These Charts Prove the iPhone Is the Most Popular Gadget in History

Apple smartphone's dominance can't be overstated

By Jeff Reeves, Executive Editor of

Five years ago, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) changed the world with its iconic iPhone. The cheerleader for the smartphone movement, this touchscreen device became a worldwide sensation for consumers, businesses and investors alike.

But just how dominant is this gadget? Is it true that nobody can recreate the success of the Apple iPhone, or is that just the hyperbole of fanboys? Or are wide-eyed investors simply pumping up Apple stock because they have nothing else to buy amid these days of global economic uncertainty?

The reality is that nothing lasts forever, and even entrenched brands can fade away. But in the case of the iPhone, any risk to its stranglehold on the mobile market is insignificant, and any slide in dominance is years away at worst.

The iPhone could very well be the most popular and rapidly adopted gadget in the history of the world.

iPhone Profits and Sales

I love this chart from Business Insider, published in February. It shows, among other things, how Apple sold more iPhones in just a few years than the total Mac computers Apple has ever sold since the devices hit the market in the ’80s.

Another great chart worth noting (thanks, Wikipedia!) shows the quarter-by-quarter march of iPhone sales.

Apple managed to turn out more sales in fiscal 2011 (more than 70 million) than in the first four years of the iPhone’s existence. And already in fiscal 2012, Apple has surpassed the 70 million mark and is pacing roughly 150 million iPhones sold!

These sales numbers are impressive. But obviously it’s the money delivered to Apple that’s important to investors, and it’s hard to understate the importance of the iPhone as a revenue driver for this stock.

Simply put, the iPhone is worth roughly half of the company’s sales — more than $50 billion annually.

More importantly, the margins on these products are through the roof. A 2011 report estimated that Apple enjoys margins of 75% on the gadget!

That is not just good for Apple, but bad for all its competitors. Take a look at these two charts from Asymco:

Apple holds roughly a third of all mobile phone revenue, which is quite an enviable position. But more important is that Apple is simply devouring the profits — and others like Motorola, now owned by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), and LG are in the red. Struggling competitors Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) will see profits dry up soon, too.

In short, competitors are selling gadgets at cost just to compete with Apple’s dominance with its iPhone. And even then they can’t keep up.

iPhone Launches by the Numbers

In case you can’t tell, this means that the blockbuster iPhone launches are getting more and more important to Apple’s bottom line. Here’s how the previous debuts of the iPhone played out:

Original iPhone: In 2007, the first incarnation of the iPhone sees 146,000 devices activated on AT&T (NYSE:T) in the first weekend (remember when it was the sole wireless provider for the gadget?). In 74 days, it sells 1 million devices.

iPhone 3G: In summer 2008, Apple tops the million-unit mark during the first weekend of sales.

iPhone 3GS: Apple again tops the million-unit mark in its opening weekend with the 3GS launch in 2009. This year it tallies the biggest sales day ever for AT&T — topping even Black Friday.

iPhone 4: About 600,000 preorders are tallied in the first 24 hours of the iPhone 4, and 1.7 million iPhone 4 units are sold in its first three days of availability. A few months later, the gadget finally is made available to Verizon (NYSE:VZ) subscribers; preorders top AT&T’s figure once the other network gains access to the phone.

iPhone 4S: 1 million iPhone 4Ss are preordered within the first 24 hours of it being on sale. More than 4 million iPhone 4S units are sold in the first three days of launch.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at editor@investorplace??.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, Jeff Reeves owned a position in Apple but none of the other stocks named here.

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