Did Apple Sell 75 Million iPhones?

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Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) share price hinges primarily on two things. The first whether the huge consumer electronics company sold over 75 million iPhones in the fourth quarter of 2015. The second is whether Apple will sell over 50 million iPhones in the current quarter.

Sales in the fourth quarter depended in large part on holiday sales, China sales and consumer appetites for an aging iPhone family. While aging depends on an odd definition for Apple, a few quarters of sales take some customers to the point where they either have iPhones already or a desire to wait for the iPhone 7, which will probably be released in the second half of this year. Apple’s new ad campaign has a tag line for its newest smartphone, the iPhone 6s, that reads, “The only thing that’s changed is everything.” Apple did not push that claim when the iPhone 6s was new. So, the company is pushing features that are many months old.

Hung over both iPhone and iPhone sales is the specter of the success of Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL)Google Android OS, which is used in almost all non-Apple tablets and smartphones sold in the world — leaving aside progress made by Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) and its new versions of Windows. Samsung, once Apple’s worthy competitor, counts on new Android phones to get share back from Apple. The effort just might work

Fourth-quarter sales probably met forecasts, although holiday retail was weak across the industry, the perpetual exception of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN).

In Apple’s last reported quarter, its revenue from Greater China was $12.5 billion, up 99% from the same quarter the year before. That was against Apple’s global sales of $51.5 billion. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has made the point that China sales must rapidly become a much larger portion of his company’s revenues or overall growth will stumble.

Apple has always faced the challenge of consumers who want the newest iPhone and may wait until it is shipped. How many people will hold their “old” iPhone 6 models and wait for the iPhone 7? No one knows, but it is a threat to sales.

Apple’s stock has recovered from a brutal sell-off. That recovery may be crushed when the company announces earnings.