Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 9.
Updated from 2:03 p.m. with additional information.
After a somewhat rocky end to the iPhone's first decade, Apple (APPL) bulls are looking for an iPhone 8-led rebound.
CEO Tim Cook took a pay cut after the first-ever year-over-year declines in iPhone sales led to a drop in sales, nearly ten years to the day that Steve Jobs first told fanatics that Apple would cram a smart phone into an iPod, revolutionizing the consumer technology and telecommunications industries.
China will play a pivotal role in the next chapter of the iPhone's story. Even after headwinds this year, the iPhone maintains strong market share in China. But key questions include whether new screens and form factors will revive growth in the world's largest market -- and whether President-elect Trump will complicate matters by starting tariff wars.
The iPhone's declines were a major reason that Apple's net sales declined 8% to $18.1 billion during fiscal 2016. Unit sales dropped 8% to about 212 million in 2016, after leaping 37% to 231 million the prior year.
Globally, Gartner puts the iPhone's share of the global smart phone market at 11.5% at the end of the third quarter, down from 13% at the same period in the year before.
Samsung (SSNLF) which has suffered through a recall of the Galaxy Note 7, has the largest share with 19.2% of the close of the third quarter, down from 23.6% the year before. Next is Huawei, which climbed one percentage point from 2015 to 8.7% at the end of the third quarter. Chinese phone maker Oppo increased its global market share to 6.7%, from 3.4% at the close of the third quarter of 2015.
Samsung's woes may well benefit Apple.
451 Research surveyed about 3,350 smart phone users in the third quarter, as Samsung's problems were unfolding. Of the group, 39% were Apple users and 34% had Samsung phones. Roughly a quarter of the group planned to get a new phone within 90 days, with 44% going for an Apple phone and 31% opting for Samsung.
Research firm Strategy Analytics predicts Apple will bounce back from a down year in iPhone sales. Global smartphone shipments of iPhones dropped from 231.5 million in 2015, the firm reports to a projected 213.6 million in 2016. Strategy Analytics forecasts that Apple will 228.4 million iPhones in fiscal year 2017 and 250 million in fiscal year 2018.
While Samsung's numbers have suffered, Strategy Analytics also sees a recovery. Nearly 320 million in 2015 dropped to an estimated 307 million in 2016, the firm expects. By Strategy Analytics' forecast, Samsung will ship nearly 326 million smart phones in fiscal year 2017 and 340 million in fiscal year 2018.
Apple does better in the market for premium phones, which have advanced cameras and other features. UBS puts Apple's global share of the premium market at 39%, in 2016 down from 41% the year before. Samsung is next with 30%, an increase from 29% in 2015. Apple has long accounted for the lion's share of global profits in the smartphone market, however."[W]e keep hearing that there are already cutbacks on the iPhone 7 production and only the super-bulls think that's because the company is trying to set up for a huge iPhone 8 cycle," said Jim Cramer, manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, which owns Apple. He also believes Apple would be a big beneficiary of a tax holiday on overseas cash. But he expressed some caution on its stock.
"At 13x earnings, the stock's a bargain, but you have to ask, hasn't it been a bargain for a full year now?" he continued.
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty recently named Apple her top hardware pick for 2017, with an expected "supercycle" in iPhone sales accounting for much of the enthusiasm.
"While we see the potential for accelerated upgrades across Apple's user base, China is likely to contribute the most robust growth due to a much larger upgradeable user base after strong adoption of the iPhone 6 two years ago," she wrote.
The next iPhone, expected to be announced in September 2017, will likely have a flexible display, better battery and other benefits to lure customers, Huberty suggested.
"Our view is that Chinese consumer loyalty to Apple remains high, evidenced by stable market share of 80% at the high-end of the market, and that weak demand is a function of the lack of a form factor change during the iPhone 6S/7 cycles," she wrote. Samsun has the next-largest market share in China's market for phones costing at least $500 with an 11% stake, according to Morgan Stanley, while Huawei is third with 8%.
If Huberty is right about the iPhone 8, the boom would come in Apple's 2018 fiscal year, which starts in September.