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The Critical Path #142: The Great Insufficiency

Horace discusses his latest work at the Christensen Institute and considers why the educational system works the way it does. Can large scale education be modularized? In the second half of the show, Anders and Horace discuss the rumors about the possibility that Apple might be working on a car.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #142: The Great Insufficiency.

The Analyst’s Guide to Apple Category Entry

Understanding Apple’s intentions seems to be a popular parlor game and there are many attempts at divining intention from data and market study. These attempts at market research for answers are futile because Apple does not compete in existing markets but rather it creates new markets. For instance, the market for the Apple II could not have been assessed from research into the computing market of 1974. The intention for Apple to enter into music devices and services could not have been predicted through an analysis of MP3 player market in 2000. The iPhone was also not predicated on the market for “Internet Communicators” in 2006 or 2002 when the iPad was first contemplated.[1]

Instead of measuring the size of pre-existing markets, surveying the functionality of existing products, or weighing toxically financialized ratios like margins and market shares, I recall this ad (Our Signature, first seen at 2013 WWDC):

This is it
This is what matters

The experience of a product
How it will make someone feel
Will it make life better?
Does it deserve to exist?

We spend a lot of time on a few great things
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches

You may rarely look at it
But you will always feel it
This is our signature
And it means everything

My interpretation of these lines, coupled with additional public statements can be used to create a “litmus test” for new product categories:

1. The experience of a product. Read: They will work on things to which they can make a meaningful contribution. To me this means that they will build things which require an integrated approach. As Apple is “the last integrated company standing” it means they will work on problems where the system is not good enough. This means that they will not work on problems where an individual modular component is not good enough. By system I mean, in the largest sense: production, design, distribution, sales, support and services must work in a seamless way. Systems analysis implies a broad understanding of the causes of insufficient performance along the dimensions of “experience”. The experiences are what differentiate the products (and lead to high margins) and these experiences are possible only through the control of interdependent modules.

2. Does it deserve to exist? Read: They will work on very few things. They will say no to many things. It’s still true that all of Apple’s products can fit on one table. That may not be true forever, but their product space will not grow as quickly as sales grow. This means that there is no notion of “marginal value” or portfolio theory where products are added because they can be justified as “moving the needle” or balancing demand. Rather, the few things which will be worked on will address non-consumption. Non-consumption of experiences.

3. Enhance life. Read: The things they release are inevitable even though nobody asked for them. The reason this is possible is that there are unmet and unidentified “jobs to be done” which are powerful sources of demand and whose satisfaction leads to unforeseen rewards. The problems that can be addressed are uncovered through a process of conversation with a few people. They are not uncovered through surveys or large n statistical studies. Without the ability to ask the right questions, big data only leads to big misdirection. In contrast, good taste in questions allows small n to lead to big insight. Apple’s ability for finding the right problem to solve comes from this greatness of taste in questions.

So given this litmus test, will Apple build a Car?

I believe the problem of transportation and its proxy, the automobile, provide all the requisite demand for Apple’s attention. Technical questions abound and they may still prove unsurmountable before a launch happens, but there are no doubts in my mind that this is a problem Apple would see fit to address.

Non-consumption of unmet and unarticulated jobs to be done can and should be addressed with systems solutions and new experiences.

The poetry is pretty clear on the matter.

 

Notes:
  1. The market for phones was large but the iPhone pricing and features made it incompatible with any reasonable segment of it. []

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The Entrant’s Guide to The Automobile Industry

Like a siren, it calls.

The Auto Industry is significant. With gross revenues of over $2 trillion, production of over 66 million vehicles and growing[1] it seems to be a big, juicy target. It employs 9 million people directly and 50 million indirectly and politically it must rank among the top three industries worthy of government subsidy (or interference). Indeed, in many countries–the US included–government interference makes it practically impossible for a producer to go out of business, no matter how poorly it’s managed or how untenable the market conditions.

But this might be the tell-tale sign that danger lurks. Theory suggests that incumbents going out of business is an essential indicator of industry health. Without their exit, entrants are never allowed to bring disruptive ideas to bear and innovation simply stops. Is this interference with mortality the only indication of entrant obstacles? Are things about to change? Is there pressure for innovation? Can we spot other indications of a crisis in this industry?

Taking the US as a proxy, here is a graph of the number of new car firm entries (and exits):

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.58.54 AM

The total number of firms[2] that entered the US market is 1,556. The blue line graph shows the entries and the orange line shows the exits. This sounds impressive, but note that the year when the peak of entries took place was 1914, exactly 100 years ago.

Notes:
  1. The industry continues to grow, registering a 30 percent increase over the past decade, mainly due to Asia and China in particular []
  2. counted as brands []

The Critical Path #141: Old Dogs

Horace presents the next class in The Critical MBA. Having too much of a fundamental footing could be a disadvantage when evaluating what theory might apply to a given situation. Could this be why so many fail to understand Apple? In the second half of the show, Horace and Anders discuss Amazon as retail goes online.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #141: Old Dogs.

The Critical Path #140: Apple Earnings Call

In this special “live” version of The Critical Path, Horace gets the numbers just minutes before Apples January 27th, 2015 earnings call and dissects them live. The show picks up just after the call finishes with a quick recap and discussion of yet another record quarter.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #140: Apple Earnings Call.

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The S&P 499

Thomson Reuters reported that excluding Apple, the entire S&P 500 grew profits at a rate of 4.4%. Including Apple the figure is 6.4%.

Using one weird trick[1] I calculated the value of profits generated by the S&P 499 (i.e.the largest public companies excluding Apple) in Q4 2013 and Q4 2014.

Apple therefore accounted for nearly 8% of the S&P 500 in the last quarter. A year earlier Apple was a mere 6%.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 8.43.53 PM

 

It should therefore be obvious why Apple’s P/E ratio is 16.1 while the S&P 499 P/E ratio is 19.8.

Notes:
  1. Algebra []

How many iOS devices did/will Apple ship?

Last August I wrote:

It’s therefore reasonable to assume that calendar 2014 will see at least 250 million iOS devices sold

The actual figure was 259.5 million.

Looking ahead, the capital spending pattern so far shows a distinct rise heading into Q1.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 7.33.14 PM

This could be partly due to the new campus, the new Watch production ramp and perhaps new iPad models.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 7.33.27 PMNevertheless, I think it’s safe to predict that the company is on track to ship 310 to 320 million iOS devices in 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 7.35.30 PM

 

Apple’s Growth Scorecard

Apple’s Net Sales grew at the rate of 30% in the last quarter. Earnings per share grew at 47%. Both of these figures are the highest since 2012.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.27.47 PM

It should be noted that although the rate of growth is extraordinarily high, the company never actually stopped growing in the past three years. As the table above shows, net sales has always had positive growth.

Compared with the fourth calendar quarter of 2011, Apple’s sales are 61% higher and earnings per share are 54% share.[1]

This degree of growth at this stage in the history of the markets it participates in is a revelation.

Consider:

  • The PC market is more than 30 years old. In this mature market the Mac has been outgrowing the Windows platform for 34 out of the last 35 quarters.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.35.43 PM

 

  • The iPhone was announced eight years ago and it still managed to grow at the rate of 57%.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.47.11 PM

  • The market shares of its Mac, iPhone and iPad products are all remarkable only for their paucity.
  • The pricing of all their products is more than double the median for their categories.
  • Regardless of extreme growth, pricing power, headroom and, most importantly, customer loyalty, the company’s prospects are seen as dismal in contrast to its underperforming peers.[2]
  • Such is the plight of the anomalous.
Notes:
  1. Some of the expansion in earnings per share is due to the willingness of shareholders to sell their shares to Apple. 10% of the shares around in 2011 have thus disappeared. []
  2. As measured by P/E or FCF/EV ratios vs. direct rivals, technology companies or the S&P 500. []