Apple is selling more iPhone XRs than any other model, but that might not mean much

The spin starts early.

Credit: Christopher Hebert/IDG

During a time when it usually sits back and counts money, Apple is in full damage-control mode. It started with its Black Friday sale, which lasted four days this year instead of one. Then it upped the trade-in value of older phones when you upgrade to the iPhone XR or XS. And now it’s straight up telling us that there’s nothing to worry about.

In an interview with CNET, Apple VP Greg Joswiak said that the iPhone XR “been our most popular iPhone each and every day since the day it became available.” While you can quibble with the term “most popular,” Joswiak clarified his remark to Reuters, telling the publication that the XR is Apple’s “most mainstream product and best-selling iPhone” since it became available on Oct. 26.

On the surface, that’s great news for Apple. While the iPhone XR is the cheapest of Apple’s newest phones, scattered reports suggested that it wasn’t the hit it expected it to be, and Apple’s stock dropped precipitously as a result (among other factors). Now, Apple is saying that the iPhone XR isn’t just selling well, it’s selling better than any other iPhone over the past 33 days. But that number might not mean as much as you think.

The numbers game

For one, there are two iPhone XS models, the regular 5.8-inch model and the 6.5-inch Max, both of which cost significantly more than the $750 iPhone XR. Right off the bat, that splits sales of the flagship phones. And there’s not too much of a difference between them and the XR either, with the cheaper model actually having a larger screen than the iPhone XS.

iphone xr xs max Christopher Hebert/IDG

The 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (left) is $350 more expensive than the 6.1-inch iPhone XR.

So let’s say Apple sells 100 phones a day (lol, I know). We can assume that 30 of those are old models (iPhone 8 and 7), leaving us with 70. Then let’s say Apple sells 40 iPhone XS and XS Max (20 each for argument’s sake). That leaves 30 iPhones remaining for the XR. So while it technically outsold every iPhone model, Apple sold more older phones and more iPhone XSes in this example. And there are a million ways to break it down and get similar results.

Even beyond that, the iPhone XR is significantly cheaper than the XS and XS Max, so it should be the top-selling iPhone. Plus it’s a month newer. So what does “top-selling” really mean? It’s all about spin, something Apple is keenly adapt at. Mind you, Apple might be selling 80 iPhone XRs out of 100 iPhones each day, but we don’t know and never will. 

When Apple announced that the iPhone X was the top-selling phone every week during the holiday quarter last year, it was similarly vague, but it had greater meaning. Apple was testing whether its customers were willing to spend a thousand bucks on an iPhone, and the X’s popularity proved it. Average selling price shot up, competitors rushed to copy it, and the notch became an iconic symbol of Apple status.

That’s not the case here. By saying the iPhone XR is the best-selling phone Apple is basically saying it’s not a flop. Joswiak’s remarks might make for great headlines and good PR, but it’s not going to stop the questions surrounding iPhone sales. It’s basically all spin, which is how it’s going to be from now on. Since Apple is going to stop reporting unit sales, these types of vague sales reports are all we’re going to have to go on to gauge the success of a particular iPhone model.

And that’s a reality distortion that would make Steve Jobs proud.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Michael Simon

Michael Simon
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?