iPhone dominance slipping away

Apple on Tuesday reported its first-ever drop in iPhone sales since launching the smartphone in 2007 as the tech giant's long streak of rising revenue ended.

Apple said iPhone sales dropped year-over-year for the first time, slipping to 51.19 million units in the recently ended quarter compared with 61.17 million in the same period a year ago.

Profits fell as well: Apple reported net income of $10.5 billion in the fiscal quarter to March 26 from $13.6 billion last year.

With iPhones the main driver of sales for the company, revenue fell on a year-to-year basis for the first time since 2003: $50.6 billion from $58 billion a year earlier.

Apple shares dove more than eight per cent to $95.90 in after-market trades that followed release of the earnings figures.

Sales of iPhones, the heart of Apple's mobile age money-making machine, were down 16 per cent, according to the earnings report.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said of the slump that "this too shall pass."

Analysts said it was not surprising to see the drop given the saturation of the global smartphone market.

"Following a rapid expansion into new markets over the years from 2007-2011, Apple was approaching saturation of the available distribution channels, and many of those already in the smartphone market who could afford to buy an iPhone had one or one of its high-end Android competitors," said Jan Dawson at Jackdaw Research.

Dawson said Apple managed to boost sales in a slow-growing market with its large-screen models, but that it is unclear if it can regain momentum.

Boosting share buy-back

Apple also announced that its board has authorized $35 billion more to be spent on buying back shares, along with money for the dividend to be increased to 57 cents per share.

Apple has been making inroads into wearable technology with its Apple Watch and moving into services such as music subscriptions, but remains largely dependent on the iPhone for profit and revenue.

"While Wall Street was disappointed with Apple missing core revenue and earnings numbers, we aren't talking about a company in trouble," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

"Apple is still driving iPhone market share in nearly every region, and we will shortly know if the iPhone SE enables continued market share gains in the mid-range."

The analyst noted that Apple rivals Samsung, LG, HTC and Huawei have "dramatically amped up their smartphone games" and the effect of that should be seen in the current quarter.

Apple last month went small, cutting prices as well as screen size with the introduction of a new iPhone and iPad aimed at first-time buyers and customers in emerging markets.