Apple announced yesterday that the final quarter of last year was an all-time record for the company, and IDC says it also recorded the highest iPhone sales ever.

While Apple revealed iPhone sales in terms of revenue at $65.6B, it was left to market intelligence companies to estimate what that means in unit shipments. Three of them weighed in today, with IDC presenting the rosiest picture.

The company says that Apple set two records in the holiday quarter …

IDC estimates Apple shipped 90.1M iPhones in Q4 of 2020 (Apple’s fiscal Q1 2021), per CNBC.

Apple doesn’t provide unit sales for its products anymore, but according to an estimate from research firm IDC, Apple shipped 90.1 million phones during the quarter. That’s the largest number in any single quarter since IDC started tracking smartphones, analyst Francisco Jeronimo said […]

Apple [also] shipped more phones during the quarter than any other smartphone vendor ever has in a single quarter.

Rivals Canalys and Counterpoint give far more conservative estimates, of 81.8M and 81.9M respectively. Given that revenue is known, both are therefore suggesting that Apple’s average revenue per unit (ARPU) was significantly higher than IDC’s estimate.

Canalys thinks that’s because Apple sold more phones in developed markets, where consumers are willing and able to spend more.

In Q4 2020, worldwide smartphone shipments reached 359.6 million units, a small decline of 2% year-on-year. Apple shipped its most iPhones ever in a single quarter, at 81.8 million units, up 4% against the previous year […]

“The iPhone 12 is a hit,” said Canalys Analyst Vincent Thielke. “Apple is better positioned than its competitors on 5G, being heavily skewed towards developed markets.

Counterpoint makes a similar argument, believing that US sales were particularly strong, and that the iPhone 11 remained popular, boosting revenue from older iPhones.

For Q4, Apple captured the top spot in the Global Smartphone Market. The pent-up demand for a new 5G iPhone, strong carrier promotions, especially in the US, and the iPhone 11’s longevity are some of the reasons for this growth.

Looking to the future, Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the earnings call that he was optimistic, largely because there is still 5G demand to come.

5G remains a potential tailwind for iPhone sales through the rest of the year, Apple signaled on Wednesday. Cook said that while 5G in China was well established, leading to strong iPhone sales, 5G cellular networks in other regions aren’t as built-out yet, especially in Europe.

“I think most of that growth is probably in front of us there as well,” Cook said.

It’s also expected that the smartphone market as a whole will pick up later in the year as COVID-19 vaccines roll out. Canalys says there are competing views of how the year might unfold, but that the consensus view is optimistic.

The introduction of COVID-19 vaccines is also boosting business confidence for 2021, allowing them to plan and invest. Going forwards, there will be obvious economic ripple effects as government stimulus fades, and there are ongoing concerns around new virus strains. Overall though, sentiment in the industry is positive, and 2021 will see the smartphone market rebound after a 7% decline in 2020.

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