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Nearly Half of iPods Sold Are Touches

High tech has an understandable interest in Apple (AAPL) and what the company does. But Apple often keeps key information close to the vest. One such fact is the unit sales of iPods touches -- the music player thar uses the same iOS operating system as the iPhone and iPad. But thanks to Apple's announcement of having sold 160 million iOS device users, we can make a reasonable estimate now.

Although Apple at times has mentioned the number of iOS device users it has, it's fairly clear that the company refers to the total number of units sold. In early September, Apple mentioned that it had sold 120 million iOS devices. A few days later, market analyst firm Asymco used that figure and the publicly stated number of iPads and iPhones to determine that Apple had sold 45.2 million iPod touches.

We can do something similar to determine what percentage of iPods are the touch models. First, we have to adjust the Asymco approach a bit. The firm used SEC filings for a definitive number of previously sold units. However, the Apple September announcement came after a month before the end of its fiscal year's last quarter. The 120 million probably included sales in July and August, which would not have appeared in the previous SEC filings. So, take a third of them as an estimate of what sold in September.

Next, given that Apple just provided the 160 million number, subtract the previous 120 million units. The difference, 40 million iOS units, sold in September through December. Assuming for a moment that Apple included sales through December 31, we can subtract the number of iPhone and iPads listed in its last quarterly release from 40 million to find the number of iPod touches.

Looking at the Q4 filings, we take a third of the iPads, iPhones, and iPods for the quarter as what sold in September:

  • iPads -- 1,396
  • iPhones -- 4,701
  • iPods -- 3,017
We have the SEC filing for the 2011 Q1 results:
  • iPads -- 7,331
  • iPhones -- 16,235
  • iPods -- 19,446
Add both sets of numbers for the estimate of unit sales from September 2010 through December 2010:
  • iPads -- 8,727
  • iPhones -- 21,047
  • iPods -- 22,463
Add the iPads and iPhones and we get 29,774 units. Subtract from 40,000 and we have 10,226 iPod touches left. They are roughly 25.6 percent of the iOS units that sold in the September through December period, which suggests that the percentage of iOS units that are iPod touches has dropped. Given the popularity of the iPhone and iPad, that would make sense. Why have an iPod touch as well if you have something that duplicates all the functions?

Divide the number of iPod touches by the total number of iPods and we have 45.5 percent of all iPods being touches. Chatting with my BNET colleague Damon Brown, he was surprised that the number wasn't higher and that more people weren't interested in the touchscreen interface. I can see two reasons for this. One is that the size and shape are similar to those of an iPhone, so many people who want the touchscreen technology will simply get the smartphone version. The other is that there are many reasons someone might want a smaller device -- for example, during exercise, out of concern that the use might potentially damage the multitouch screen, or purely to spend less money.

The next time Apple mentions a total number of iOS units, we can do the same type of analysis to see if the number of iPod touches or the percentages of total iPod sales changed.