March 2011
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Month March 2011

Which mobile users will platforms harvest first?

When tallying up the race to a billion users, I noted that both iOS and Android seem to have the potential to reach that size of user base. However, that raises the question of where those users will come from. We have to note the fact that there aren’t a billion users to be captured today.

If not today, then how soon, and where are they?

The first question is who is addressable. If we stick with mobile cellular subscribers, there seem to be plenty of users (at least 5.3 billion as of October 2010 according to the ITU). However, the number of “mobile broadband” (i.e. 3+G network subs) is about 940 million. The chart to the left shows the difference and adds the subdivision between developed and developing economies.

Over half (51.1%) of developed nations’ populations have signed up for mobile broadband while only 5.4% of developing country populations are on 3G. And whereas developing countries have added 2.6 billion mobile subs in 5 years, they added only 293 million mobile broadband (MB) subs. Developed nations added 574 million MBs in the same time frame.

As a result, two thirds of mobile broadband subscribers reside in developed nations as of 2010. This number will decrease rapidly as MB penetration reaches saturation in developed countries, however the race to a billion is being run in these markets first.

Ads for ads: The ad-supported app bubble

By one estimate (Gartner), about 81% of apps downloaded today are free. The way free apps are able to generate revenue is through advertising. 16 percent of application store markets’ $5.2 billion revenue was generated from advertising.

But advertising what?

Talent follows where business models lead: The Media Business Disruptions

Michael DeGusta created beautiful and informative charts on how The Newspaper Business Implodes.

With charts, he also told the story of how the recorded music industry followed a similar path:

Who's knifing what?

Microsoft just declared the Zune end of life. This makes it a good time to look back to some notable episodes in the evolution of digital media distribution. First, an episode from 1997:

During two days on the stand, Tevanian accused Microsoft of seeking to divide the multimedia market and then “sabotaging” QuickTime’s ability to work with Windows computers when Apple declined to go along with Microsoft’s plan. Justice also is accusing Microsoft of attempting to illegally allocate the Internet browser market.

In particularly colorful testimony on Nov. 5, Tevanian described an April, 1997, meeting between two Apple and two Microsoft officials. Tevanian, who was not at the meeting, said Microsoft officials suggested that Apple abandon its business of providing “playback” software that enables users to view multimedia content on the computers. Instead, they offered Apple the much smaller portion of the market for the tools that developers use to create the content. In Apple’s mind, though, the playback software was its baby.

On Feeds and Speeds

And a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs

Steve Jobs, iPad 2 launch event March 2011.

I’m not above doing a feeds and speeds comparison.

All the products above have dual core processors, 512 MB of memory. The iPad processor is a bit slower. The iPad also has a slightly smaller resolution screen than a MacBook from mid 2006. However, unlike the others, the iPad has cellular broadband connectivity, loads more sensors, and a battery that will last at least 5 times longer.

It’s also a lot cheaper and a lot smaller.

Although five years old, nobody would question that the MacBook or iMacs shown above are still computers. They still run the latest versions of OS X and are probably still in widespread use.

The new iPad is still not considered a computer by the majority of market analysts. One wonders how long this will go on. The specs of the iPad are just going to keep getting better…

Star-crossed partners

Until very recently, we believed our competitive position in smartphones could be improved with Symbian, as well as MeeGo, and our strategy based on those platforms. We are now of the view, however, that for the longer term our Symbian platform is not sufficiently competitive in leading markets.

Nokia’s SEC Form 20F.

The company’s fiscal year, which ended in June, was one of the worst to date for the mobile space. Although in development since 2008, the Kin was pulled after just over six weeks of sales and amounted to a $240 million write-off before including the $500 million to buy Danger. Windows Mobile’s ramp down is partly intentional as Microsoft is rebooting the platform with Windows Phone 7 and is investing $500 million in marketing to spark new interest.

Microsoft CEO bonus cut for Kin flop, lack of iPad rival | Electronista

The billion dollar Smart Cover

I was only half-joking when, on first sight, I tweeted that I will buy a new iPad 2 to go with my new Smart Cover. The new iPad cover is enchanting.

It also seems to be enchanting to many.

I’m estimating that at least 60% of iPad buyers will get one. Based on an estimate of 36 million iPads sold in 2011 and an average price of $48 (70% polyurethane and 30% leather mix), the total revenue for Smart Covers will top $1 billion this year.

I further estimate that with a very modest gross margin of 75% (average cost to produce of $12), the Smart Cover could contribute $777 million to Apple’s gross margins.

The iPad by itself should generate $23 billion in revenue and a contribution of $7.7 billion. That means that the Smart Cover will add 4% to sales and 9% to gross profits. If taken as a bundle, the iPad+SC will increase gross margin over the iPad alone by nearly 200 basis points (taking it from 33% to 35%).

It will be interesting to compare the Smart Cover business with competitor tablet businesses.

The Allegory of Treo

The following is a work of fiction.

The combination seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Nokia envisioned itself as a substantial rival to Redmond, threatening to head off its computing dominance as the power of desktop computing shifted to pocket-size devices. But a series of miscues substantially weakened the company, leaving it little choice but to team up with the world’s largest software maker.

The Race to a Billion

I last looked at the race to a billion in September 2010. I’ve now added a few more data points to the tracked platforms and also added points for the major console game platforms and Symbian.

The chart shows the cumulative number of users (approximated by units sold) for 11 platforms indexed to the same starting date. The horizontal axis is the number of quarters since a platform launched. Every fourth quarter is numbered so each number on the axis represents a new year. The last number on the axis represents 10 years.

The vertical axis is the cumulative number of users on a logarithmic scale. Each number of the vertical axis is 10x more users than the previous number. The top of the graph represents a billion users.

The overall chart shows how quickly a platform has grown and is bounded by a billion users and a decade of usage.

The skill of strategy analysis: Uncovering company priorities

John Siracusa dusted off an interesting quote from a former Microsoft employee.

Spolsky: But synergy…there are also negative synergies. In the case of Microsoft they call it “strategy tax.” Where, like, the Internet Explorer team is not allowed to fix the DHTML editor because it might compete with Word. So they’re forced to make that continue to be bad.

Via: The Apple strategy tax

The notion is an interesting one and is a reframing of the metaphorical expression that those who live by the sword die by the sword: Building a business a certain way will, in the end cause it to perish by that way.

In the case of Microsoft, the focus on their platform lock-in strategy binds them into avoiding compelling opportunities and, even more tellingly, keeps them from improving existing products.

It’s tempting to suggest that this “strategy tax” also applies to a company like Apple when it seems to act irrationally or sub-optimally to some arbitrary definition of optimality.

However, what if Apple’s motives are not “strategic”? What if Apple actually does act in a way to optimize what they perceive to be important: the end user experience or as I like to call it “the product“.

What if “the product” is dogma and nothing is allowed to compromise it?