Everyone has heard of AirPods. Despite being launched with relatively little fanfare in late 2016, these unassuming in-ear headphones have gone on to make a splash in the audio market far bigger than their diminutive size would suggest.
Not only do AirPods now account for more than half of global wireless headphone sales – they’ve also become a cultural phenomenon. A combination of their iconic design, their adoption as a status symbol, and a series of high-profile celebrity sightings (including one infamous shot of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani wearing his upside-down) has made them the subject of thousands of memes, and sent sales skyrocketing year-over-year.
It’s clear that Apple AirPods are a big deal… but most people don’t understand just how big.
According to a report by research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple sold nearly 60 million AirPods in 2019. With a retail price of $159 USD apiece (which doesn’t take into account the more expensive AirPod Pros), that puts the revenue from sales of this one audio accessory alone at more than $9 billion USD.
Sales of Apple AirPods account for over $9 billion USD in revenue. This is larger than the GDP of entire countries like Guam; larger than the entire CBD industry; and has a larger current brand value than companies like FedEx, John Deere, Dell, Nivea, Heineken, Costco and very nearly Goldman Sachs.
That’s an incredible figure by any standard… but what does it actually mean? Here are some comparisons to put it into perspective.
Apple AirPods are Bigger than…
Kellogg’s (of Cornflakes Fame)
It’s difficult to think of a more well-known household name than Kellogg’s. Their healthy snacks and breakfast cereals represent the start of the day for customers worldwide. With a history that dates back more than 100 years, Kellogg’s isn’t so much a company as an institution.
Despite a headstart of nearly a century, however, both the brand value and the total annual revenue of Kellogg’s are easily outstripped by AirPod sales.
And the cereal giant isn’t the only one to be left in the dust. Apple’s revenue from AirPods exceeds the estimated brand value of dozens of companies, including FedEx, KFC, John Deere, Dell, Nivea, Heineken and Costco. Indeed, it’s very close to overtaking the brand value of Goldman Sachs.
The Entire CBD Industry
The story of the CBD industry echoes that of Apple AirPods in a number of ways – both emerged from obscurity relatively recently, and both saw explosive growth fueled by celebrity endorsements and burgeoning trends. A staggering proportion of the population of the USA (14% according to Gallup) is now estimated to use CBD products; their rise has been nothing short of meteoric.
The trajectory of the entire CBD industry, however, has lagged behind that of AirPods. The global market size for all CBD products only just crept past the $7 billion USD mark in 2019 ($2 billion USD shy of matching up to AirPod sales).
When considering this fact it’s worth remembering that AirPods are just a single peripheral product… one which is nonetheless competing and beating an entire wildly popular industry.
The Country of Guam
Guam is an island territory in the Western Pacific, home to more than 165,000 people. As well as a rich profusion of wildlife and natural wonders, the country leverages its natural beauty to derive a healthy income from film-making and tourism.
Apple AirPod sales eclipse the GDP of the entirety of Guam by a significant margin.
Indeed, analysts project that AirPod sales in 2020 will likely add up to double the GDP of this entire nation. And Guam isn’t alone in being dwarfed by the sales of these unique headphones.
As of the end of 2019, AirPod sales were worth more than the combined GDPs of Grenada, Seychelles, Belize, Tuvalu, Tonga, Dominica, Samoa, Kiribati and Palau. That’s eight independent countries, the united Gross Domestic Products of which don’t add up even to the revenues from just one Apple accessory.
Why are Apple AirPods so Popular?
Part of the answer to this question is certainly connected to the iconic design of AirPods. As a company, Apple has never been afraid of taking risks, and their first truly wireless headphones were no exception. AirPods are instantly recognizable, and carry a cultural cachet that’s so marked it’s often the subject of jokes.
But there’s more to it than that. Apple AirPods owe some of their success to having made their debut at just the right time in history. While podcasts had been around for many years prior to the invention of AirPods, 2015 marked a shift in their popularity, with then-president Barrack Obama appearing on Mark Maron’s WTF podcast.
Since then the audiobook and streaming music markets have also seen intense growth. Amazon’s Audible now claims that its users downloaded around 4 billion hours of content in 2019 – a four-fold increase from just two years before. Spotify and other streaming platforms are also enjoying a renaissance, as consumers shift away from downloading music.
All of these audio markets are only set to grow in coming years. Deloitte predicts that both the audiobook and podcasting publishing industry will enjoy a growth rate in excess of 25% in 2020. This compares favorably to the media and entertainment industry average of just 4%.
Attracted by this surge in popularity, more and more companies are learning how to produce audio content that can be consumed on the move. As Jennifer Kavanagh (SVP of Marketing at the Philadelphia Eagles) explained in an interview with Forbes:
“Audio as a medium will grow, and as it grows, it will give rise to earfluence. This is a concept where we see more people spending time listening instead of watching, either because it’s more convenient, or the medium resonates more.”
The phenomenal success of AirPods is due, at least in part, to this boom in audio, and this revolution in the way people around the world consume content. As this tide rises, sales of Apple AirPods stand only to grow. What businesses they might outstrip (and what businesses they might buoy up as they rise) remains to be seen.