Apple, once the untouchable darling of tech devotees, has had problems. The iPhone slump has been painful and a concern for entrepreneurs who targeted that market with add-on products and services. And there have been signs that the brand has lost some of its shine.
In today's earnings announcement, Apple's 45.5 million iPhones sold for the quarter that ended last month was better than expected by analysts. So was the $1.67 per share in diluted earnings. But quarterly revenue of $4placeholder6.9 billion was below analyst estimations.
There continue to be the same big weaknesses that have faced the company for some time. But, at least on the iPhone front, there is some indication that the current quarter, through the holiday season, could be a real barn burner in unit sales. Look at my running chart of product sales from the beginning of the company's fiscal year 2012 (roughly October through September) to the current Q4 of FY 2016.
The annual pattern to consider is the period of Q4 going into Q1. Q4 has become when Apple announces and starts to ship new iPhone models while Q1 is the big end of year sales season, when company product sales of the iPhone tend to take off.
This year, Q4 iPhone sales were 45.5 million units. In FY2015, a year when Apple was arguably doing a lot more than usual to pump up to unit sales of the iPhone, the number was 45.5 million. And in FY2014, the Q4 number was 39.3 million.
Now, remembering that Q1 of a fiscal year is for all practical purposes the same as Q4 of the previous calendar year, FY2015 Q1 sales were 74.5 million. For FY2016, Q1 sales were 74.8 million. And for FY2017 we don't yet know.
But, the number of iPhones sold in the quarter just ended blew out what we saw in 2014, which was just before the total number jumped up to a level far beyond anything seen before. The next year's Q4 sales, slightly higher than what we just saw, led to the biggest number of iPhones ever sold. And that, again, was with Apple pulling out every stop and using every trick.
As I said back in July: "There's a chance that the upcoming iPhone 7 will give consumers so much wallet itch that units jump up again." Given that fiscal fourth quarter (calendar third quarter) sales were so high even with the advance knowledge of a new version coming out, I think there's a good chance that current quarter could be a banner year for the iPhone, and, therefore, for all the entrepreneurs that make accessories, apps, and services for the device's users. And the way Samsung shot itself in the foot with the Galaxy Note 7 is only helping.
That's good news for Apple-centric entrepreneurs. However, the company still has its ongoing issues. The iPad continues its unit sales decline and Macs are still largely flat. "Other products," which includes the Apple Watch, would be decent for normal companies but not that significant in revenue generation here. Services continue their growth, but haven't ramped up.
So while entrepreneurs for the time being can probably relax a bit about Apple's short-term prospects, investors still have to worry about the medium term. There's nothing currently on the horizon that can take pressure off iPhone sales, and that's a dangerous position to be in.