iPod Touch: the Third Wheel

iPod touch sales are a prime example of something that should be readily available somewhere on the internet, but is nowhere to be found when I go looking for it. I really wanted a simple, straightforward chart showing iPod touch sales by quarter to round out my understanding of total iOS installed base. Since I ended up having to put the whole thing together myself, I figured I may as well make it available for others, too1. If all you want is the data, grab it here (.xlsx) or here (.numbers). During the process, though, I managed to spot some interesting tidbits that were also just too good not to share.

First, the basics: iPod touch sales by quarter (note: all charts show fiscal quarters, not calendar quarters, and the Y-axis that are not percentages are in thousands of units):

Total iPod touch sales to date are about 82 million units; an impressive figure, despite being minuscule compared to the cumulative iPhones sold (244 million). Shockingly (at least, to me) the iPod touch sold just 2 million units in the past quarter (and only 3.1 million in the quarter before that). I assumed the number would be much higher.

I've read a lot about how the whole iPod line is moving to the iPod touch. It sounds reasonable, given that the iPod touch is just an iPhone without the phone and, by extension, the crummy, consumer-hostile carrier contracts (excuse me the other, more subtle differences). Let's see how the data bears that out by taking iPod touch sales by quarter as a percentage of total iPod sales, as disclosed by Apple:

Again, I would qualify this is a surprising result. If we exclude the first two quarters after launch, the iPod touch has averaged about 40% of total iPod sales2. It has increased its share over time, but not meaningfully, and the biggest part of the increase in share has come from a decrease in the other iPods, and not an explosion of "new" iPod touches. There's a big spike in the 'Touch share of all iPods in the Christmas quarter every year, and I think that speaks volumes: the iPod touch is clearly a huge seller as a Christmas gift but, during the rest of the year (when the iPod touch has just 25% share of all iPods) the single-function iPods win out (for smaller gifts and workout wearability, I suspect).

iPod Touch in the iOS Ecosystem

The most interesting part of all of this data, though, comes out when we compare the iPod touch to the iPhone and iPad. Take a look at cumulative units sold for each device, by quarter:

Notice something? The iPad just crossed the iPod touch in cumulative units, even though the iPod Touch had a 3-year head start (the iPhone, though, is still well at the head of the pack). The iPad even outsold the 'Touch in its very first quarter on the market, and has been consistently trouncing it in sales for the past year.

Something even more interesting shows up when we compare the relative shares of cumulative sales for each type of device over time:

The iPod touch topped out at about 40% of all iOS devices sold in Q1 2009 and stayed at a constant level until Q3 2010, when the iPad was released. At that point, the iPod touch started bleeding share, but it wasn't at the expense of the iPhone (which has remained remarkably constant at a 60% share of all iOS devices for roughly four years); it gave all of its ground directly to the iPad. It sure seems as though the iPad has taken the place of the iPod touch as the non-cellular iOS device of choice. The iPod touch's share loss is unlikely to be reversed, either; the age of the iPod is well and truly waning, and iPhone and iPad sales are set to continue growing for years to come. We can see how anemic the iPod touch is by comparing its quarterly sales to the sales of the other two iOS-powered devices:

iPod touch sales relative to iPhones and iPads fell to near-record lows of 7.7% and 11.7%, respectively. So, for every one iPod touch being sold, Apple sold approximately 13 iPhones and 8.5 iPads.

That's why the notion that the $200 iPod touch and a $200-250 "iPad Mini" (or, preferably, "iPad Jr.") can peacefully coexist does not compute with me. It's clear, particularly from the cumulative device shares chart above, that the iPad has taken a serious bite into the sales of the iPod touch as soon as it launched, and the iPod touch has been limping along ever since. Whether there is a true zero-sum game going on between the iPad and iPod touch is unclear, and I won't pretend to be sure, but from where I sit, further blurring the lines by selling an iPad closer to the iPod touch in both price point and physical characteristics is unlikely to do much good for the fortunes of the iPod touch. Whether Apple cares is, of course, another matter entirely.


1. Apple has, from time to time, announced cumulative iPod touch sales directly. More often than not, though, they have detailed the total iOS devices sold to date (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch), from which we can infer the number of iPod touches (or, if you prefer, iPods touch) based on the announced iPhone and iPad sales data.

2. Apple has also made regular statements to the effect that iPod touch sales are more than half of all iPod sales. The only way I can see to reconcile this with the data is that Apple must be referring the the past four quarters of sales; under this approach, iPod touch sales have been almost exactly 50% of iPod sales since Q1 2011.

3. As usual, if you want to reply to this post or here more from me in the future, your best bet is to follow me on twitter as @pxldots.