August 2010
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Month August 2010

Analysts' categorical failure

Gartner explicitly explained so in its press release: “Gartner’s PC group does not track media tablet sales in this PC shipment data, so iPad sales are not included in these results

via Is Apple the real U.S. PC market share leader — or soon will be? | Betanews.

The reluctance of  industry analysts to measure the iPad as a computer is a fascinating and vivid symptom of how analysts conspire with their customers to smother visibility of impending failure.

Before we dive into the motivation to ignore iPads, we need to understand how analysts in general and companies in particular group products into comparable piles. This process of grouping is called categorization. It should be distinguished from segmentation which groups buyers in a market. Categorization is essential for competitive analysis and measurement of the performance of a product (relative to other products).

Categorization is a challenging problem for most companies. To illustrate why, consider four possible methods for categorizing products:

Dell's running

Once the pride and joy of the world’s largest computer systems builder, consumer products now make up just 18% of Dell’s total sales. That’s probably a good thing in the long run, because this segment is notoriously margin-poor when compared to the less price-sensitive corporate computing market. I can’t blame IBM for giving up on consumers years ago, and I think Dell should follow suit.

via Make a Hard Left, Dell! (AAPL, CTXS, DELL, HPQ, IBM, MSFT, VMW).

That’s right. Flee upmarket Dell. Run, run.

Quoting from the gospel:

Step 2: Entrants grow and improve; incumbents choose flight. As disruptive attackers follow their own sustaining trajectories, they make inroads into the low end of the market or begin pulling less demanding customers into a new context of use. What happens when the disruptive entrant begins to make inroads? […]

Incumbents naturally choose flight. What looks highly attractive to the entrant continues to look relatively unattractive to the incumbent. The asymmetric motivation leads to incumbents naturally fleeing the low end. They cede that market to the entrant. […]

Remember, incumbents focus on delivering up-market sustaining innovations that allow them to earn premium prices by reaching undershot customers. They view flight as a positive development.

Revisiting the App Forecast

From a forecast I made on March 21st: 300k Apps Approved by August:

My initial estimate in February for the 200k milestone was by May 1st. I was clearly off by nearly 40 days. If the add rate is maintained at 20k/mo 300k will come around in August although I’m not as confident in this forecast. The rate of app addition seems to be accelerating.

As of today the Approved app counts are as follows:

AppShopper: 297,165 296,662 296,157

The monthly rate of addition is shown in the following graph:

The 20k/month has been steady during the last 7 months so I think the last 4k apps will be added in the next week, making the 300k roll-over in August, as forecast. The approval rate did not accelerate however but stayed pretty steady. There was a similar plateau in the middle of last year around 10k apps/month.

Life's (Not So) Good

Follow-up to LG dreams of smartphones.

LG Doesn’t See Return To Operating Profit Until Early Next Year

By Roger Cheng and Jung-Ah Lee  Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

SEOUL (Dow Jones)–LG Electronics (066570.SE), which readily concedes it is late to the smartphone game, said it plans to launch 10 more smartphones and sell 5 million devices by the end of the year as it scrambles to catch up with the rest of the industry.

But the aggressive move, which includes increasing the research and development budget by a third and ramping up its spending on marketing, means the company’s once-flagship mobile devices unit won’t likely return to an operating profit until early next year, said Chang Ma, vice president of marketing for the division.

“We have to just bear it,” Ma told Dow Jones Newswires on Wednesday, adding that he hopes to see a turnaround after the fourth quarter.

It takes R&D to make an Android phone?

(Thanks to MfH for link.)

Android and the philosopher's pencil

Does it not strike everyone as odd that a company whose business is in the cloud also needs to peddle systems software…even devices?

It’s like a philosopher at a conference trying to convince the audience of his idea requiring that they use a certain type of pencil to take notes. And only he can give you that pencil.

This should lead to serious questions: Firstly, maybe you don’t need to take notes, secondly perhaps you don’t use a pencil and thirdly why his pencil?

Analogously: Firstly, Google services don’t need specific devices to be used because they’re designed around web standards. Secondly, they don’t need specific client software or APIs either and, thirdly, they certainly should not need specific systems software. Like the philosopher, Google does not charge for their pencil, but that’s beside the point.

You can only conclude that either the philosopher’s is a scoundrel or his idea is not that good.

So which is it?

Talk of mobile dominance is bunk

I’ve been asked in comments on this blog who will win the “mobile war”.

I use two analytical tools to answer this question: (1) history (2) value chain analysis.

History shows that operators are very important and hence very powerful in this market. That makes sense on many levels. They control what phones you get to buy, they decide the pricing and they decide frequently how you can use the phone. This is because the networks are expensive to build and maintain and there is an implicit bargain struck that the user and device should conform to the operator.

Value chain analysis tells me that as networks are not good enough, tight integration of the business models of the phone vendors and the operators is necessary to climb up the trajectory toward good enough as quickly as possible.

Therefore, given the distribution of value/bargaining power in the chain, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s operators who will decide which platforms win/lose and to what degree.

That simply means that no single platform can win a disproportionate share because it would threaten the balance of control the operators require. So talk of “dominance” of one platform or another is hyperbole. The most likely scenario is an even distribution of share between 4 or 5 competitors, so I expect iPhone and Android to get 20% share each.

This is not “fair” or economical or efficient, but it’s the way it’s going to be for a long time. If you’re a fan, don’t despair. In a few years, it still means hundreds of millions of units a year for each platform.

If you want to dream or hope for a more efficient outcome, you’ll have to look outside the cellular network model. I.e. think how iPod/iPad and Android tablets will evolve into communications products.

(thanks to M for asking).

HTC: How They Compare

In the last mobile market update series I wrote of  the evolution of market share, the shift in where dollars are spent, the tale of ASP erosionprofitability ratios over time and EBIT share over time.

I did not include all vendors for various good reasons. The first survey (market share) did include an “others” category that made the volume data complete, but in the financial data sets, I chose to include the top 7 vendors that make up 80% of device volumes.

One noteworthy vendor that was not included was HTC. HTC is an important vendor for several reasons:

  • it’s a pioneer in smartphones having made the first Windows Mobile devices and the first Android devices
  • at one point it sold 80% of all Windows Mobile devices
  • even if it did not brand its devices, it was the name behind many re-branded or white-label operator branded phones
  • it has a brand of its own today and is expanding its reach

HTC has been around building devices since 2001 and so it would be a pity to exclude them from any analysis of the effect of iPhone on the market or any discussion on the effect of smartphone disruption on feature phones.

The challenge with HTC was that historically their branded devices and white label devices were not reported by the company separately. This matters because white label devices are valued differently. Typically these devices are not marketed by the original manufacturer so SG&A is not applied to their cost base. Operating margins, ASPs and hence profitability is not directly comparable with other OEMs.

But HTC has recently changed its reporting. Thanks to a reader I discovered that, since 2008, HTC has been listing its ASP and Operating Margin making direct comparisons possible. I still don’t have all the data, but enough to add HTC to the analysis.

So, here are the 5 industry performance criteria, now with eight vendors listed.

Analyst production forecasts for iPhone and iPad

On the iPhone, the firm raised their production forecasts from 14 million units to 18+ million, aided by easing constraints of display panels. Checks show consistent shortage of iPhone 4 inventory at Apple stores and there continues to be a three-week shipping delay from Apple’s online store, the firm notes. As a result the firm has increased confidence in its 4QFY10 iPhone unit estimate of 11.6 million, which is up 39% sequentially.

On the iPad, the firm’s build forecasts were revised up from 6 million to 7 million, which compares to their iPad shipments estimate of 4.75 million. The firm believes [there] is upside to the Q4 estimates and CY10 estimates of 13.4 million units, given the strong demand and anticipated production ramp heading into the back-to school and holiday seasons, as well as the high level of interest from business customers as expressed by AT&T.

via – All Apple (AAPL) Products Lines are Humming Along – Analyst.

These sound reasonable and credible. Note that production forecasts don’t translate into sales forecasts as there is inventory, and some of that inventory will be held by Apple and some by the manufacturer.

My Q4 estimate sits at 12.1 million iPhones and 4 million iPads.

iPad supply catching up with demand

Shipping delays have shrunk from 5-to-7 business days to 3-to-5 days which is great because now Apple will run more ads.

Apple – iPad – View photos and images of iPad.

But seriously, how long has it been? Five months with no iPads on hand? Now if only they had enough iPhone 4’s.

Here is the situation in Korea:

SEOUL (AFP)–South Korea’s KT Corp. (KT) said tens of thousands of people jammed its website Wednesday, as it began to take pre-orders for Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) iPhone 4.

KT Corp., the country’s sole distributor for the gadget, said in just four hours more than 70,000 people put their names down for the popular smartphone after its online shop opened.

“Our online shop server was jammed instantly as too many clients placed orders simultaneously,” KT spokesman Jin Byung-kwon said.

“So far, the number of orders for the iPhone 4 exceeds well beyond that of the iPhone 3GS,” he said.

See also: Apple’s supply problem

Android's Pursuit of the Biggest Losers

The mobile phone market is intertwined with the telecommunications industry which is vast and there are numerous competitors which are much more dynamic and better capitalized than the moribund PC or music player vendors. It’s also a regulated and fragmented global market with 1.2 billion units and 5 billion consumers—far greater than any of the markets Apple played in for its first 30 years.

Nevertheless, the iPhone has had a huge impact on the industry. To show just how much of an impact, I dove in and pulled over 500 data points on three years’ financial performance of seven competitors responsible for 80 percent of units being shipped today. The time frame covers the iPhone’s participation in the market so it allows for “before-and-after” comparisons.

I divided the findings into five articles:

  1. Unit Volumes. The evolution of market share.
  2. Revenues. The shift in where dollars are spent.
  3. Selling prices. The tale of ASP erosion.
  4. Operating margin. Profitability ratios over time.

Now I turn my attention to draw a bottom line from all the data above, namely the operating earnings (EBIT or Earnings before Interest and Taxation).

The first chart shows the EBIT from the top seven vendors of mobile phones since the quarter when the iPhone launched. I annotated Nokia and Apple’s bars to give perspective.

The total available profits in the industry dipped to a bit under $4 billion at the trough of the recession, and have recovered to nearly $6 billion in the holiday quarter last year. However, not all vendors are profitable. As you might expect from looking at the operating margins, Motorola and Sony Ericsson have been generating losses for most of this time period. They have both reached profitability in the last quarter, though at very low levels and after having lost a large part of their sales. LG has turned negative this past quarter after being a modest earner for some time. Samsung has maintained a fairly even consistency in its profit capture, though with its expanding market share, it seems to have come at the cost of pricing.

Finally, looking at the pure smartphone vendors RIM and Apple, the picture is nothing short of astonishing. This before-and-after share-of-available-profit chart shows that the two entrants went from about 7% profit share to 65% in three years.

Apple in particular is capturing about half of the available profits with three percent of the units. It dwarfs all the other vendors, more than double the nearest (Nokia). All that in three years and with the added burdens of only three models, a recession and limited distribution.

What does it all mean?

Here are my conclusions, enumerated:

  1. The lack of a real response. The recurring theme in this series of articles has been that giant multinational incumbents in a vast and rapidly growing industry, enjoying all the advantages that size and incumbency, have had their profits taken from them. And they don’t seem to have put up much of a fight.
  2. It’s all wealth transfer. Note the total amount of profit available has not increased markedly; this is not about incumbents growing the pie. Two thirds of what should have rightly been theirs moved from the incumbent shareholders to the entrant shareholders.
  3. Speed. This shift of profit occurred over an unprecedentedly short period of time.  Three years is no more than two product cycles in the industry and it’s an order of magnitude faster than what happened historically to other industries.
  4. Disruption is the diagnosis here. The incumbents were caught in the headlights. Disruptive innovation leads to asymmetric competition and this is what we just witnessed. History has shown that the shift of profits is usually the last stage of disruption and is usually irreversible because the change in business models cannot happen at the rate of change of profit transfer.

Which leads me to one final point.

When analyzing the potential for challengers to the new winners, the most cited is Android. Can Android affect this redistribution of profit once again? And to whom?

If Android is to become the dominant platform, does it depend on the success of its licensees? Who are these licensees and what are the chances that they will be able to align their businesses to what Android offers (a new revenue model based on services and advertising).

One problem I see is that Google is making a bet on those same vendors who are now squeezed in the middle of that last pie chart: Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson. Nokia, Apple and RIM will certainly not take the OS over what they already have as it dilutes their differentiation and margins. That means Android is aligned with the biggest losers in the industry.

So how likely are these disrupted ex-giants to recover and take Android forward? My bet: slim to none. Android does not offer more than a lifeline. It is not a foundation for long-term profitability as it presumes the profits accrue to the network and possibly to Google. Profit evaporation out of devices to Google may be a possibility at some time in the future, but only if the devices don’t need too much attention to remain competitive. But because they’re still not good enough (and they won’t be for years to come), it’s certain that attention to detail is what will be most important to stay abreast of Apple.[1]

So here we have the real challenge to Android:  partnership with defeated incumbents whose ability to build profitable and differentiated products is hamstrung by the licensing model and whose incentives to move up the steep trajectory of necessary improvements are limited.

In other words, Android’s licensees won’t have the profits or the motivation to spend on R&D so as to make exceptionally competitive products at a time when being competitive is what matters most.

[1]: I would argue the same lack of symmetry with licensed software vendor Microsoft is what led the the failure of the same incumbents to make a dent in the industry with Windows Mobile [2003 to 2010].