The iPhone is the single most successful consumer product of all time. It’s generated $762 billion of revenue for Apple, the most valuable company listed on the American stock exchanges. It has made Apple, more or less, the iPhone company.
And the model that the iPhone established—phone-on-glass, apps-on-phone—is “eating the world.” All of which which makes Tuesday’s upcoming announcement of the next generation of the phone an important event for the technology industry, generally.
But it’s an even bigger deal for Apple at this particular moment. Looking back at all the quarters since the company launched the iPhone in the fall of 2007, it is clear that this set of phones, this announcement, will determine if Apple can return to major unit and revenue growth or if Apple’s tremendous run building an already huge and profitable user base is over.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s possible to discern several clear quantitative periods for the iPhone business. Here they are in a chart of the number of iPhone units sold each quarter since launch (note that Apple, like many companies, begins its fiscal year in October, so the extremely important holiday season falls into Q1):
First, there was the launch phase, in which Apple was selling just single-digit millions of phones, but its growth rates were phenomenal. Let’s call this The Launch Hyper Growth phase. It lasted from the third quarter of 2007 until the first quarter of 2010. Comparing quarters with the year prior (e.g. Q3 2009 vs. Q3 2008), the company posted annual growth of between 470 percent and 8,280 percent, despite supply problems.