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iPhone 6s Launch Sales Record Shows Apple’s Operational Success

True to form, Apple has again announced first-weekend sales for the just-released iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and once again, it’s a record. The new iPhone models racked up 13 million sales in the first 72 hours of availability, surpassing the 10 million units of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sold last year.

Although some hacks are stupidly trying to interpret record sales to mean Apple is doomed (USA Today wins this year’s asinine headline award with “Even the iPhone can’t save Apple”), it is true that comparing model-to-model sales doesn’t paint a complete picture.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see every iPhone release outdo the previous model’s release, regardless of specific improvements. A few reasons:

  • If you look closely at the countries in which the iPhone 6s models were initially released, you see that the list includes two countries missing from the iPhone 6 initial launch: China and New Zealand. Needless to say, adding China to the first launch countries will increase sales significantly, and if Apple continues to move more countries into that list, first-weekend sales will continue to rise.

    (As an aside, Apple’s international distribution is improving in general too. The iPhone 6 models were available in 20 additional countries shortly after the initial launch, and in 115 countries by the end of 2014. In contrast, the iPhone 6s models are expected in 40 more countries in the second wave of releases, and will be available in 130 countries by year end.)

  • According to the Apple Storefronts site, Apple opened 25 new retail stores since releasing the iPhone 6, 20 of which were in countries that got the iPhone 6s models right away. There’s no way to know how many more iPhones sell just because customers can buy in person at an Apple store, but it’s safe to say that the more stores, the more iPhones sold (to a point, of course, but I doubt we’re there yet).

  • The upgrade audience grows larger every year. Most people historically haven’t upgraded every year (the feature delta from one year to the next often isn’t that great), but with each new iPhone release, the number of people who have an older iPhone and would consider an upgrade increases. Plus, Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program and various similar programs from carriers will undoubtedly encourage more people to upgrade each year in the future.

Apple’s press release implies that the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are setting sales records because they’re so much better than every previous model, but that’s obvious — the latest iPhone will always be the most capable, and the mighty Apple marketing machine will always make it seem compelling. The more interesting reason for this sales record, and every previous one, is that Apple is doing an ever better job of making and selling iPhones.

For the company to have continued this trajectory since the 2007 release of the original iPhone, Apple has had to be able to ramp up manufacturing to meet demand, manage the complicated logistics of distributing millions of iPhones around the world, and widen its online and physical sales channels. Tim Cook’s background is in operations, and these increasingly successful iPhone launches highlight just how well Apple is executing in that department.

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