June 2011
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Month June 2011

iPhone liquidity: Why an unlocked Phone in the US matters

The iPhone is now available in the US unlocked. Judging by the lack of reaction to the news, one would assume that this is not a significant event. I would argue however that it’s a very significant event.

What is unappreciated is that the iPhone is a very restricted product. Unlike any of Apple’s other products (iPod, Mac and iPad), the iPhone is designed to be hard to get. Apple did not make it easy in the one dimension of ease that matters most: its purchase.

Consider that many people in the world cannot buy an iPhone because it’s not available locally. In case it is, in most cases you need to sign a contract and commit to a long-term relationship with a company other than Apple. In those cases where you don’t sign a contract, you cannot use it with a service provider other than the one (arbitrarily) chosen for you.

A few have been able to buy iPhones unlocked if they lived in a few countries (UK, France, Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong[1]) but those phones could only be purchased online if sent to a local address or in an Apple retail store–of which there are not many.

Consider that in Europe alone, the following countries do not have iPhone distribution: 

iTunes now costs $1.3 billion/yr to run

The iTunes store continues to grow. The data that Apple published in the last event included the following:

  • 15 Billion iTunes song downloads
  • 130 million book downloads
  • 14 billion app downloads
  • $2.5 billion paid to developers
  • 225 million accounts
  • 425k apps
  • 90k iPad apps
  • 100k game and entertainment titles
  • 50 million game center accounts

As this data is added to the existing data and cross-referenced additional insight into the economics of iTunes is emerging.

Getting to one billion iTunes accounts

There are 225 million iTunes account holders. 25 million joined in the three months. As the iTunes store has been operating since April 2003 it’s possible to step back and look at its history and measure the rate of growth relative to other ecosystems.

The following chart shows various platforms/ecosystems in terms of adoption. In the case of phone operating systems and consoles, the cumulative units sold is shown. The scale is 10 years by 1 billion users with users measured on a logarithmic scale.

Android developers are more prolific but less persistent than iOS developers

According to 148apps.biz, the App Store has seen over half a million apps since inception. The number of available apps, according to Apple, is now 425k. (148apps claims 402k apps available in the US store.) The history of the App store catalog is shown in the following chart (showing both US and World-wide measures).

In an interesting new post by Appsfire, APPtrition – or why app store size does not matter that much… Ouriel Ohayon makes a good point: available is very different than accepted. When comparing catalogs it’s important to distinguish between these measures. Apps are published and then unpublished for various reasons. He calls this app attrition and details the reasons it might happen.

What makes this interesting is the contrast between attrition rates on Android’s Market and those on Apple’s App Store.

A new show launched today. Critical Path #1: The Five Year Plan – 5by5

Critical Path #1: The Five Year Plan – 5by5.

Critical Path is a talk show contemplating the causality of success and failure in mobile computing. Using Apple as a lens to look at both telecom and traditional computing markets, we try understand what it means to be great.

In this inaugural episode, Horace Dediu and Dan Benjamin try to weigh the strategic implications of Apple’s WWDC announcements. We take a look at the impact on RIM, operators, Google and Apple’s flirtation with Twitter.

Songs, Books and Apps: What do the three media types tell us about the future of consumption?

The 200+ million iOS devices have caused 14 billion apps to be downloaded in less than three years. The iTunes music store caused 15 billion songs to be downloaded over a 7 year period.

The two media download totals are shown in the following chart:

About 9 months ago I predicted that Apps would overtake song downloads. I was off on the timing by a few months. The app download rate slowed down in the last few months. However, the crossover point is imminent. The song download rate is running at about

Coincidental Launchpad

The Post PC era just turned more so.


You can still get the t-shirt.

Peak RIM

In their monthly survey update on US phone usage, comScore reported that by the end of April 74.6 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones. In the same period a year ago only 48.1 million did. The percent of smartphone users out of total phone users has reached 32%.

The following data points can also be deduced:

  • 2.1 million or 474k people/week became smartphone users during April.
  • 62% of smartphones in use in the US are either Android or iOS. The sum a year ago was 37%.
  • There are about 20 million iPhone users and 27 million Android users in the US today. A year ago there were 12 and 6 million respectively.
  • RIM’s US user base peaked at 22 million in Sept 2010. It is now 19 million and dropping.
  • Usage of Microsoft mobile operating systems in the US is in steady decline dropping from 7 to 5 million users in one year.
  • During April 475,000 people abandoned their Blackberries.
  • Android and iOS gained 3 million users in April. One million switched from other smartphones and 2 million switched from non-smartphones.

The following chart shows the evolution of installed base share of platforms among users of smartphones in the US.

Does the phone market forgive failure?

One of the details of Nokia’s warning which did not get a lot of attention was the mention that profitability for the current quarter could not be guaranteed. That is to say that Nokia may make a loss, perhaps for the first time in more than a decade.

This may not be that newsworthy except for the strange fact that as far as I’ve been able to observe, any company in the mobile phone market that ended up losing money has never recovered its standing in terms of share or profit (i.e. AMP index value has never recovered).

Here is a list companies that have “hit the rocks” in terms of mobile phone profitability and their fates (in no particular order).

Is Nokia worth less than Skype?

Yesterday Nokia warned that its guidance for the quarter and the year were “no longer valid.” The surprise to me is that management was surprised. In February I warned that even if Nokia could fool consumers into buying products whose platform was publicly executed, distributors and operators would not likely go along with the deception. Pricing collapse is the proof of a channel breakdown.

That seemed predictable. What I struggled with was how Nokia itself could present such an optimistic forecast. Absent any explanation, Nokia’s forecast of robust sales for Symbian products into the near future belies a failure of understanding of the dynamics of platforms and especially the impact of destruction of trust and brand value that commenced in February. Distress is a slippery slope and it does not model well in a spreadsheet. It takes a leap of non-linear faith to predict the piling-on effect on the up- and the down-side.

Faith in the company’s guidance meant that the market reacted to the bad news by discounting Nokia down to a market cap of $26.7 billion. One analyst even cut his target price down to $4/share, 57% of yesterday’s close. How can this fair? What is Nokia’s phone business worth?