The Best Selling Phones In History

You use your smartphone every day, possibly more than any other device in your home. On average, millennials use their phone for 3.7 hours each day and check them dozens of times. Therefore, it makes sense that people often put a lot of thought into deciding on their next smartphone. So, what smartphones have been the most popular in history? Which ones did you see everyone carrying around and looking down at?

To answer these questions, we have compiled a list of the best-selling smartphones in history. Note that while there are plenty of mobile phones that sold more units than the phones listed below, for this article, we are only going to talk about smartphones or phones with plenty of smart features, as there is much more to discuss there. Various Nokia models would just dominate a list of mobile phones.

Without further wait, here is the list:

1. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

The most popular smartphone in history is the iPhone 6 (and iPhone 6 Plus), which in some regards might not come as a surprise to many. Over time the two phones sold a massive 222 million units (if they were all sold in the US, two out of every three people would have had one). Due to their similar specs and release dates, we are counting the two models as one entry on this list. They sold an astonishing 13 million units on their opening weekend, which is more than many phones' entire lifecycle.

Major features include an improved camera, an improved display, a barometer sensor, some general design changes, and simply being extremely easy to use. While all of these contributed to its success, we also cannot discount the importance of timing and marketing.

However, not all the press was glowing about the iPhone 6. In what came to be known as "bendgate," the chassis on an iPhone 6 was a bit weaker than previous and other smartphones of the time, leading to potential issues when the phone was placed under stress, including stress that could naturally occur within someone's pocket. While there were few actual complaints and reports of this problem when compared with the total number of models sold, it was shown that the phones were indeed more easily bent or shaped than previous iPhone models (and subsequent ones). Additionally, some camera issues led to some phones being replaced by Apple.

The 6S and 6S+ would later surpass the 6 and 6+ with some extra features. They were then discontinued with the launch of the iPhone 7 and related models. Nonetheless, the iPhone 6 had a massive impact on the mobile phone market, and some devices might even still be in use to this day (the line was only entirely discontinued in 2018).

Release year: 2014

Units sold: 222 Million


2. Nokia 6600

The Nokia 6600 is certainly not the most advanced smartphone on this list, being almost two decades old. Yet, it was one of the most advanced at the time of its creation, and it still proves popular with users today all over the world. A high-end model at the time of release, this bar phone was a gateway into the smartphones we know and was extremely popular.

While the Nokia 6600 might not look like one of today's smartphones, it has many of the same features (though slightly less advanced). It contained an integrated camera, video recorder, Bluetooth functionality, the ability to stream video and audio, an advanced (for the time) CPU, a basic joystick for navigation, internal memory (a whopping 6MB), and an MMC slot for expansion of that memory. There were a few software issues at launch; however, a download later fixed the problem.

All of this was quite a bit for the time, and it even came in two main colors.

The Nokia 6600 was also notable for its durability, which made it more popular in rougher environments. It is still used by many people worldwide, especially among people with no use for all the latest smartphones' features.

Release year: 2003

Units sold: 150 Million


3. Nokia 5230

In third place is the Nokia 5230, released in November of 2009. It was one of the earlier smartphones on the market and sold about 150 million units, practically the same as its 6600 predecessor.

It was marketed as an entry-level smartphone with an entry-level price yet still featured a touchscreen, 3G support, and expandable memory via microSD cards. The battery also could remain on standby for a long time (432 hours), making it great for longer journeys. With Bluetooth and some additional features, the Nokia 5230 truly felt like a smartphone and a path forward for mobile technology. All it was missing was one or two key features.

If you did not see too many of them out and about, that might be because the 5230 was particularly popular in developing countries. This was primarily due to its full functionality and accessible pricing. While it had plenty of options and functions found in most modern smartphones, it did not have WiFi access. This clearly sets it back behind modern phones (and a few more high-end smartphones of the time) and explains its regional popularity (it would be popular in areas that did not have WiFi anyway).

Release year: 2009

Units sold: 150 Million


4. iPhone 11

The iPhone 11 is one of the more recent entries on this list and the option you will likely still see out in the wild today. It was released on September 20, 2019, and the base model sold a total of 102.1 million units. It will likely continue to sell in the next few years, considering that the iPhone 12 only recently came out, and many people prefer to buy the last generation of iPhone due to cost concerns.

Significant improvements to the iPhone 11 compared to previous editions include an improved camera with a wider field of view and a newer A13 Bionic processor. A major update was made to the screen, switching from the OLED display in some previous models to an LCD panel, leading to differences in color and the general viewing experience.

At the time of release, reviews were generally good. There was a consensus that the display needed an update to keep up with strong competitors of the time, despite Apple's changes. Still, people were happy with what Apple was doing, for the most part. The iPhone remained easy to use with some of the best features and hardware available, if at a high price.

Eventually, the iPhone 11 would be surpassed by the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, which in turn would sell 47.5 million units in their own right. We also have yet to see how many total units these options will sell or whether their slight increase in performance would justify their price.

Release year: 2019

Units sold: 102.1 Million


5. iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that another iPhone line comes in the next spot in our list. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, released simultaneously (September 22, 2017) and nearly alongside the much more expensive and, in some ways, more impressive iPhone X, which hit the market a short time later. They sold a total of 86.3 million units and were only discontinued within the last year, having a bit more staying power than some smartphones sold today.

These phones were quite similar, at least in general design, to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus before them, yet some key differences drove sales. These included improved charging (including wireless charging options), a better processor built into the phone, allowing for more tasks, and the usual improved cameras and display that comes with nearly every iPhone upgrade.

Not everyone was a fan, and many felt that enthusiasts did not truly appreciate these models for what they were. Still, enough people bought them despite the competition, and they proved an excellent cheaper alternative to the iPhone X.

Release year: 2017

Units sold: 86.3 Million


6. Samsung Galaxy S4

The first phone on this list not released by either Apple or Nokia; the popular Galaxy line gets its representation from the S4. It proved to be a major success on its release, selling a total of 80 million units throughout its lifetime and 40 million units in just the first six months. At the time, when people wanted a new Android phone, they generally got an S4.

The Galaxy S4 brought in a load of new features to the line and the smartphone world in general, some of which were more successful and emulated than others. Users could use "air gestures" to manipulate the phone and had additional smart features that would ideally notice user feedback and provide a more seamless experience for the user. On the hardware end, the phone had a full 1080p camera, a 1080p display, and a full set of sensors, as well as an excellent chipset to run everything.

For all these features and the general hardware in the S4, the smartphone got excellent reviews at the time, though some found the phone bloated with things people wouldn't use (or would not use until technology improved).

There were also plenty of minor variants that allowed for a few different features or hardware within the S4 framework. The S4 got many regional variants, including regional lockout systems that annoyed a fair share of customers. These variations did not seem to affect the sales numbers significantly.

Eventually, the Galaxy S4 would be succeeded, of course, by the Galaxy S5. Samsung would go on to have many hit phones, but none would reach the sales numbers the S4 provided for the company.

Release year: 2013

Units sold: 80 Million


7. iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus release was an interesting one for Apple, and these devices perhaps attracted more attention than the others. This phone was more water and dust-resistant, had a streamlined design, and included an improved chip and the other expected improvements from model to model.

However, other phones were starting to catch up to the iPhone line in terms of hardware and battery life. At this generation, the pressure began to mount on Apple to create a better product worthy of Apple's reputation. People wanted a better build, and they wanted the features they saw in Samsung and other companies' phones at the time. This criticism might have led to the well-received iPhone X and XR.

You might also remember that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus garnered some controversy for removing the 3.5 mm headphone jack. This was (and in most cases still is) considered standard among phones. Many users complained of potentially not using their devices with the new phone or creating a workaround for doing so. Future models still did not have a jack, though adapters were available, and it remains a contentious point for many users.

While Apple discontinued this model only a couple of years ago, you might still be able to get an iPhone 7 via other sellers, meaning that the sales numbers might not be finalized just yet.

Release year: 2016

Units sold: 78.3 million


8. iPhone XR

We never got an iPhone 9 unless it's locked away in an Apple bunker somewhere, but people did have the iPhone XR available to them. Around 77.4 million units were bought, as perhaps can be expected given the previous entries on this list.

Released after the popular iPhone X and parallel to the iPhone XS and Max, the iPhone XR really showed off some of the best smartphone tech and hardware of the time, with the sales to prove it. While not reaching some of the previous iPhone models' lofty sales numbers, the XR was a giant leap forward. It can still easily be compared to today's major smartphone releases, still beating out some entry models.

In terms of changes, the iPhone XR boasted longer battery life, a larger and better screen, and Haptic Touch. It was actually a cheaper alternative to the XS and XS Max, but consumers were delighted with what was offered.

Release year: 2018

Units sold: 77.4 Million


9. iPhone 5

The iPhone 5, first released on September 21, 2012, proved to be another popular success for the tech giant, selling about 70 million units over its lifespan.

This iteration brought a few significant changes, including a higher screen resolution and the addition of the lightning port, which would stay for quite a while and reduce the popularity of several peripherals that used the older 30-pin port. Outside of these and the usual iterations, there were some design changes to work with the screen and consumer demand. These culminated in improvements not necessarily with the iPhone 5 but with later models that took feedback.

The iPhone 5 is not the most popular iPhone in existence. Still, it rapidly sold out, leading Apple to need to bolster their supply quickly and proving an excellent competitor to the Android phones of the time, which were growing in their market dominance. Part of this may have been related to production concerns, but Apple eventually bounced back and met the total demand.

It was discontinued about a year after release to make way for future phones, but in that short year, it accomplished a lot.

Release year: 2012

Units sold: 70 Million


10. Samsung Galaxy S III and Galaxy S III Mini

Rounding out this list is the Samsung Galaxy S III and its smaller counterpart, the Galaxy S III Mini, which sold a combined 70 million units, matching the competing iPhone 5 overall and overtaking it for a while. These models brought with them 4G LTE support, some of the best processing for the time, and the latest Android version. The S4 was released only ten months later, and there was room in the market for both models.

There were several submodels with changes to the amount of memory, color, etc. All models were successful for Samsung and had an excellent battery, camera, etc.

Interestingly, there was a shortage of phones for a while. Customers scrambled to get their hands on one, much like during a new iPhone release. Whether this demand grew from reputation (much like with a new gaming console and graphics card) or was just a coincidence of the time, we can't be sure. What we can be certain of is the massive amount of attention this little device received around its launch window.

Release Year: 2012

Units sold: 70 Million


Main Takeaways and Trends

We can learn a lot about the smartphone and tech industry in general from these products. There is also perhaps something to learn about marketing. From the above entries and numbers, as well as our further research, we noticed the following:

  • No matter how you slice the pie, it is mostly Apple and Nokia products with the most sales.
  • While Apple also works heavily in laptops and desktop computers (though desktops less in recent years), most of their recent revenue has revolved around the iPhone line, more so than any other product.
  • While not every iPhone makes this list, practically every iPhone model would make a longer list of the twenty or thirty bestselling smartphones.
  • Samsung also had a few entries on the list. However, outside of the options listed above, most of them had lower sales numbers. This might be because Samsung releases more variety in its products, and totaling up the total sales of all phone lines might lead to a closer ranking between the companies.
  • As more phone models come out, we will be less likely to see the kinds of numbers listed above. There are more smartphones for different needs, and the latest and greatest smartphone comes out every year, even if the changes are less pronounced. If people want the best, the best will be more spread out across models over time.
  • New must-have features can drive growth, as long as the price is right and people see a use for the new features or technology included.
  • Controversial choices in design do not necessarily affect a phone's success, or at least whether a phone can be successful, as seen with the iPhone 7.
  • While not listed here, there were a few breakout hits from other companies that sold plenty of units. A quality product or the right timing can still break through the aggressive marketing and brand recognition that keeps some companies on the top.
  • Many of the most popular phones have a few different versions, primarily differing in screen size but sometimes differing in processing power as well. Giving people options but not too many options seems to be the key to success.

Conclusion

There are plenty of smartphone models on the market, and the most popular models can help us make better predictions for the future. We can learn from what was popular in the past and notice the repeating trends. Additionally, more people are using smartphones than ever before, and that the market will continue to grow in various ways.

We hope this article has shed some new light on the device you use every day and some of the devices you may have used in the past. We encourage you to take a look at the sales numbers when a new phone comes out in the future.