Life of the iPhone: almost two billion sold, one billion active.

What the active base says about the future of the iPhone as wearable hub

Last week, independent analyst Neil Cybart published part of his work on active base for the iPhone, or how many iPhones are in use. A milestone:

According to my estimate, Apple surpassed the billion iPhone users milestone last month. Thirteen years after going on sale, the iPhone remains the perennial most popular and best-selling smartphone

We’re going to assume he’s right. He may have missed by a few weeks, but it’s not that important. I think Apple could have marked this special day, or maybe soon will. Cybart notes that about recent 80% of iPhone buyers are already iPhone owners according to his model.

With his public figures and Apple’s historic sales data, so we can have more data. Apple has sold around 1,850 million iPhones to date. Assuming Apple sells around 80 million iPhones this quarter, it would mean that the two billionth iPhone will be sold around April 2021.

But let’s work with current data and meta-model for discarded units (leave the active base) besides sold units (enter the active base). Here it is:

This shows how a flat trend of sold iPhones could end up reducing the active base in the long run. The market isn’t growing either, so not much of a worry.

A thing to note is that the total number of discarded iPhones is outgrowing the total active units figure. This is only logical, as iPhones don’t last forever. In a few years, broken, recycled or lost iPhones will reach the billions.


Will the active base ever shrink?

It doesn’t look like it will do it soon. Obviously, that would mean more iPhones being discarded that sold. I don’t think iPhones will exist in the 22nd century, but it just isn’t disappearing in the next decade. So, at some point between 2030 and 2100, the iPhone active base will be zero. Check mate.

Meanwhile, Apple is expanding satellite-devices for the iPhone like the Apple Watch, AirPods, HomePod and soon AR-stuff. — As these devices become more important in 2020-2030, it hinders the options of current iPhone owners to leave the iPhone behind. Switching would mean no more Apple Watch, and a bit more cumbersome use of everything else, for instance.

Cybart notes that Apple will sell 240 million iPhones in the current fiscal year, which is 2021 for Apple. That’s a lot of phones! But the current and next three quarters are going to be weird for the iPhone, because it will have two iPhone releases: iPhone 12 (Oct, Nov 2020) and probably part of the iPhone 13 (September 2021). All the charts shown here are in calendar quarters, btw.