You wouldn’t think we were in a depressed economy based on new activations of Apple’s most expensive smartphone, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. In previous years, Apple’s highest-end iPhone XS Max and iPhone 11 Pro Max devices led in sales during the Fall, just after launch, as early adopters flocked to buy them. But these devices were soon overtaken by a following wave of late adopter demand for less expensive iPhone models.
December is by far the highest month for new device activations in the United States. Elevated device activations begin around Black Friday, peak on Christmas Day and remain elevated through New Year’s Day. Combined, this forms an extended, appreciable wave of new smartphone activations across the month. In this report, we share how December 2020 smartphone activations fared against the backdrop of slumping retail sales during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
Christmas day in the United States is the single greatest day for new smartphone activations. And despite supply chain delays caused by COVID-19, Apple launched its iPhone 12 line—complete with four 5G-enabled devices—just in time for the holidays.
2020 has surfaced the importance that technology plays in society. Since the beginning of the pandemic, digital technology has enabled people to work remotely, attend classes, play social games, shop, leverage virtual assistants, and more. All told, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation by several years and will endure long after the pandemic is over.
While 2020 will mostly be remembered for COVID-19, it was also a year of tremendous resilience. Teachers and schools around the world transitioned from in-class learning to full-time distance learning in a matter of weeks. Workers created home offices and took to meeting on Zoom instead of in conference rooms. People found ways to exercise outside of the gym with apps and peripherals like Peloton. And the mobile industry is poised for meaningful transformation in 2021.
The holiday season in the U.S. between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a critical sales period for smartphone manufacturers. From 2016 to 2018, the last three years Apple disclosed unit sales, the company sold well over one-third of its iPhones during the last quarter of each year. And while the stakes are just as high this year, the pandemic has strongly impacted the economy.
Apple is changing the information required to submit new apps and app updates to the app store effective December 8, 2020. The new submission process will give users transparency about app data usage via a new privacy details section of an app’s product page in the app store. This “nutrition label” will also include data used by third-party partners integrated into an app.
2020 has been a tumultuous year. A global pandemic claimed the lives of nearly 1.5 million people, a worldwide movement emerged for racial justice, and American political division created widespread concern. With COVID-19 forcing unprecedented social distancing, the mobile app economy has also experienced radical shifts. App consumption has exploded, Gen Z is gaming more than ever, and mobile news consumption dwarfed that of 2019. And Apple’s announcements of impending data policy rule changes have upended an ecosystem.