it evolves and Apple manages to move it beyond the “hobby” phase, it too could play a significant role in boosting the iPhone economy.


Then there are accessories – Apple sells lots of these today, though it’s just stopped reporting this number separately. Apple has also acquired Beats, which makes first party accessories for Apple and has the potential to grow and expand over time into other categories. And there are quite a few other segments Apple could expand into over time, within the broad scope of accessories, which could further boost revenues per iPhone sold.

Services and content

Lastly, there are services and content, including iTunes content, the App Stores across iOS and OS X, iCloud, and newer services such as Apple Pay. Assuming Apple is able to turn content performance around with whatever Beats evolves into, each of these has the potential to grow significantly over the coming years and make an increasing contribution to revenues and profits.

Perpetuating astonishing growth

All this is relevant because, even though the revenue per iPhone sold number has been falling, I expect at some point it’ll turn around and start rising again, as each iPhone sale generates not just $650-700 in revenue directly but an increasing amount of ancillary revenue through sales of iPads, Macs, Apple TVs, and Apple Watches, along with iTunes content, apps, Apple Pay, iCloud and a plethora of other products and services. Apple’s December 2014 quarter was astonishing in its scale and the growth it entailed and Apple will continue to feel the effects of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch for several more quarters. But if it’s to generate that kind of astonishing growth going forward, these additional revenue opportunities, adding up to over $1,000 per iPhone sold, will be increasingly important as iPhone growth slows down a bit in a year’s time. But at the same time, these peripherals to the iPhone will help ensure its place as the most attractive ecosystem for both developers and consumers, which in turn should help keep iPhone sales ticking over nicely as well.

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Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

92 thoughts on “The iPhone Economy”

  1. Just because you can make a chart does mean that you should.
    I fail to see the point of this chart.
    1 Mac Pro + 1 iPhone = high revenue per iPhone
    2 Mac Pros + 10 iPhones = lower revenue per iPhone

    1. That’s been the main reason for the decline in that number until now. My point is that going forward the iPhone and things that act as peripherals to it will be things that drive that number back up again.

      1. Sure, the more non-iPhone things that Apple sells, the more revenue it makes per iPhone.

        As Dave implies, this “phenomenon” where revenue per iPhone is currently lower than it has been has lots to do with great iPhone sales.

        Mac sales could double, from 5M to 10M, and that would also be phenomenal. At an ASP of 2000 that would add 10B in revenue. But Apple was expected to sell 66.5M phones 1st quarter, and actually sold 74.5M.

        That hypothetical 5M extra Macs (a huge gain in anyone’s book) doubles an iPhone ASP of 650 for only those 8M extra phones. Across ALL 74.5M phones, it only adds $134 per phone, the low end of your scale.

        So, Apple can beat the market trend for PC sales, but compared to the iPhone which holds onto a high ASP (and raises it with the 6+), it looks like Apple is missing a trick somewhere until it launches new, more personal products that are even more compelling companions to the iPhone.

        Therefore, it is hard to disagree with the idea that if there are increasingly more personal products that are compelling companions to the iPhone, that more people will walk out of the store with both an iPhone and one of those. There will be many, many more people who will go into the store for an iPhone and walk out with both an iPhone and a $349 Watch, than an iPhone and a $2000 Mac.

  2. Jan, in the year end/start podcast I recall you saying that Apple would face pricing pressures because of the extreme commodization of Android running devices. Are you still of this opinion given the apparanet success Apple had in China this last quarter?

    I know comparisons are always risky, but Apple has been remarkably adept at maintaining supposedly higher price points in its personal computers over the years, a business which has exhibited extreme commoditization for many years now. So why can’t Apple sustain this pricing position in the iPhone as well?

    1. Hi Mark. I don’t remember saying that, actually – doesn’t sound like something I believe, either. Is it possible I was referring to Samsung and not Apple? I very much believe what you said – i.e. that Apple can continue to maintain its premium pricing over time.

    2. It has sustained its pricing position. The ASP of the iPhone actually went up. It’s just that Apple sold 8M iphones more than expected 1st quarter! (74.5 vs 66.5M).

      Therefore, Apple could double Mac sales (5M to 10M) at an ASP of 2000 and still only bump revenue per iPhone a mere 134 dollars above an ASP of 650, and that wouldn’t even show on Jan’s chart — it would be too little to make a blip.

  3. Apple’s success may be good for the company but not for its customers. For quite awhile now, when you call their Support line you’re always told “There’s currently an extended wait time to speak to an Advisor.” They used to say “15 minutes” but now they don’t even give a number, which means it could be more than 15 minutes! Their formerly wonderful customer service has deteriorated and that’s not a good trend.

    1. First world problems, eh? A 15 minute wait, gasp! But I get your point, I think we’ll see some bumps in the road for a while as Apple continues to grow. I’m confident they’ll sort it out, Apple has a strong financial incentive to fix whatever goes wrong. That said, even Apple can’t do everything at once.

  4. New growth opportunities:

    – Apple Watch (obviously)

    – AppleTV, why do they wait for content providers when they could give TVs so many capabilities beyond TV: apps, games, room-wide FaceTime, etc. Once people start using their TVs for other things besides passive entertainment the content providers will see the need to get back in front of customers faces.

    – Vertical for iPhone, by producing their own communications circuits

    – Vertical for Mac, by producing their own desktop class ARM processors

    – Marketshare for Mac, 20-30% of the PC market has relevance for Apple. (Servers and utility PCs don’t). Simpler, cheaper, lighter, longer battery MacBooks would be great for many consumers who still need a laptop, regardless of their tablet ownership.

    But we have seen the peak growth rate for Apple. The smartphone market was a much bigger opportunity than any of the above, and coupled with one-time pent up demand for bigger screens.

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