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Month September 2013

The Critical Path #97: Squealing in Delight

Horace discusses AirShow NYC and his appearance on Bloomberg Surveillance, plus opening weekend sales of 9 million iPhone 5s/c units. We look ahead to what else Apple may have in store through sustaining and disruptive innovation.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #97: Squealing in Delight.

My Comments on Tablets on Bloomberg Surveillance

My thanks to Tania Chen for organizing my appearance on Bloomberg Surveillance in New York on September 26th.

Is Apple Really Dominating the Tablet Wars?: Video – Bloomberg.

Although there isn’t much one can cover in 5 minutes, there were some good questions around tablets. The role of Amazon and Microsoft in particular.

The figurative sales of iPhones and BlackBerries

The most interesting juxtaposition in market data happened this week.

Apple announced 9 million units of the iPhone 5s/c sold in their opening weekend while BlackBerry recognized 3.7 million smartphones sold in the three months ended August 31.

I will state these data points with a different emphasis:  while Apple explicitly reported, both in a press release and in an SEC filing, Sales of 9 million units, BlackBerry reported recognition of revenues on 3.7 million units.  At the same time BlackBerry also reported sales to end users of 5.9 million units.

So, did Apple sell 9 million iPhones in three days? What about units ordered and not delivered? Which of these units will show up in the company’s income statement? Conversely, did BlackBerry sell 3.7 million or did it sell 5.9 million smartphones in three months?

The answer is dependent on what constitutes a sale. I suggest re-reading the Sold and Shipped: A Brief Introduction post from last year. Understanding is complicated by many factors, not least of which could be intentional signaling by management. We may never come to a perfectly matched comparison of the two companies’ situations but our job as analysts is to see through the signals and obfuscating language and interpret a pattern. A pattern that extends over a time and helps us learn.

My observation is one of contrast. The juxtaposition this time is that Apple emphasized sold and not shipped while BlackBerry sold more units to end users than it recognized revenue. These signals reflect precisely the inverted fortunes of the two companies.

For BlackBerry the higher sold than shipped recognition was due to a product launch failure. Units which were shipped (and recognized as revenue) last quarter did not sell and the company is not only writing off the inventory but has drastically reduced its deliveries of new units in order to drain inventory. The company explains:

During the second quarter the company recognized hardware revenue on approximately 3.7 million BlackBerry smartphones. Most of the units recognized are BlackBerry 7 devices, in part because certain BlackBerry 10 devices that were shipped in the second quarter of fiscal 2014 will not be recognized until those devices are sold through to end customers. During the quarter, approximately 5.9 million BlackBerry smartphones were sold through to end customers, which included shipments made prior to the second quarter and which reduced the Company’s inventory in the channel.

The company is essentially saying that due to the unusual circumstances of a product launch failure, they will change how they account for their business. They don’t have the confidence that units shipped will actually sell and will not recognize them since they fear they will have to write some off. They are signaling: They are being far more conservative, not reporting shipments alone because those shipments could essentially be value free.

When seen as a pattern, the new figure on recognized revenue units needs to be shown relative to the history of recognized revenue units.  

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iPhones 5c and 5s launch performance illustrated

Apple today announced it has sold nine million new iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c models in the first three days after their launch. This performance is illustrated in the following graph:

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 9-23-7.12.13 PM

Note that the data is normalized to units/day.

The launch countries this year differed from last year in that they include all of China whereas last year only Hong Kong was included.[1]

The absolute number of 5x devices sold (not just shipped) seems to be an 80% increase from the 5 launch (9 million vs. 5) but accounting for China the increase is a more modest 29%.  ((The China launch event last year may have had a different dynamic as it occurred later and nearer to holiday season, but I’ll go with the unqualified data.))

However, perhaps the more relevant comparison is between different “S” generations of phones.

The data shows that the 3GS was 3x more rapidly purchased on launch than the original iPhone. The 4S was 4x more rapidly purchased on launch than the 3GS and now the latest 5s/c are 2.3x more rapidly purchased than the 4S.

The growth is certainly lower but from a much higher base. This should not be surprising.

UPDATE: Galaxy S 4 launch data is updated to show weekend performance. Previous graph showed performance over the first 27 days.

Notes:
  1. I am assuming that this year China includes Hong Kong. It would be good to confirm this. []

An interview with Niaz Uddin at eTalks

My thanks to Niaz Uddin for asking some good questions and posting my replies:

Horace Dediu on Asymco, Apple and Future of Computing | eTalks.

Full interview is here, excerpts below:

Niaz: Why do you study Apple?

Horace: Apple is an interesting company to study because its success comes from being a serial disruptor. This is a very rare type of success formula. I am trying to “reverse engineer” its operating model and I hope that such a model is one which others might learn from if they were to emulate it. The trouble is that very few others seem to want to emulate Apple. Why that is is also an interesting question.

Niaz: […] Do you think apple has lost its image that it has created over the years as a center of innovation and building excellent products?

Horace: I cannot comment on how Apple’s image is measured by people in the industry. I have been listening to commentary on Apple for about a decade and I have never seen any change in pattern. The company has always been perceived as a failure by a majority of observers. With respect to its products, I also do not see a change in the pattern established over the last decade.

Niaz: Are you optimist about the future success of Apple? Like after 10 years and then 20 years?

Horace: Let me put it this way: if there were no Apple then somebody will have to invent an Apple to do the same thing Apple does. In that sense I’m optimistic that there will be an Apple in some way in perpetuity.

Niaz: What will be the next big innovation from Apple?

Horace: I have no idea but it’s likely to involve refining new user interaction methods. Similar to the breakthroughs that came from the use of a mouse, a scroll wheel and a touch screen. It means making computers better at gleaning our intentions without our getting involved in explaining them.

Niaz: Will Apple, Google and Samsung be the major player for the future of computing? Or we can hope to see some new faces?

Horace: I am fairly sure Samsung will not be because they have not yet grafted software and services to their operating structure. I would give Amazon a higher probability in being a successful platform alternative.

Niaz: In 2011 you’ve written a blog post ‘Steve Jobs’ Ultimate Lesson for Companies’ on Harvard Business Review Blog and you have cited ‘A leader should aspire to do more. A leader should claim to have left a legacy not just on their company but on all companies.’ As you know Google, Amazon, Samsung, Facebook … all have learnt lifetime lessons from Steve Jobs. What do you think about the impact that Steve Jobs have created?

Horace: He led by example and like all great leaders sacrificed much as a way to inspire others to follow him. He also spent time in the wilderness and chose asceticism. This gave him authority. Many historical figures had the same quality. The problem is that few business leaders have it but I don’t see why they shouldn’t.

Much more on evaluating Tim Cook’s performance, the iPhone portfolio, the rise of Android, Microsoft/Nokia, wearable technology and disrupting Google. Check it out on eTalks.

 

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Asymcar 4: Death of a salesman

Asymcar 4: Death of a salesman | Asymcar.

Are cars sold or purchased? Horace Dediu and Jim Zellmer discuss automotive “ecosystems” vis-à-vis Apple and Tesla’s direct sales model. We further dive into the rigidity and risk of such value chains and divert a bit into automakers’ attempts at aviation. Finally, we consider the potential monetization of automotive metadata and what that might mean for new, perhaps “over the top” style entrants.

 

Also history lessons: Ford Trimotor, Ford production system, The Kaiser people’s car.

 

 

Think local, act global

One of the curiosities of the mobile phone market is how vast it is but also how heterogeneous it has always been. I wrote about this in 2010:  Smartphone parochialism: How operator policies prevent or promote platform adoption. This observation was influenced by my time at Nokia where I became amazed at how differently users behaved in different countries.

There were many causes. Some cultural, some historical, some economic and some policy-driven. The result was that it presented a challenge to any company with global ambitions and indeed it was rare to see the same company do well in every market. Japanese companies did well in Japan, European companies did well in Europe and US (and Korean) companies did well in the US. Nokia was most successful because it was able to apply an European model more broadly (but not in the US). Samsung succeeded by simply adapting to each and every market with hundreds of products. But it was a particularly “provincial” market.

My assumption was that when smartphones would become the majority of phones in use there would be a normalization of behavior and thus a homogeneity of preferences. This is, after all, what happened in other platform games. PC form factors are globally consistent, PC operating systems are equally preferred around the world, FaceBook, Google and Twitter are also, unless censored, uniformly popular. Apple’s iPod eventually also became a global phenomenon with no material difference in preference by market. Likewise for game consoles.[1]

However, a decade after the broad adoption of smartphones, the relative popularity of various platforms is still unevenly distributed. Prior to the iPhone, Symbian was strong everywhere but the US and BlackBerry was very strong in the US but weak elsewhere. Windows Mobile had footholds in some markets but little traction in others. Today the picture has changed but it’s still a patchwork of preferences. Consider the following graphs.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9-18-12.57.15 PM

Notes:
  1. Although Japanese do seem to prefer Japanese platforms more. []

An Interview by Eric Jackson: On Blogging, Apple And What's Next

My thanks to Eric Jackson for his thoughtful questions and post on Forbes.com. You can read full interview here but I repeat a few non-biographical questions and answers here for discussion:

An Interview With Horace Dediu: On Blogging, Apple And What’s Next

Q: Turning to Apple, where is it at right now as a company in this post-Steve Jobs period?

A: Still too early to tell. They seem to be cooking a lot of things and the great experiment of whether a company can be Jobsian without Jobs is still going on. I have been trying to put together a picture of how it operates. It’s hard because that’s their biggest secret. It’s also a picture that few people have ever seen, even those who worked there a long time. The glimpses so far are tantalizing but there is so much we don’t know and thus can’t assess how robust it is. One thing that is clear to me is that there is no absorption by mainstream observers of what makes Apple tick. It’s hiding in plain sight because what it is isn’t anything anyone can recognize. Case in point is the functional and integrated dimensions. It’s the largest functional organization outside the US Army and more integrated than Henry Ford’s production system. Just describing it sounds medieval and it’s so far outside convention that it’s not something reasonable people are willing to believe actually exists.

Q: Is Tim Cook the right CEO for the company at this time?

A: I hold the belief that he’s been CEO for much longer than it seems. Jobs was not a CEO in any traditional sense. He was head of product and culture and all-around micromanager. He left the operational side of the company to Cook who actually built it into a colossus. Think along the lines of the pairing of Howard Hughes and Frank William Gay. What people look for in Cook is the qualities that Jobs had but those qualities and duties are now dispersed among a large team. The question isn’t whether Cook can be the “Chief Magical Officer” but rather whether the functional team that’s around Cook can do the things Jobs used to do.

Look at it another way: I subscribe to the idea that any sufficiently large company is a system and needs to be analyzed using a lost art called “Systems Analysis”. This is a complete review of all parts and the way they inter-relate. However, since for most of its life Apple was personified as an individual, what came to pass for Apple analysis was actually the psychoanalysis of that individual. It makes for great journalism and best selling books. It’s also banal and almost certainly wrong. The proof is in the vastness of complexity and number of people involved. Engineers tend to think about constraints and the constraints on companies are innumerable.

Q: You’ve written extensively on the post-PC period, when will we come to the post-phone period – if ever?