In an Harvard Business Review post Rob Wheeler makes the case for the Kindle Fire as a disruptive innovation. I believe that it is but crucially I disagree that the Kindle Fire is a low end disruption.
My assessment of the Kindle Fire is based on the two attributes which Amazon highlights as the key selling points which offer a basis of differentiation and potential for asymmetric competition: a low price and a new browsing model. I believe that these two attributes result in two opportunities: one for low end disruption and another of new market disruption. I reject the first and tentatively support the second.
It’s immediately obvious that the price point of the Kindle Fire is well below alternatives. That forms the basis of disruptive potential, but before we jump to analyzing the disruption hypothesis we should determine whether and to what extent Amazon profits from the device directly. Profitability gives us a clue to where Amazon will apply resources and thus establish its trajectory of improvement.
We know the margin on the Fire is low because we can calculate the bill of materials for 7″ tablets. Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray estimates that Amazon “loses” $50 for each unit sold. We also know that the design Amazon used is essentially very similar to the RIM PlayBook and was sourced from the same ODM. RIM priced the product at $499 but has struggled to find buyers and is reluctantly dropping the price. We also can estimate that Apple with a product having more than twice the screen size is keeping modest (~30%) gross margins for at a price point approximately double that of the Fire. It does seem that Amazon does not have much or any margin to dip into.
So the Fire can be classified as a low price product. Does that make it a low end disruption?
I’ve been providing analysis of Apple’s operating and financial performance for some time. Recently we’ve begun to look at comparisons of financial performance for comparable companies. Now it’s time to dig deeper and do comparisons of operating performance as well.
To start, Microsoft.
Whereas Apple has product lines (iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac, iTunes, Peripherals and Software), Microsoft has business divisions (Windows & Windows Live, Server and Tools, Online Services, Business (Office), Entertainment and Devices). The charts show revenues for both Apple and Microsoft according to these defined segments.
The second chart should be a familiar one:
Note that the horizontal and vertical axes are the same. The period of coverage is from mid-2007 to the end of June 2011 which corresponds to the life of the iPhone. The vertical axis ranges up to $30 billion/quarter in both charts.
When shown this way, the exceptional growth for Apple becomes easier to understand (and perhaps Apple’s valuation premium of 15.7 P/E vs. Microsoft’s 9.5). Microsoft has been growing these past four years but not nearly at the rate of Apple. Microsoft grew quarterly revenues from the ~$15b range to ~$17b range.
Additional points of interest:
- The Mac business generates more Revenue than Windows
- iOS powered devices generate more revenue than all of Microsoft’s products put together
- Apple’s revenues grew 413% since Q2 2007 while Microsoft’s grew 26%
- The release of Windows 7 had a marked effect on revenues in the launch quarter but the sales did not seem to grow above the previous version’s run rate ($4.2b/quarter vs. $4.7b/q on average).
But most importantly, whereas Apple’s growth has come from new businesses (iPhone and iPad), Microsoft has organically grown existing businesses. The condemnation of leadership at Microsoft should hinge on the absence of significant top line growth. Note that neither the Online Services nor the Entertainment and Devices divisions had appreciable net growth.
Episode #8 • September 28, 2011 at 2:00pm
Horace and Dan talk about why CEOs are paid so much and what analysis has come to mean in equities research and the value of cross-pollination between the camps that form around technology companies.
5by5 | The Critical Path #8: In Memory of Robert Boyle.
On October 4th, Tim Cook will take the stage at Apple’s fall event. With Steve Jobs’ transition to head the Board of Directors of Apple and after serving as CEO for fourteen years, it is time to take a look at his reign.
Looking at his performance vs. peer companies from a capital market performance, I have composed the following two charts:
Market capitalization of selected peer companies by calendar quarter in USD million sorted by most recent market capitalization (1997-2011)
Market capitalization as share of combined market capitalization by calendar quarter sorted by most recent market capitalization (1997-2011)
Apple’s share price has recently hit a new all-time high, over $400 per share. As often happens there was no specific new information from the company to justify this increase. On the other hand there is usually no news to justify share price drops in Apple. In fact, the stock is up on what would be considered counter-indicative news: the resignation of a very important CEO.
But readers may recall that there is a measure of performance for Apple we can turn to that seems to show strong correlation to its stock price. It’s not income and it’s not growth in income but it’s the strength of the balance sheet.
I demonstrated this relationship last May with a post titled The market values Apple’s balance sheet, not its income statement.
It’s time to look at the data again to see if the relationship still holds. I added the data for Q2 and made some estimate about the cash position since July 25th (we will know this data with more accuracy when Q3 data is reported in a few weeks).
The slope of the line above has decreased slightly but a strong correlation can still be observed.