Demand for the iPhone is fading as we move into the gift-giving holiday season. That's the word from Bloomberg, anyway. Citing "people familiar with the matter," the news source suggested on Thursday that "demand for the [new] iPhone 13 lineup has weakened," prompting Apple (AAPL -0.89%) to at least warn suppliers it could curb orders. Apple shares, of course, fell in response to the report.
And there's probably something to the story. Even if the weakening demand is more of a feeling and less of a data point, Bloomberg's unnamed sources felt confident enough to voice the idea.
Just know that there are some firmer numbers that don't quite jibe with Bloomberg's suggestion. And we've heard this warning about the iPhone before, but these bearish outlooks often failed to materialize.
The data doesn't jibe with the warning
Don't misread the message. It actually makes sense that interest in Apple's latest iteration of the iPhone -- which was unveiled in mid-September and made available later in the month -- isn't absolutely rock-solid. Not only is inflation making consumer electronics more expensive, but a wobbly economy may be preventing some consumers from making high-end purchases.
Except we're not exactly seeing the slowdown reflected in the available data.
Apple no longer supplies investors with unit sales data for the iPhone, but that doesn't mean others aren't keeping count. Technology market research outfit Gartner, for instance, publishes a quarterly estimate of smartphone deliveries by manufacturer. Its third-quarter report indicates iPhone sales grew 19.3% year over year with Apple logging the biggest gains in market share among all the major brands in the space.
Critics will point out comparisons to the third quarter of 2020 may not be particularly meaningful, and they'd be right. A little over a year ago, we were in the throes of COVID-19's disruption, when it was tough to do business of any sort.
The thing is, last quarter's increase simply extends the slow-but-steady unit sales growth Apple's iPhone has logged since its gradual sales decline leveled off in 2019 and began to move in the other direction the next year. That rebound alone speaks for itself, but a rebound that took shape in the midst of a pandemic is all the more impressive.
But is this time different? Maybe, but it's not likely.
We've heard warnings of waning iPhone sales before. Indeed, we've heard it a lot. Such caution began surfacing as early as 2016 and persisted through the following year. Those warnings are now a common theme of Apple coverage, though the world looked the other way last year due to the global coronavirus outbreak.
All in all, the declines have never been as devastating or long-lived as the headlines implied they would be. For those who've cared to notice, iPhone sales have been growing again for several quarters running and in a tough environment for the industry. Gartner's numbers indicate overall smartphone sales slumped nearly 7% year over year last quarter -- Apple mustered a 19% improvement anyway.
Keep it in perspective
None of this is to say investors should simply dismiss any concerns about Apple's iPhone business. There will most assuredly come a time when the smartphone market is completely saturated and a time when competitors like Samsung and Xiaomi finally figure out a way to poach some Apple loyalists.
That time isn't right now, though, and it doesn't appear to be in the near future either. A tech market research company estimates the 1.38 billion smartphones set to be delivered this year will actually swell to 1.54 billion units in 2025. Apple's strategy of offering lower-priced iPhones only makes it a more competitive player given this dynamic, and it should continue to outperform its peers for a long while.
Bottom line? Be careful about reading too much into reported warnings regarding Apple's iPhone empire.