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Day May 1, 2012

Which is best: hardware, software or services?

Apple’s recent margins are nothing short of spectacular. It’s hard to convey just how remarkable 47% gross margin and 39% operating margins are. For a company that sells hardware these are simply unheard-of numbers.

The best way I can illustrate this is by comparing Apple’s operating margins with those of two other platform-based companies, Google and Microsoft.

Microsoft invented the software-as-a-business model and, as software is easily reproduced, their margins are phenomenal. The gross margins are typically in the 80% range for software. Overall, the company had higher R&D and SG&A expenses so their operating margins are a more modest 37% on average. However, Apple managed to exceed this value even though it has the disadvantage of actually having to build things made of atoms.