April 2012
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Month April 2012

What did I get right and wrong about the first quarter?

I analyze my performance every quarter to see if there is any pattern of error in my analysis. I devised a scoring method analogous to the grade point average system used in most US schools. You can read about the fourth quarter here.

This quarter I made one public release of data here and a semi-public update on the iPhone shipments here.

The resulting scores for both early and late estimates are shown in the table below:


Jim Zellmer interviews me about my life

This is a transcript of a voice interview conducted April 19th 2012.

The interview is available as an audio file here.

Jim Zellmer: I thought we’d start by describing your education from the beginning, Horace.

Horace Dediu: OK, that’s good, yeah. I like to say I’m the product of the public school systems. I went to public schools in three different countries, and probably maybe a dozen different schools altogether because we moved a lot, moved over 30 times.

My family emigrated, and we were what you might call political refugees for a while. We were stateless. We didn’t have passports. We were officially not citizens of any country. So, for a period of about four or five years, that was the case. I started having regular schooling in Romania, and then moved to Italy and was enrolled in a school, actually, in the city of Verona, which is where “Romeo and Juliet” was originally set.

I was saying…my background. I spent a year in school in Italy, and I went to school in the north of Italy, in Torino. The thing was that I didn’t know Italian, so I actually had to learn. But that’s a lot easier for children. I was about nine, I think. And so, I learned Italian, was able to have a good school year. But then we moved.

In the summer, we moved again, and we emigrated to the United States. It took about a year to get the paperwork for that–because that was our ultimate goal was to be in the US. I was enrolled in the public schools. First, in Cleveland, where we found someone to help us. I actually went to, I guess, elementary school in the city of Cleveland, where we lived.

And then, later on, for middle school… What happened in Cleveland around that time was that busing started, desegregation. It would have meant, for me, more than one-hour journey across the whole city, from the west end to the east end of Cleveland, and my parents would have none of that. So, we moved to a suburb, immediately adjacent, which is called Lakewood. I went to middle school and high school in Lakewood, Ohio, for three years in high school.

And then, we actually moved yet again, to Boston. My father got a job in the booming tech sector at the time, which was in the early ’80s. I ended up in a suburb of Boston called Medford. We didn’t know much. Again, we were flying pretty blind here. We weren’t familiar with neighborhoods or what were good schools or anything like that–“good schools.” Mostly it was a question of, “Can we find affordable housing?”

Medford turned out to be a pretty lucky choice. In one hand, at the time, it was a blue-collar town. It was one of the near suburbs. So the closer to the city, it tends to be the older the immigrant generations are. It was settled mostly by Italian Americans. And so, a lot of the children I met in school were of some ethnic background.

Again, in the Midwest, that was a bit more rare. So East Coast, for me, was a little bit more vibrant in the sense that there were more interesting ethnic backgrounds and people from different histories and so on.

I enjoyed it, but I only had one year at Medford High School. It was actually more enjoyable, that year, I would say, than my years in Ohio. I have friends that I retained from that one year, and I don’t have friends I stay in touch with from Ohio.

But it has changed. The city since has become much more, I would say, a lot of those families moved yet again, probably to a further suburb, and has changed character. I think it’s more Hispanic now, the city overall. Nothing wrong with that, it just probably would feel different to anyone there now.

I was, again, in Medford. My choice, my next question, was where to go to college. I had been doing OK in school. And that was an interesting puzzle to solve as a kid, because you don’t quite know how to fit in, the usual problems. Fortunately, having moved around so much, I had a pretty thick skin, and having had an accent or a strange background just made you a little bit tougher. And so, I was pretty immune to some of the high-school politics.

I focused on studies, and my parents are both educators. My father has a PhD in mathematics, and my mother had a Master’s in mathematics and she taught. Actually, her job was as a teacher. They both got certified as teachers in the United States. My father had taught, also, university in Romania, but he ended up teaching high school and other two-year colleges in the US. It’s very hard to go into academia from another country.

In any case, the fact that I had such devoted, academically inclined parents helped in focusing me on academics. That also, I think, was my nature. As far as college, my concern, we always had financial concerns, right?

Jim Zellmer: Right.

Horace: So, for me, I wasn’t interested in the social aspect of college. For us, really, the decision was, “Can we keep expenses down?” I was accepted at Tufts University and also at Brandeis, which were local. That was important to me, that it would be near to my home and I could actually commute to these places.

Sponsor: Minigroup

Braizen, an Atlanta design firm, uses Minigroup to manage projects, collaborate and communicate with their clients. This keeps clients happy and helps Brazien work smarter.

A minigroup is a private, secure online space where members communicate with posts and comments, share large files, and manage projects.

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“Telling potential clients that we use this tool, where we’ll keep in constant contact with them, definitely helps seal the deal,” says Tyrie, the copywriter at Braizen.

Watch the full interview with Braizen.

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Why was Wall Street surprised by Apple's performance?

The Earth’s axis is tilted relative to the orbital plane it follows around the Sun. The angle is about 23.44 degrees. Because of this axial tilt, the intensity of sunlight incident on the northern and southern hemispheres varies alternatively throughout the orbit, which, by its duration, is called a “year”. This change in sunlight intensity causes weather changes. Colder when there is less light, warmer when there is more light. Life on Earth became used to this cycle and humans came to call these changes in weather “seasons”.

The warm seasons became the easier seasons for people, especially when agriculture was introduced, since that was when food grew.  Because of the geography of landmasses on Earth, humans became more concentrated in the northern hemisphere. As the northern hemisphere turned away from the Sun darkness and cold returned every year. When that darkness was at its worst people decided it was time to celebrate the return of warmth and sunshine, and thus plentiful food.

So it became very common in northern lands to celebrate the winter solstice or the darkest and coldest time of the year. The amazing thing was that all peoples did this regardless of culture or geographic location. In fact, it became common to mark the end of year at around the same time as the solstice. A new year was said to begin when the Sun began to move higher in the sky every day. The Europeans celebrated the solstice with a festival which eventually came to be called Christmas and the Chinese celebrated it as a Winter Festival which came to be called Chinese New Year.

As part of these celebrations, gift giving also became the default practice. And so, around what came to be called “December” and “January” most of the people in the Northern Hemisphere gave gifts to each other. Interestingly, as people migrated to the southern hemisphere they kept the same festival schedule so that gifting was done in what was the height of summer!

What Wall Street seems to have missed is that the gifting season is a global event spanning into January. In other words, buyers of iPhones aren’t concentrated in one part of the planet and they don’t all celebrate one single gifting festival.

The reason lies in the way the Earth is tilted and the way the continents are arranged upon it. So perhaps a better understanding of astronomy and geography would have helped investors make decisions during the past few weeks. I suggest remedial lessons for those who missed this.

5by5 | The Critical Path #35: Joys and Sorrows

A review of Apple’s performance in the first calendar quarter. Covering the iPhone’s predictability, greater China and international opportunity swamping the US opportunity, the iPad surprise and what mobile means to Apple. Dan and Horace ponder what it means for the largest company in the world to also be the fastest growing company in the world. We discuss whether there is a mobile bubble and, as a bonus, Horace predicts the launch timing of the next iPhone.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #35: Joys and Sorrows.

Covered a lot of ground. Be sure to rate the show on iTunes.

Apple's Growth Scorecard for the first quarter of 2012

For Apple 2012 started with almost the same growth as 2011 started. Q1 2011 saw earnings growth of 92% and Q1 2012 saw growth of 94%. As the following revenue growth table shows, the pattern for the last twelve months has been very consistent:

Here are some notes:

Unforgiven: The consequences of profit failure in mobile phones

In June of last year I wrote a post titled “Does the phone market forgive failure?” It was written on the eve of Nokia’s Q2 2011 report highlighting the historic consequences of a dip into negative operating margins for a phone vendor.

I listed 13 phone vendors who were either merged, liquidated or acquired. There are no examples of vendors who recovered from a position of loss making.

I was prompted to follow-up by a note Charter Equity Research analyst Edward Snyder wrote illustrating the effect of negative operating margins on phone vendors. I took his illustration and expanded it with additional data.

Since my post in June last year Sony Ericsson and Motorola were acquired making the victims list total 14 companies, with Nokia, LG and RIM having joined the “endangered species list”. If the pattern repeats, then RIM and Nokia are in early phases of what promises to be an extended period of pain followed by an exit.

What the analysis does not answer is

Google and Microsoft speak volumes with silence

The following charts show Google and Microsoft revenues and operating income:

Both companies showed healthy growth. Revenues: Microsoft 6%, Google 24%. Operating Income: Microsoft 12%, Google 48%. Google had a particularly weak margin Q1 2011 so its income growth appears very strong.

The surprise in Microsoft’s performance was

Forecasting Nokia's Windows Phone sales and Microsoft's mobile customer acquisition cost

Our agreement with Microsoft includes platform support payments from Microsoft to us as well as software royalty payments from us to Microsoft. In the first quarter 2012, we received a quarterly platform support payment of USD 250 million (approximately EUR 189 million). We have a competitive software royalty structure, which includes minimum software royalty commitments. Over the life of the agreement, both the platform support payments and the minimum software royalty commitments are expected to measure in the billions of US Dollars. The total amount of the platform support payments is expected to slightly exceed the total amount of the minimum software royalty commitments.

From Nokia’s Q1 2012 financial interim report

The figure of $250 million for Q1 is the same as the amount Nokia received for “platform support” in Q4 2011. This means Microsoft has paid $500 million over two quarters. During the same time frame Nokia shipped approximately three million Windows Phone devices. The average cost to Microsoft to acquire a Nokia Windows Phone user is therefore $167 per user. This is down from $250/user in the last quarter.[1]

If the royalty is equivalent to a license fee then the more interesting question is how and when will the royalty payments nearly match the platform support payments as expected. This might give us an estimate of what both parties are expecting from the relationship.

Nokia's evaporating brand value

Nokia reported Q1 results following very closely the warning issued last week.

There were few surprises. There is much more detail in terms of regional performance which might be a better indicator of how the smartphone strategy is playing out. I plotted the data in three charts.

Regional Sales Value

A year ago Europe and China were nearly equally valuable as regions to Nokia (€2.1 billion and €1.9 billion, respectively). Even though sales fell across all regions, China fell so much that it has become the fourth in value and nearly the same value as Latin America (€577 million for China vs. €542 million for Latin America). This is a significant reversal for a very important market. The drop in value is a staggering 70%. Is there some clue as to what caused this?