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iPhone 10th Anniversary: Which iPhone Was Best For Investors

Like connoisseurs of fine wines or fancy sports cars, fans of the iPhone have their favorites among the 10 models Apple has released so far. On Wall Street, investors prefer the experience of some iPhones over others, based not on design or features but on financial impact. Over the years, some models have helped drive sales growth more, sent more dollars to the bottom line or, most important of all for investors, sent the stock price flying.

There are some clear differences of opinion and some obvious areas of agreement between fans of the iPhone and investors, however.

One of the most obvious common loves is the October 2011 release of the iPhone 4S.

The boxy phone corrected the antenna problem of its predecessor, which may have been over-hyped but did impact phone call connections, while retaining the new, sharper Retina screen. It also kept one of the favorite shapes for holding the phone and using it as a camera.

On Wall Street, in the run up to the release, Apple’s stock price gained 28% over six months, according to data from Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi. The stock fell 3% the day of the release, but over the six months after the 4S release, the stock gained another 36%, for a one-year total return of 69%. That’s a great annual return for any investor, although it was only the second-best for any iPhone period.

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Another common view, but in a more negative light, might be around the fairly recent release of the iPhone 6S. The rounded corner model looked much like the year before’s iPhone 6, which had introduced larger screen sizes. The big new feature touted by Apple, called 3D Touch, was the ability to call up special menus by pushing down hard on the screen. Though occasionally useful, the touch menus could be confusing and developers were slow to add the feature to their apps.

It wasn’t exactly a flop but Apple experienced its first-ever quarterly year-over-year decline in iPhone sales after the 6S hit the market. Apple’s shares lost 5% in the run up, were nearly unchanged on the day of release, and then lost 11% in the following six months, for a total return of -15%, the second-worst performance of any model.

Fans of the iPhone and investors would probably have different opinions of the worst handset, however. By the numbers, the worst total return on Apple stock came from the September 2012 release of the iPhone 5.

The sixth-generation model was considerably thinner and lighter than previous models and had a 4-inch screen, up from 3.5 inches, giving users lots to like. Apple’s stock gained 11% in the six months before the release, including hitting a record of $705.07 ($100.72 adjusted for a later stock split), and rose 1% on the day of release. But the model wasn’t as profitable as earlier versions, and the stock price fell 43% over the ensuing six months. The total return for the 12 months of -36% was the worst of any iPhone.

Apple’s (AAPL) best iPhone is a likely a unanimous verdict, however, and that would be the very first version released.

The iconic device revolutionized smartphone design and utility in a gorgeous package. Rampant rumors of the phone helped drive Apple stock up 50% in the six months before, 8% on the day of release, and 35% over the next six months, according to Sacconaghi’s data. The 119% total return is the best of any model.

Model Total Return
iPhone 119%
iPhone 4S 69%
iPhone 3GS 66%
iPhone 6 52%
iPhone 4 44%
iPhone 7 17%
iPhone 5S 2%
iPhone 3G -10%
iPhone 6S -15%
iPhone 5 -36%