Search term: modular

Law of conservation of modularity

When I applied the modularity dichotomy to smartphone operating system there were several implications that came to light. One was the question of whether the market has reached the point where products were “good enough” and the speed of innovation became less important than price. Another was: will integrated vendors be able to hold on to a healthy share of growth against non-consumption?

Now I bring up another implication of modularity: the concept of “law of conservation of modularity”.

Postmodern computing

There are 7.1 billion people on Earth. Coincidentally there are also 7 billion mobile connections.  Those connections are held by 3.45 billion unique mobile subscribers.[1] Unsurprisingly, the largest national mobile markets (by number of subscriptions) correspond closely to the most populous nations.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 7.21.46 AM

Considering smartphones, last year 1 billion smartphones were sold and the number of smartphones in use is about 2 billion[2]

Given the rapid adoption of smartphones, it’s also safe to assume that smartphone penetration will follow population distribution. In the US, where comScore data is published monthly, penetration is following a predictable logistic curve.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 7.55.13 AM


Assuming similar patterns world-wide we can forecast regional smartphone penetration. Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 7.56.49 AM

This yields the following forecast for smartphone usage world-wide.

  1. GSMA []
  2. There are also about 2 billion 3G/4G connections world-wide []

Who's next?

In February I asked Why doesn’t anybody copy Apple?

Put another way: Why is it that everyone wants to copy Apple’s products but nobody wants to copy being Apple?

Being Apple means, at least:

  • Insourcing all aspects of operations which affect the customer experience. Increasingly that has meant insourcing everything, a toxic idea to every MBA-trained professional since forever.
  • Organizing functionally and having no product level P/L responsibility. That also means removing almost all incentives for employees to climb ladders and thus prove their worth.
  • Developing products using integrated “heroic” efforts which shun  every best (or even adequate) process for product development.

I asked somewhat rhetorically because it’s an open question. Apple’s operating model and devotion to integration have been asymmetric to technology dogma for decades. To the casual (read: naïve) observer, pursuing the Apple way seemed also to be tied to one individual. You could not “be Apple” unless you were also Steve Jobs and there was only one of him.

But it seems I did not give enough credit to other observers.

Asymcar 3: Road Trip

Horace Dediu and Jim Zellmer discuss the pleasures of traversing continents by road. This leads to a grand tour of powertrains, composites, fuel efficiency, regulation and Tesla’s luxury market entry. Which naturally leads to a conversation on emerging auto modularization, apps and ecosystems and where value will accrue.

via AsymCAR 3: Road Trip | Asymcar.

Below the Surface

Early data shows that the PC market has not experienced a “pop” from Windows 8. Market watchers have been anticipating this pop since every previous version of Windows has led to a surge in shipments. PC vendors have also been hoping for this to lift their volumes. Volumes have been stagnant for a while, as the following chart shows:

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 12-13-3.45.58 PM

If we combine the traditional PC and tablet markets—what I refer to as “large and medium screen PCs”— there has been growth. However the growth is all due to the tablets. When seen in a share split (blue tablets vs. brown Windows PC’s) the shift toward tablet computing is clear.

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.

What is disruption and how can it be harnessed?[1]

The phenomenon we call business disruption could benefit from a different name. Although it signifies a disturbance or an interruption in an industry, it’s much more than that.

The nominal definition I work with is that disruption is the “transfer of wealth in an industry from dominant incumbents to disadvantaged entrants.” It’s a convenient definition because it’s brief, it puts the emphasis on economic value and because it alludes to a reversal of fortune and the implied extraordinariness.

However, there are several nuances lost and contradictions ignored in this definition. I want to enumerate them here and now:

  1. Although in a disruption there is a transfer of wealth, that wealth is not necessarily conserved. An industry that undergoes a disruption often emerges larger, more productive or more influential. Disruption typically creates net growth.
  2. Although extraordinary and spectacular it is also very commonplace. Disruption is not rare. In fact, it rarely fails to happen. One could even say that if it does fail to happen, it’s a symptom of an industry in crisis.
  3. Being so common, it can be seen as a regular occurrence. But if the regularity of disruption can be considered to have a clock cycle, its frequency is increasing.
  4. Disruption in the literal sense implies discomfort, displacement and even destruction. But it’s necessary to the health of any economy. The analogy to biology is that death is the most important thing in life.
  5. Although only recently characterized and studied in cases set in the past century, the pattern is evident throughout history.

I’ve offered examples of these consequences or side-effects of disruption but I’ll emphasize once more the example I’m most familiar with. To illustrate the primary definition, the AMP index is a measure of the success of one company relative to a set of peers in the mobile phone industry. It’s the average of four market shares: mobile phone units, smartphone units, revenues and operating profits.

This chart shows the shift in AMP index values for the competitors whose data is public and which make up the vast majority of units sold:

[Sponsor] Carnegie Mellon University (with a history lesson)

It gives me great pleasure to have Carnegie Mellon University as a sponsor this week. This is because CMU holds a special, historic role in the development of the platform at the center of the disruption of mobile telecommunications.

I am referring to the kernel behind OS X and iOS: Mach.[1]

When I was a researcher at GTE Laboratories, I remember following the progress of this alternative kernel. As a research project it was one of the earliest microkernels and, along with virtual memory management, inter-process communication and control innovations, pioneered what became the basis of highly modular operating systems. Those innovations enabled an architecture which allowed complex systems to scale down to micro computers and eventually to devices.

There is a huge amount of lore around Unix and CMU’s efforts are deeply interweaved into it (as are Berkeley and AT&T). I strongly recommend a stroll down that memory lane. But I’ll keep it short here and say that original developers of Mach at CMU went on to be key executives at both Apple and Microsoft. It was really a spectacular success as far as academic research projects in computer science. A real inspiration.

So with that history, I want to thank Carnegie Mellon University for their sponsorship and I’m glad to see continuing innovation in their degree programs.

Today they are offering a Master of Information Systems Management  degree with a Business Intelligence and Data Analytics concentration (MISM-BIDA). This particular degree program is essentially cross-training in business process analysis and predictive modeling, two methodologies which deeply benefit from one another. Much of what I do for this blog is exactly this:  mapping, analytical reporting, segmentation analysis, and data visualization. I’m glad to see that his has been codified into a degree program.

Students in the MISM-BIDA program learn to integrate information filters and mining tools with applied business methods yielding insights that you see celebrated in the media every day. They do this with world-renowned faculty teaching a cohesive blend of data analytics, management, strategy, and IT courses.

I can only assume that this unique mix makes graduates highly valued by  financial service firms, consulting companies, technology agencies and start-ups.

If you like the results of this web site and would like to learn how it’s done “by the book”, consider the degree programs at Carnegie Mellon Heinz College.

Highly recommended.



  1. Carnegie Mellon also had a role in the development of Siri.

The parable of RIM

Here are the highlights from RIM’s latest quarter:

  • 14.1 million BlackBerry smartphones shipped, 13 million sold through
  • 150k PlayBook shipped with sell-through slightly higher. 800k PlayBooks shipped so far.
  • BlackBerry subscriber base up to 75 million
  • High growth cited for U.K., France, South Africa, Mexico and Argentina, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. RIM is the #1 smartphone vendor in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Sales outside the US, UK and Canada were 61% of revenues. US is now 20% of sales, UK 11%.
  • Hardware growth outside the US was 56%
  • There are 630 carriers
  • 50k apps in App World with 5 million downloads per day
  • Forecasting 11 to 12 million smartphones next quarter

Given the channel fill with a new product, the device business was marginal at best. The company obtained -1% growth y/y in units but 31% sequential growth from a transitional quarter. The average selling price (inclusive of service revenues) is $354 and about $280 excluding service revenues. I estimate that operating margins have dropped to about 11%. Not a good story, but one we have been warned to expect.

But a crucial new twist to the story is that RIM announced that they don’t expect new BlackBerry 10 devices until late next year. That came as a surprise and the stock sold off significantly, valuing the company at well below book value.

Stepping back, the biggest surprise is that the company seems to have had no plan for sustaining itself.

Let me explain.

Sponsor: Hiring OmniFocus to get things done.

One of the theories that gets significant attention on this blog is “job-to-be-done” theory. It’s a powerful tool for product designers and managers that allows them to uncover unmet needs and build great products that more often than not have no competition. We’ll dive more deeply into this discussion with some future posts and podcasts.

But today I want to highlight how one developer took the commonly observed job of “to-do lists” and, by applying context, made a compelling solution to the job.

In other words, it goes from “what do I need to do” to “what, when, where can I get things done?” This is as important as going from “where do I call to reach someone” to “call someone no matter where they are.” This is what mobility did to communication and now Omnifocus does to task management

Furthermore, you can use OmniFocus to modularize projects. You can combine fragments of ideas or projects into steps to complete goals.

Rather than spending time planning, move the responsibility of remembering daily tasks from your brain to OmniFocus — gather everything into the Inbox for later review, and then organize those bits into folders, projects, actions, and contexts.

OmniFocus is as simple or advanced as you want it to be.

Available on Mac, iPad, and iPhone with free cloud sync. The job isn’t to manage your “to do list”. The job is to get things done.

Read more about OmniFocus here.