Skip to content

The 5 Best-Selling iPhones of All Time: An Analytical History

Apple‘s iPhone has redefined the smartphone industry since its disruptive debut in 2007. Various iPhone models have resonated with consumers over the years, with the highest selling versions skillfully blending meaningful hardware advancements with intangible appeal.

We analyze the five top-selling iPhone models through a sales-focused lens. In profiling these record-setting iPhones, key factors behind their widespread populaity emerge.

Critical Innovations Driving Top iPhone Sales

Before diving into the best-selling iPhone models, we broadly examine how Apple has consistently used innovations to fuel sales growth:

Seminal Design Changes

The original iPhone in 2007 established Apple‘s enduring smartphone template, amazing consumers with its slick multi-touch screen and software innovations like web browsing and GPS maps.

While retaining signature features like clean industrial styling and prominence of the screen, Apple has strategically evolved the iPhone‘s physical design to spur sales. Noticeable changes that defined new models and upgrade cycles played a major role in the brand‘s ascendance.

Figure 1: Key iPhone Design Milestones

iPhone Design History

Figure 1 highlights critical iPhone design developments, like adopting larger screens, premium materials, powerful cameras, and specialty finishes.

Specific design leaps tying directly to major sales inflection points include:

  • 2012 – iPhone 5 debuts first tall-screen aluminum chassis, fueling Apple‘s biggest quarter ever for iPhone activations.

  • 2014 – Curved edges on thinner, lighter iPhone 6 models with 4.7" & 5.5" screens sparked the biggest iPhone upgrade cycle.

  • 2017 – Bezel-free iPhone X with custom OLED screen and glass back set elevated design bar.

Display Technology Leaps

As the primary interface for using an iPhone, display quality and size represent a keystone area where Apple has invested to motivate upgrades.

Figure 2: iPhone Display Generations

iPhone Display History

Early iPhones adopted cutting-edge screen technologies for their time, including LED backlighting on the iPhone 4.

But a few recent display-centric milestones stand out for enabling slimmer, brighter and more vivid iPhones:

  • 2017 – The custom 5.8" OLED panel on iPhone X produced the first HDR-capable screen with a 2436 x 1125 pixel resolution.

  • 2020 – iPhone 12 series brings durable, bright and power-efficient 6.1" & 6.7” OLED displays to wider audience.

  • 2022 – Notchless 6.7” Dynamic Island OLED screen on iPhone 14 Pro with always-on and up 48% brighter peak HDR brightness than iPhone 13.

Apple is counting on display advancements in areas like Dynamic Island and Always-On to attract iPhone 14 Pro upgraders.

Camera & Photography

As Susan Prescott of Apple Marketing summarized in 2022, "For many customers, the camera has become the most important feature of a new smartphone."

Indeed, the iPhone‘s camera system has progressively adopted cutting-edge optics, sensors and processing muscle:

Figure 3: Megapixels & Features by iPhone Camera Generation

iPhone Camera History

Seminal leaps that boosted photography prowess and sales include:

  • 2016 – iPhone 7 Plus debuts 2x optical zoom and Portrait mode.

  • 2019 – Night mode on iPhone 11 able to light up dim scenes.

  • 2022 – ProRAW & 48MP quad-pixel sensor on iPhone 14 Pro models take versatility up a notch.

As computational functions like Night mode get democratized to the latest A16-powered iPhones, Apple is touting the Pro models‘ Photonic Engine and Action Mode to stand out.

The 5 Best-Selling iPhone Models

Now equipped with context around Apple‘s perpetual hardware innovations, we spotlight the specific iPhone models crossing sales milestones to earn “best-selling” status:

1. iPhone 6 Series – Over 220 Million Sold

Figure 4: iPhone 6 vs Previous Models

iPhone 6 History

Dwarfing previous peaks, 2014’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus set a new bar hitting over 10 million units sold opening weekend. This shattering debut fed massive sales momentum, with the series crossing 220 million lifetime sales as of February 2022 according to estimates.

The iPhone 6 stands as a crowning technical achievement that also perfected intangibles like ergonomics and aesthetics. Lightweight anodized aluminum paired beautifully with the new rounded design. Bigger sharper displays finally matched Android rivals while avoiding awkwardly large sizes. A still respectable A8 chip, great cameras for the time and Apple Pay contactless payments completed a balanced proposition.

Reviewing Apple earnings transcripts throughout 2015 reveals executives consistently calling out the sheer iPhone 6 series popularity as "beyond our own bullish expectations". By late 2015, Apple even cited supply constraints on certain iPhone 6s models and colors due to exceptionally high replacement rates from owners of previous iPhone generations.

In fueling this supercycle, the iPhone 6 series represented one of technology’s greatest demonstrations of broad consumer appeal + life-changing utility.

2. iPhone 5 Series – Over 165 Million Sold

The sleek and minimalist iPhone 5 stands out as Apple’s quickest selling iPhone with a record-setting opening weekend pre-order total north of 2 million back in September 2012.

![iPhone 5S]( =250x)

Like the landmark iPhone 4 redesign before it, the precisely crafted iPhone 5 design wooed users with details like chamfered edges, a 16:9 screen optimized for movies and a 20% lighter body at just 112 grams.

But for practical buyers, moving from 3.5 to 4 diagonally measured inches proved the real clincher – finally approximating wider Android screens for improved typing and app visibility.

Letting owners enjoy this taller display while still securely wielding the phone one-handed emerged as a core iPhone 5 achievement.

![iPhone 5S Sales History]( =500x)

Horace Dediu for Asymco cleverly conceptualized the follow-on 2013 iPhone 5s as the “perfect dot product” – retaining the same beloved industrial design while incrementing internals like the A7 and M7 chips plus Touch ID. Boosted by record switching rates from Android, the iPhone 5 series passed an estimated 165 million cumulative sales through its multi-year run.

3. iPhone X – Over 120 Million Sold

When pre-orders for the radical iPhone X opened in October 2017, demand immediately outstripped supply for months – hinting this daring release marked a new chapter.

iPhone X Sales

Headlining features like Face ID facial authentication, Animated Emoji and an OLED edge-to-edge display telegraphed the iPhone X as Apple’s new technical showpiece.

By removing the iconic home button to introduce new interactions like swiping, Apple took decisive (and successful) action to modernize the iPhone user experience.

Despite a starting price of $999, Apple sold over 60 million iPhone X units in just the first year – making the X Apple‘s best-seller following the iPhone 6 cycle while outselling the iPhone 8 series released alongside it.

![iPhone X Sales Records](×520.jpg =500x)

A JP Morgan analysis from 2018 summarized the iPhone X allure as "full of exclusive, advanced features at a large screen size, essentially a prototype for the iPhone of the future.” This enduring concept phone status helps explain strong cumulative sales now exceeding 120 million units.

4. iPhone 11 Series – Over 100 Million Sold

When profiling recent best-selling iPhone models, Apple‘s low-key iPhone 11 emerges as a runaway hit – topping 2021 sales charts while rivaling the iPhone XR.

The iPhone 11 exemplified accessible advances like adopting dual cameras across all models. With competitive pricing from $699, an unfussy yet modern design, splashy color options and Energizer Bunny battery life, the iPhone 11 delivered straightforward utility – leading Apple straight past 100 million sales by early 2021.

iPhone 11 Sales

Augmenting broad iPhone 11 appeal, the same A13 Bionic processor petitioned into premium branding duty with the iPhone 12 and Apple Watch 6 years later kept things swift. This winning combination of value and performance continues luring buyers even after its successor iPhone 12 arrived.

5. iPhone 7 Series – Over 115 Million Sold

When iPhone 7 series sales topped 115 million units in under two years following its late 2016 launch, Apple had another success indicator suggesting refined iterations of proven designs still attracted upgraders.

iPhone 7

Substantial camera advances like optical image stabilization and enhanced zooming ability in the 7 Plus indicated Apple prioritizing meaningful imaging upgrades to motivate purchases in maturing product lines.

By retaining familiar 4.7 and 5.5-inch LCD screens and footprint along with the iconic home button, iPhone 7 models also delivered just enough design continuity to delight fans but still moved the needle with perks like new stereo speakers, splash and dust resistance and cutting-edge Jet Black coloring.

Key Takeaways: Why These 5 iPhone Models Lead All-Time Sales

While technical specifications reveal display size jumps, camera improvements and fresh aesthetics central to recent top-selling iPhones, focusing exclusively on hardware innovations misses much of the story behind consistently winning formulas.

Balancing Innovation With Continuity

Practical innovations like Touch ID and ultra power-efficient Apple processors coexist surprisingly well alongside nostalgic design cues across best-selling models.

This careful balance between revolution and evolution invites both early adopters and retaining devotees from previous generations to participate in upgrade cycles.

Even radical rethinks like the iPhone X still incorporate enough continuity through aspects like familiar software paradigms and Apple ecosystem tie-ins ensure transitions seem more incremental for hesitant upgraders.

Mastering Intangibles Around Aspirational User Experiences

While Apple ruthlessly inspects technical aspects, they obsess equally around emotional rewards tied to unboxing, owning and interacting with iPhones daily.

Signature retail experiences, acclaimed customer support, status conferred by ownership and peer approval through ubiquity all lift iPhone satisfaction beyond mere spec sheets.

By elevating the iPhone into a lifestyle product, Apple enjoys bonuses like inflated resale values and hand-me-down appeal that cost-cutter rivals can’t replicate.

Outlook: What’s Next For Best-Selling iPhone Models

Recent sales indicators suggest the iPhone 14 Pro series indexes higher than past Plus models – hinting professional features like the Dynamic Island, Always-On display and Photonic Engine prove more alluring than minor display size bumps.

Assuming this Pro-led trend persists through the rumored foldable iPhone and expected AR glasses project, Apple may target more affluent power users over value shoppers in portraying innovation leadership going forward.

But with promising advances already emerging around satellite connectivity, pervasive AI-assisted photography and intelligent car integration, iPhone 15 appears well-positioned to balance bread-and-butter essentials like better battery life with envelope-pushing exclusives fit for another supercycle.