To truly put Apple's accomplishment in perspective, we have to look at sales of truly iconic products to understand just how successful Apple has been at selling its phone. Yes, there are other products in the world that have sold incredibly well but most do not cost $500+, nor have they been on sale for only seven years.
Some of the world's most iconic toys have sold incredibly well over the past decades, including the Rubik's cube and the Slinky, both of which have sold more than 350 million units each over their lifetime. Impressive, but a far cry from Apple's 500 million. And the Hula Hoop? A mere 100 million.
What about the most successful car in the world? The Toyota Corolla, which includes some cars like the Toyota Matrix built on the Corolla platform, has sold a total of 40 million units worldwide since its introduction in 1966. The original Volkswagen Beetle? Just over 21.5 million units.
Several hundred million copies of the board game Monopoly have been sold, along with 300 million frisbees. Impressive, but a far cry from the iPhone.
Only Steve Jobs's favorite band, the Beatles, can surpass his iPhone. According to some sources, the Beatles have sold 600 million total albums worldwide. But for a single record? Michael Jackson's Thriller sold a paltry 50 million units.
Nintendo comes close; it's Mario franchise — across all the versions of Super Mario Bros., Mario Kart, and all the rest — totals more than 450 million units. With sales of all its handheld consoles, including the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS, totaling just under 400 million units. Very impressive, but not so much as the iPhone. Sony has a ways to go with its PlayStation franchise, with roughly 350 million total consoles sold.
All the Harry Potter books combined sold somewhere around 450 million copies, while the Twilight series moved a mere 120 million.
Sony sold 385 million Walkman devices, though that includes more modern digital only versions. The company sold some 200 million of the traditional Walkman, the device that Steve Jobs compared the iPod to. Of course over the more than 10 years since the iPod was introduced, Apple has sold almost 400 million of those, well exceeding the device that it replaced.
And what about the iPad? It just passed the 200 million mark.
There are really only a handful of products that can compare to Apple's iPhone. One of them is made by Microsoft, Apple's longtime nemesis. That company has sold more than 1 billion copies of Windows over its lifetime, though exact numbers are hard to find. It does help, of course, that Windows is included with hundreds of millions of PCs. Look at only retail boxed copy sales of Windows, and it wouldn't even be close.
Yes, Apple's growth may be slowing but it did sell more than 50 million iPhones last quarter and that covers for a lot of sins. Because when you're printing money like that, it really should buy you a lot of time to come up with the next new thing. Whether that next new thing will sell 500 million units in seven years is another question entirely.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.