Speaking of boats, there were recent claims that the iPhone is “dead in the water“. As someone who has done some sailing I can say that being dead in the water is dangerous. Not only are you not going anywhere but you also don’t have steering control. It’s movement through the water that allows a rudder to work so being stationary means that you can’t orient the boat when waves or wind might threaten stability.
This implied inability to gain directional control is what makes the accusation so powerful. How valid is it? That claim certainly was not made because the iPhone did not grow. iPhone grew at 113% year on year. It even grew sequentially in a post-holiday quarter and the growth is not slowing materially.
The claim was made that iPhone was not gaining share. But share of what? If we look at the iPhone share of all phones and share of smartphones, it’s still growing. It reached 5% share of all phones sold in the quarter and fourth most popular vendor in the world. Beating RIM, HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and ZTE.
So what makes the iPhone dead in the water?
I’ve often said that the smartphone rising tide has lifted many boats. If you were selling smartphones during the last three years, your business was growing, no matter what phones you made.
In fact, measuring success and failure was a matter of deciding what growth rate was “not good enough”. Growing at 30% was nearly enough to shame some vendors into re-evaluating their strategies.
But that sort of tidal growth can’t last. At some point ships with holes begin to sink no matter what the tide brings.
When we look at the data from the last quarter, we should be asking again whether some ships have developed some leaks.
Any student of organizational theory must struggle with the question of how to assign weight to the influence of the leadership of a company. In the case of Apple, the question is:
Is Jobs is the embodiment of Apple or is Apple already Jobsian, imbued with his ethos?
John Gruber summed up (start at 8:00 min) the “Apple is Jobsian” argument by saying that Apple is Steve Jobs’ greatest creation and that he has been working on crafting the company as much as he has been crafting products. The result being that it’s well designed for sustainable longevity.
The arguments for “Jobs is Apple” are mostly rooted in anecdotes of a supreme leader that is indispensable to every decision and detail. There are also ample examples from history of companies who foundered after the departure of founders (Apple itself is notably cited.)
But beside armchair quarterbacking, what evidence is there that Apple is being engineered to operate independent of its founder?
During the June 2005 Stanford University commencement speech Steve Jobs famously cited the farewell message placed on the back cover of the 1974 edition of The Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
That’s a nice, pithy statement. I interpreted “Being Foolish” in a Quora answer as “being naive about how things should be and thus allowing oneself to see how things could be.”
But what about staying hungry?
comScore’s latest survey data is in and the news is good.
In March an additional 3 million Americans became smartphone users. That translates to 700,000 every week or 100,000 every day switching from a non-smart or feature phone to a smartphone.
The smartphone is now in use by 31% of the phone users in the US. A year ago 80% of Americans did not use a smartphone. Today non-consumption is down to 69%.
It also means that only 19% more penetration remains before half of the population is using smartphones and that penetration is increasing at an average of 1.3% per month.
I reset my Phone Tipping Point countdown clock to reflect the new data.
I call it the Phone Tipping Point because it’s the moment when I expect we’ll stop using the word “smartphone”.
It’s nearly one year away.