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Year 2017

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Gravity

Apple is doomed. So are you. As mortals we are used to the idea of death. We do not dwell on it even though it’s inevitable. We do know that we’ll die but what we don’t know is when we’ll die. That certainty/uncertainty makes us, more or less, do everything that we do. And so we carry on. But companies die too. And when they die is also a mystery but it’s not at all clear that their inevitable demise determines what they do. If you think you’re immortal you may live dangerously. Perhaps as a result they live shorter lives than we do.

Life expectancy for humans has been rising but for companies it has been declining. Even more curiously, the richer you are the more likely you are to live longer but the wealthier a company, the more likely it is to keel over at any time. The longest lived small businesses live over 1000 years but the longest-lived large business is probably the East India Company that made it to the ripe age of 274. But that was before 1800.

In the modern, industrial era there are very few corporations that survived over a century and the Fortune 500 shows a turnover in inhabitants that resembles that of a plague-infested medieval inner-city. In contrast to their conservative, geriatric organic owners, synthetic companies are more likely to behave like live-fast, die-young punk rockers.

So it’s no surprise that Apple, at age 40, is seen as being well past its sell-by date. And yet it seems to be saying, somewhat faintly, “I’m not dead yet”. By generating more cash than can be comprehended by human observers and by controlling assets that are well beyond the means of many countries, they (it?) is confusing us with its persistence.

The confusion is exhibited in the following graph which shows the crises in confidence by that wonderful reflector of human perception–the stock market. By voting millions of times a day, the market shows us with great precision the totality of human emotion with regard to an asset. That emotion turns rapidly negative on Apple with surprising frequency.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 2.32.03 PM

There have been over 8 bouts of collapsing confidence (exhibited by 40% drops in value) for Apple’s shares. Consider the latest where we’ve seen a 40% drop followed by 57% increase in share price over the last 12 months. 57% might not seem extraordinary for a small company but for the world’s largest market capitalization with the corresponding colossus of cash that it straddles, the robustness of brand and the loyalty of customers, the mind boggles.

The same thing happened in 2012 and 2008 and as far as I can tell the company has not changed one iota during that time. The same people, mostly, are in charge. With the same mission statement, and even the same product line. The resources, processes and priorities–the only determinants of the essential value of a firm–have not shifted.

One could try to suggest that even if Apple is unchanged, the world around it has changed. But if anything the world has come to match Apple’s own view: more mobile vs. fixed, more design vs. generic, more integrated experiences vs. more modular DIY.

The ethos of Apple is rigid so why is perception about the company so fickle?

If the graph above reflects perception about a constant entity then perhaps it charts how the world has changed rather than how Apple has. Perhaps perception revolves around a center of gravity far heavier and permanent. Perhaps the tug-of-war between fear and greed reflects more upon us that it does upon the object being observed.

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The First Trillion Dollars is Always the Hardest

In its first 10 years, the iPhone will have sold at least 1.2 billion units,[1] making it the most successful product of all time. The iPhone also enabled the iOS empire which includes the iPod touch, the iPad, the Apple Watch and Apple TV whose combined total unit sales will reach 1.75 billion units over 10 years. This total is likely to top 2 billion units by the end of 2018.

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 10.15.00 PM

The revenues from iOS product sales will reach $980 billion by middle of this year. In addition to hardware Apple also books iOS services revenues (including content) which have totaled more than $100 billion to date.

This means that iOS will have generated over $1 trillion in revenues for Apple sometime this year.

In addition, developers building apps for iOS have been paid $60 billion. The rate of payments has now reached $20 billion/yr.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-41-29-pm

Not included in this payment total are “mobile-first” or “mobile mainly” businesses such as FaceBook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tencent, YouTube, Yahoo, NetEase, Pandora Radio, Google Search, Baidu, Google Maps, Gmail, Instagram, Amazon, eBay, JD.com, Alibaba, Priceline, Expedia, Salesforce and Other Enterprise Software, Ride Sharing Apps, AirBnB and many other services which monetize independently of the App Store.

I estimate that the cumulative revenues enabled by iOS across these businesses have exceeded $500 billion, with a rate of revenue soon to reach $300 billion/yr.

The revenue numbers can only hint at the change in behavior among users. An iPhone is unlocked 80 times a day. Assuming 600 million devices in use there are 48 billion sessions on iPhones every day. 17.5 trillion sessions every year. It is these instances of interaction and engagement which are desired by all businesses built on top of the ecosystem.

These instances of engagement must be multiplied by the quality of the customers which Apple captures. iOS users spend more and are more loyal than those on alternative platform thus qualifying the platform as “premium” and thus adding to its value in the eyes of developers, content producers and service providers.

As the install base of iOS increases and as users hire the devices to do more and spend more time with them the virtuous cycle of value creation will continue and accelerate.

There is a temptation to think that such a business is fragile and will be disrupted. Challengers appear daily and the number of iPhone “killers” is not measurable. One can cite the billion users of Nokia phones which defected. One can cite the loyalty of BlackBerry users that evaporated. One can even cite the juggernaut of Windows and how it became impotent. One can cite the vast number of Android devices offered at low prices.

But there are reasons to believe that the iOS empire is far stronger and resilient.

Unlike Nokia’s phones, Apple’s product is an ecosystem with network effects and dependencies on software and services. It’s also a monolithic product with a singular interface and form factor.

Unlike BlackBerry, the iPhone does many jobs–too many to count. Indeed the iPhone evolves and changes its core value over time.

Although different in many ways from Windows there are strong similarities in terms of loyalty and persistence of users. iOS even developed a dominant position in enterprises. Microsoft’s attempt to become a hardware company is a testament to the confluence of the two business models.

And whereas Android was originally seen as the “good enough” iPhone, potentially disrupting it, it turns out to be the ersatz iPhone. Chances are higher that users will switch from Android to iPhone and not the other way. Again, the reasons have more to do with the ecosystem and quality of users (which are hard to measure) than with the hardware (which is easy to measure.)

As we look toward the second decade of the iPhone, the expectation isn’t one of another “big bang” but a process of continuous improvement. The market is nearing saturation so the goals must be to capture more switchers from Android. Apple has achieved this with the Mac: survival, persistence and eventual redemption.

More exciting is the apparent expansion of a network of ancillary “smart” accessories. The Apple Watch, the AirPods, Pencil and possible new wearables point toward a future where the iPhone is a hub to a mesh of personal devices. The seamless integration of such devices is what has always set Apple apart.

 

Notes:
  1. Includes forecast for first six months of 2017 []