Will Apple’s spectacular iPhone 12 sales figures boost the smartphone industry in 2021?

You’d be forgiven for being skeptical about the iPhone 12’s stellar performance this past quarter. It’s been a rough couple of years for smartphones — a phenomenon from which not even Apple was immune.

Frankly, after staring down these macro trends over the last couple of years, it seemed like the days of phone-fueled earnings reports were behind the company as its expanding services portfolio started to become its primary financial driver.

For the final quarter of 2020, Apple earnings surpassed $100 billion — a first.

I capped off my mobile coverage last year with an article titled, “Not even 5G could rescue smartphone sales in 2020.” Among the figures cited were two year-over-year drops of 20% for the first two quarters, followed by a global decline of 5.7% for Q3. As we noted at the time, a mere 5.7% drop constituted good news in 2020.

The straightforward premise of the piece was that COVID-19 subverted industry expectations that 5G would finally reverse declining smartphone sales, even if only temporarily. That all came with the important caveat that Apple’s numbers would likely have a big impact the following quarter.

Ahead of yesterday’s earnings, Morgan Stanley noted, “In our view, the iPhone 12 has been Apple’s most successful product launch in the last five years.” Such a sentiment may have seemed like hyperbole in the lead-up to the news, but in hindsight, it’s hard to argue, with five years having passed since the launch of the first Apple Watch.

The iPhone X was more of a radical departure for the company, but the 12 is proving to be a massive hit. The recent launch of Apple Silicon Macs juiced sales in that product category rising 21% year over year, but ultimately the company’s computer business is a drop in the bucket compared to phone sales.