Apple's Macs, iPads and services offset weak quarterly iPhone sales

The really important numbers are coming next quarter.

Mason Trinca / Reuters

Apple just released its Q4 2020 earnings, and as usual, the numbers for July through September illustrate the company in a sort of transitional part of the year. Since this is 2020, though, hardly anything could be described as business as usual, which makes this release especially interesting.

Let’s start with the top-line stuff: the company reported $64.7 billion in revenue this quarter, up slightly from the $64 billion it pulled in this time last year. That’s enough to beat the analyst consensus provided by Yahoo Finance, but at time of publication, Apple’s share price is currently trading down around $5.

Regionally, Apple saw sales boosts in all the markets it operates in, save for one: Greater China. What once was a key driver for Apple’s growth now appears to have tanked, accounting for $7.9 billion of the company’s overall revenue — that’s an annual dip in excess of $3 billion.

Now, about that hardware. Apple’s fourth quarter typically sees less impressive phone sales because it encompasses the period just before the company’s annual iPhone release, and that’s been especially true this time. The company reported $26.4 billion in iPhone revenue, down from $33.4 billion in the year-ago quarter and hardly up compared to the three months prior. We’ll update this story if Apple offers any specific guidance during its customary earnings call, but it’s very likely that these stagnant iPhone sales numbers are due in large part to people waiting for the company’s latest high-profile smartphone releases. (That said, Tim Cook noted that Apple regarded iPhone sales performance as “stronger than expected.”)

Because Apple’s iPhones were delayed this year, the window for Q4’s earnings closed before Apple could even announced its new iPhone 12 series. We’ll have to wait until the next release to get our first look at what the company’s first 5G phones have done for its bottom line. Meanwhile, as expected, some of Apple’s other hardware segments have helped to make up for the iPhone’s shortfalls.

Macs tend to see a lift in Q4 as parents and students start gearing up in earnest for the back-to-school period, but that boost started earlier than usual this year because of COVID-related shifts to distance learning and working from home. For now, the momentum continues -- Apple reported $9.03 billion in Mac revenue, up significantly from last year’s roughly $7 billion. Meanwhile, iPads accounted for about $6.8 billion of Apple’s total revenue this quarter, up from $4.7 billion last year.

(Reminder: As of this time two years ago, Apple stopped breaking out the number of Phones, iPads and Macs it sells in a given quarter.)

More than anything though, Apple has its booming services business to thank for what CEO Tim Cook calls “a September quarter record”. While the company’s overall product revenue slumped slightly compared to its performance in the year-ago quarter, services revenue surged to $14.5 billion, a new high for Apple. We’ll likely see some further growth in this segment in the short term, too. That’s partially because the first wave of Apple’s free, year-long trials of Apple TV+ trials are about to convert into paid accounts, and also because it’s gearing up to offer new subscriptions services like a Peloton-style guided workout plan and bundles that encompass Apple News, Apple Arcade, iCloud and more.

Update (5:02PM): Speaking of new subscription services, Apple CFO Luca Maestri confirmed to Bloomberg TV that the company will launch its Apple One subscription bundles tomorrow, followed by an Apple Fitness+ launch later this quarter. Between those new content packages, a swath of 5G iPhones, and incoming Apple Silicon-powered Macs, Apple’s holiday season earnings — to be released in late January 2021 — could be absolutely wild.