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Sponsor: MailButler

Popular Apple Mail plugin MailButler has already started the email revolution when it first became available less than a year ago. Ever since it has regularly been adding new functionalities to Apple’s built-in mail client, such as the ability to undo, track, and snooze emails, convert emails to notes, upload email attachments regardless of size, create beautiful signatures, and more.

As you can see from this list, MailButler is a pure productivity tool, which allows you to reduce the time spent on working with emails and to email like a pro. Very recently this list has got three new items. Now MailButler users can add GIF’s to their emails, put their Inboxes on hold in particular time ranges and unpause them later, and share quotes from their emails on sources of their choice.

Bottom line: if you use Apple Mail on your Mac, you really should check out MailButler.

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The Genealogy of the MacBook Pro

I was an early user of the first MacBook Air. When that product was launched I saw in it something different: a dedication to a new measure of performance: thinness and conformability. The key image used to launch the Air was the laptop sliding neatly into an inter-office envelope. The implication was that the laptop does not need to have its own special “laptop bag”. It could fit into any bag. Users would be able to slip it into all manner of new contexts. It sought to compete with computing non-consumption.

The Air was launched by Steve Jobs in 2008 and was almost universally panned. It was considered underpowered and the dedication to thinness was seen as irrelevant to what consumers wanted. The stock price fell.

The product went on to become Apple’s most popular laptop. It still is. It grew the base of Mac users to over 100 million today.

For the same reason, I was an early adopter of the newest MacBook Retina. The even thinner new MacBook was spectacularly thin. It was smaller than an iPad. It had no ports except one USB-C and a headphone jack. It required dongles for physical connections. It had a new keyboard that barely registered movement and it had a new trackpad that did not move at all but played mind tricks to make you think it did.

As I used it over the last year, I became used to it. It was not my only laptop. I had an older 15 inch Pro, but over time I came to use the MacBook Retina exclusively. I thought I could not do “real work” with it but I managed. I got used to the keyboard. I got used to the trackpad. I got used to the need for a dongle to connect a display. But these challenges were more than offset by delightful improvements. I was delighted by the small power brick and the ability to use any USB power to charge it. I was delighted at the all-day battery life which meant I would charge it the way I charged my Phone: at night.  I was delighted that I could use it in places where I could not use a laptop: on any airplane tray, stowing it in the seat back pocket. And I no longer cared what bag I had for my computer. It did not make me productive by completing tasks more quickly. It made me more productive by letting me be do things when and where I otherwise couldn’t. I love my MacBook.

Now Apple launched a new Pro Mac laptop.The new Pro laptop has the same (slightly improved) keyboard as my MacBook. It has the same (larger) trackpad as my MacBook. It has the same (but more of) USB-C port.  It has something new called a Touch Bar which puts function keys into a touch screen but mainly it feels like a grown-up version of my MacBook Retina. It’s faster too.

Overall, the new MacBook Pro feels to me like an evolution of the MacBook of 2015. I remember at the time thinking that this baby MacBook is probably the wave of the future: the new keyboard, new trackpad, new thinness, new USB-C, deprecation of other ports. These required enormous engineering efforts and it would be silly to leave them on only one model. In any case, from where I was standing all these were “better”. Not along the previous definition of goodness but along a new definition: making the computer more conformable and easier to put into use in more places. The very ideas that drove the development of the Air of 2008. Indeed the very idea that drove the development of laptops since the 1990s.

What’s fascinating to me from a product management point of view is that the groundbreaking new features which re-define the product’s direction are not designed to trickle-down from the top-of-the-line to the bottom, but rather that they trickle-up. The low-end product gets the updates first and the the Pro products adopt them later.

And we can even trace this genealogy of features through to an even “lower-end” product: the iPhone. The iPhone “ethos” of usability and conformability has permeated through to the Macs, starting from the lowly and advancing to the top of the range. The question of where Apple’s design direction comes from can be answered: the bottom.

All this is consistent with a strategy of “low-end evolution”. A way to defend the low-end rather than abandon it in pursuit of what the most demanding customers are asking for. Rather, Apple seeks to incubate a new performance measure. Re-defining goodness.

So is this new MacBook Pro a worthy successor to the MacBook Retina? My attention is riveted by the Touch Bar. It seems a completely new way of interacting but requires discovery and practice. What Apple has to achieve is allow the product to work well without it but also to allow users to evolve their experience with it. Over time we got used to trackpads instead of mice (many resisted the change). We got used to a different, small travel keyboard. We got used to new ports (HDMI vs. VGA) and we got used to wireless everything (it may seem easier, but remember having to always enter credentials vs. plugging in a cable).

The touch bar is a new UI metaphor. It will take time but it is looking at me right now, winking.

Experience the comfort of connected lighting

With Elgato’s new connected wall switch you can switch your lights on and off using Siri or with a quick tap on your iPhone. It transforms any single or multi-bulb setup into an intelligent lighting system, so can use your existing bulbs regardless of their shape, size or color.

Moreover, create scenes to control Eve Light Switch and other HomeKit-enabled accessories with a single command. Leverage the power of automation and attune your lighting to your routine.

Want to illuminate your home from afar? All you need is an Apple TV, and you’re ready to remotely switch your lights on and off and launch your favorite scene.

Eve Light Switch features Bluetooth low energy technology, thus ensuring easy setup, reliable operation, and power efficiency – without disturbing your already crowded Wi-Fi network or other wireless devices. Eve Light Switch makes your home smarter, not more complicated.

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Wherefore art thou Macintosh?

Managing the Mac product line must be one of the most challenging problems at Apple. That may not be obvious given the product’s success. Consider what it has achieved:

  • The product is in its 32nd year of market presence. A longevity that in unmatched by any other PC maker.
  • Apple reached a top five position in the ranking of PC vendors. This was achieved for the first time only this year, far along in the evolution of the market.
  • With about $23 billion in revenues per year, Apple places among the top four PC vendors in terms of revenue.
  • With an estimated $5.5 billion in operating margin Apple is the most profitable PC vendor, capturing over 60% of the available PC hardware profits.
  • The product has retained an average selling price of over $1200 for at least a decade. At the same time the average pricing of Personal Computers has more than halved.
  • Although volumes have fallen for three quarters, the product grew volumes and sales for 22 out of 29 quarters. As a result, volumes almost doubled in eight years.[1]

The contribution of the Mac to Apple’s revenues is shown in the following graph.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-22-23-pm

It’s attractive and convenient to contrast the Mac with the rest of the PC industry. A David vs. Goliath tale of redemption. The classic comeback story. But the split between the two old rivals (Windows/MacOS) focuses the mind into a limited view of the computing market. The big change in computing has not been a growing Mac vs. declining PC. It has been a huge surge in mobile device use vs. a decline in PC use overall.

This data is visible in many ways. Browsing data shows mobile overtook PC use this year. Shopping data around Black Friday points in the same direction. Data on user interaction captured by comScore is shown below[2]

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-3-45-49-pm

PC use went from half to a third of time while mobile went the other way: from a third to half of time within only four years. All the data is consistent: mobile use has swept PC use aside.

Notes:
  1. The unit volumes in third quarter 2008 were 2.6 million. Eight years later they are 4.9 million and could easily be over 5 million in the holiday quarter. []
  2. Although US only, the global picture is likely to be even more skewed toward mobile as PC didn’t saturated global markets before the smartphone swept to power. []

Post-keynote Apple event San Francisco – September 8

 

I will be presenting my latest analysis of Apple at the Sustain event in San Francisco on Thursday Sept 8th, the day after Apple’s keynote, along with Ben Bajarin, Carolina Milanesi who will alsob equipped with their latest market insights.

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There is a time to disrupt and there is a time to sustain.

Sustain event is about understanding Apple’s levers of control to sustain the iPhone as it moves into direct competition with Android. We will also examine positions of top five technology brands: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

Learn more about the event at Airshow.io. Given he short notice, we are keeping this event on the small side so reserve your seat soon.

Mini Me

Horace and Henri go for a drive.

The Critical Path is sponsored by Wealthfront, the automated investment service that makes it easy to invest your money the right way. Get your first $15,000 managed for free when you visit Wealthfront.com/5by5.

Support also comes from Braintree, code for easy online payments. If you’re building a mobile app and searching for a simple payments solution, check out BraintreePayments.com/criticalpath.

Source: The Critical Path #186

The Critical Path #185: Lithium Iron Phosphate

Horace gives an update on his EVW electric car project, listener-contributed battery technology information and listener questions in this extended episode.

Source: The Critical Path #185

Sponsor: ​Mac Hosting in Europe and US West

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Counting Apple’s Customers

Berkshire Hathaway, led by Warren Buffett, now owns about $1.4 billion of Apple. Occasionally we hear about various “celebrity investors” taking positions in the company or exiting those positions. The last one I remember was Carl Icahn. He seems to have exited Apple before Berkshire entered. There are some who will act because of these decisions. You should not be one of them.

Nor should the management of the firm act in response to investor decisions or concerns. Management is specifically distinct from ownership in the corporate construct precisely in order to bring professionalism to the role. The manager must set priorities as they see fit, irrespective of what the transient owner might prioritize. The separation of ownership and management is one of the greatest innovations in commerce.

There are many opinions on what priorities should be. Delivering a specific financial ratio, achieving a certain market position, changing the world for the better. These have all been cited as top priorities. I happen to believe that what matters most is the creation and preservation of customers. That is because I see customer creation as causal to the other desirable outcomes and it is therefore the more important priority.

And this is why, whenever possible, I try to deduce how well a company is performing on this metric. The greatest companies (by market capitalization) today are certainly examples of achievement in customer creation. Facebook, Microsoft and Google are members of the “billion user club” or companies that crossed a billion active users.

But do they really have a billion customers? Microsoft has over 1.2 billion users but many (most?) of those users are using computers that their employers provide on which Microsoft software was installed. They may not have made the choice to purchase the tools they are using. Microsoft certainly has millions of customers in the form of “accounts” purchasing its products and services, but It’s not likely that there are a billion people who have directly chosen to buy a Microsoft product.

Facebook has over a billion daily users. Facebook users are certainly using the service of their own accord but they are not paying for the service. Quite the contrary, the actual customers of Facebook are companies buying an advertising service offered in the form of exposure to those billion users. The Facebook users are the product being sold, not the buyers. Thus Facebook’s total number of paying customers is probably only in the tens or hundreds of thousands.[1]

Same with Google. We don’t know how many accounts Google send invoices to but the number is very likely not even in the 100 million range. Its billions of users are beneficiaries of services but they are not paying Google/Alphabet.

Amazon has many millions of customers, if not billions. Prime membership is above 50 million but not above 100 million. Amazon may some day have a billion customers but there are limits to how quickly that can happen. The growth potential is governed by logistics and that’s as much an issue with atoms as it is with electrons.

Which brings us to Apple. Apple does not offer a figure on its specific user count, but we have some viable proxies:

  • iCloud accounts reached 782 million in February 2016.
  • iTunes accounts reached 885 million in September 2014
  • Active devices reached one billion in January 2016. That number is likely above 1.1 billion now. (Includes all devices, hence Macs and Apple TVs).

These figures are also parts of patterns (shown below) which offer an indication of predictable growth.

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Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 9.27.38 PM

In addition to the absolute figures and their growth there is also the question of loyalty (frequently cited by the company), switching from other platforms (also frequently cited) and revenues. The company publishes specific figures on service revenues for consumer attached devices showing a run rate of $41 billion/yr in services for their device base.

In combination, a picture emerges which shows that Apple has nearly a billion customers. I can’t say how many with any precision but it’s certainly above 500 million (on the basis of iCloud and iTunes accounts). It’s below one billion because some users have more than one device.

Even though it has not happened yet, the trend is pretty clear. Apple will at some point in time have a billion paying customers.

What is more significant than the specific count is that these customers mostly chose to be customers individually. Some may have been given the products as gifts, but the vast majority bought the items for themselves. Apple benefitted from hundreds of million of individual purchase decisions.

Furthermore, having made the decision to purchase, chances are that they will do so again. Apple customers are a recurring revenue stream. In fact, it’s fairly easy to calculate that being an Apple customer is equivalent to spending about $1/day on its products and services, indefinitely.

Apple is not there yet, but a billion dollars a day from a billion customers is not inconceivable. That would be quite an achievement.

Notes:
  1. Orr Sella @orrsella pointed out that Facebook has stated that they have 3 million businesses actively advertising on their networks. []

Asymcar #35: We Are Germans

Can utility companies be recruited to help sell Electric Vehicles when they reward their customers for using less electricity?

This plus the paradoxes of innovations in distribution, sales, regulation and the 1959/1960 Henney Kilowatt.

Source: Asymcar #35