China growth drives record sales of 74.5 million Apple iPhones in Q4 2014

Premium device maker Apple was generously rewarded for its first interesting product in years with record sales of its iPhone smartphone. Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones on the final quarter of 2014 – generally by far its strongest quarter – which represented a massive 46% increase on the same quarter a year ago.

This exceptional sales performance seems to have been largely driven by success in China, where Apple revenues were 70% higher than they were in Q4 2013. The volume of sales was far in excess of even the most optimistic analyst estimates and is a ringing endorsement of Apple’s decision to join the rest of the world in offering larger phones.

The mainstream media have got especially excited with the amount of profit Apple made, which was a stunning $18 billion and which will be added to Apple’s existing cash pile and bring it into the region of $200 billion it doesn’t seem to know what to do with. Nice problem to have. This was the most profitable quarter in corporate history and show that while much global smartphone growth is coming from lower price tiers, the appetite to pay Apple’s premium remains undiminished.

“Demand for iPhone has been staggering, shattering our high expectation, with sales of over 74 million units, driven by the unprecedented popularity of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “This volume is hard to comprehend. On average we sold over 34,000 iPhones every hour, 24 hours a day, every day of the quarter.” It also means Apple made over $8 million profit per hour for the entire quarter.

As ever Cook used the analyst call to big up some of Apple’s newer initiatives such as Apple Pay, which he said already accounts for two thirds of contactless payments via the three big US card networks (Visa, Mastercard and Amex, presumably). He also talked up the new Swift programming language and the HealthKit API, while confirming the Apple Watch is on course to ship in April.

It’s hard to conclude anything negative about this quarter for Apple. Its declining market share in the last couple of years seems to have been a result of Apple’s reluctance to keep up with screen size trends rather than its premium pricing. These kind of numbers remove any pressure Apple might have felt to move down the price tiers and with Samsung having apparently peaked, Apple will continue to account for nearly all the profits from smartphone sales for the foreseeable future.

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