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The price is right

One of the axioms of hardware business is that prices fall over time. The consumer price index for personal computers and peripheral equipment from 1998 to 2014 is shown below:

CUUR0000SEEE01_Max_630_378

The price index suggests that prices for computers should be 54% of 2007 levels. Charles Arthur illustrated this on a global basis using a separate set of data.

The data shows that the weighted average selling price (ASP) of a PC has fallen from $614.60 in the first quarter of 2010 to just $544.30 in the third quarter of 2013, the most recent date for which data is available.

A margin of error

Prior to Apple’s earnings report I read at least one article suggesting that the most important indicator to watch was Apple’s margin. I suppose this was due to a recent decline in margins from a peak gross margin of 47.4% in Q1 2012 to 36.7%.

As the graph below shows, margins began to recover by Q3 2013 and are nearly on par with year-ago levels.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.32.50 AM

The guidance for the present quarter is a gross margin between 37% and 38%. This would imply a flat q/q GM line (blue line above.)

This is not quite catastrophic.

To better understand margins, it helps to compare them with other companies. When Apple reached that peak of near 50% gross margin I noted that such a level was higher than Microsoft’s and Google’s. The irony being that Apple was nominally an (implied) low-margin hardware company while Microsoft was an (implied) high-margin software company and Google was an (implied) high-margin internet services company.

Here is the picture with the last two years added:

Electric Shadow 1: Bicycle for the Mind

Horace Dediu and Guy English discuss the future of TV, how we consume media, and the fate of console-style devices. From Apple to Nintendo and beyond, is there one box to rule them all, or can there be?

Interview segment: Cinematographer Barry Braverman talks about working with director Wes Anderson (uncut version to be posted as Screen Time #54)

via 1: Bicycle for the Mind.

The Critical Path #111: Man of Arts and Letters and Science

Horace and Moisés discuss the excitement surrounding Microsoft’s hire of new CEO/poet Satya Nadella, Apple’s recent numbers announcement, and yet more on Google (and their sale of Motorola to Lenovo).

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #111: Man of Arts and Letters and Science.

Fortune 130

The increase in net sales of iTunes, Software and Services in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the first quarter of 2013 was due to growth in net sales from the iTunes Store, AppleCare and licensing. The iTunes Store generated a total of $2.4 billion in net sales during the first quarter of 2014 versus $2.1 billion during the first quarter of 2013. Growth in the iTunes Store, which includes the App Store, the Mac App Store and the iBooks Store, was driven by increases in revenue from App sales reflecting continued growth in the installed base of iOS devices and the expansion in the number of third-party iOS Apps available. Net sales of digital content, including music, movies, TV shows and books, from the iTunes Store was relatively flat in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the first quarter of 2013.

Apple Inc. Form 10-Q.

During the last quarter Apple changed the pricing for iWork and OS X to zero[1].

I estimate the net effect to have been a reduction in revenues from those software titles of about $350 million for the quarter. Nevertheless, increases in services and app revenues means that the iTunes total reported revenues increased to a new record.

The total with estimated contributions by media and service components is shown below right.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 10.05.11 AM

Note that revenues do not reflect total billings. As Apple reports only the 30% of App transaction values, the full iTunes/Software/Services transaction values are shown in the above graph on the left.

Notes:
  1. OS X server is still priced at $20 and iWork for previously unlicensed devices and computers is still priced above $0 []

Renaissance Session: Opportunities

Horace Dediu is an analyst with a focus on the mobile phone industry and especially Apple. Blogging at asymco.com, he often posts surprising facts that confront the conventional “wisdom” of other analysts, who are often predicting doom-and-gloom for Apple.

We asked Horace to share his thoughts on technology, change, and how to anticipate the next big thing.

via Renaissance Session: Opportunities.

Invulnerable

On a recent podcast I noted that Google was perceived as invulnerable. In contrast, Apple is seen as temporarily enjoying a stay of execution.[1] This is not necessarily a bad thing for Apple. The more gushing the loathing or scorn, the more likely it’s a reaction to love and attraction. A brand dies not from hate but from apathy.

But nor is it necessarily a good thing for Google be be seen as invulnerable. There might be no “Google death knell counter”. There might not be a “Google is doomed” trope. If an executive from Google quits or is fired there is no investor panic. If a product is withdrawn there is no mourning. There are no journalists pursuing Pulitzer prizes by describing some seamy underside of Google. But there are no overt displays of affection either. Google is seen, on balance, as benevolent and hopeful. The discussion on business robustness is simply missing.

I suspect the absence of scrutiny comes from Google being seen as an analogy of the Internet itself. We don’t question the survival of the Internet so we don’t question the survival of Google — its backbone, its index, and its pervasive ads which, somehow, keep the lights on. We believe Google is infrastructure. We don’t dwell on whether electric grids are vulnerable, or supplies of fuel, or the weather(!)

Too complex, too pervasive. These are systems, not things. And people are not designed to contemplate systems. We leave that to experts, or better yet, computers.

The reason Apple is contemplated at all is that it’s not seen as a system. Even the suggestion that Apple is a system is implicitly treated as an impossibility. Because it’s not a system it’s fragile. It’s a person, or an idea, or a product or a singular “key” to something. It is, ultimately, mortal. The only debate is when it will die and points are earned for calling it sooner rather than later.

But what if Apple were a system? And what if Google were a person (or three?)

 

Notes:
  1. The list of Apple Achilles’ Heels is so long and creatively composed that it would take ages to compile, but here are just a few: the Mac (vs. Windows), Digital Rights Management (which kept the iPod alive), dozens of lawsuits (including from The Beatles), the Mac (when it ran Windows), PlaysForSure, Music Labels retaliation, the Zune, Android and clones, the Kindle and Amazon in general, more Mac, iTunes, iPod and iPhone and iPad killers than can be counted; Steve Jobs is ill, Jony Ive will quit, Tony Fadell quit, Rubinstein quit, Forstall was fired, etc. Feel free to add more through comments. See also Apple Death Knell Counter. []

But Apple does not pursue profits either!

In my essay on Google’s absence of profit (or income or business) motives questions were raised on the stated absence of hunger for profits from Apple and what difference there might be from Google’s philosophy.

Indeed, Jony Ive stated:

“Our goal isn’t to make money. Our goal absolutely at Apple is not to make money. It may sound a little flippant, but it’s the truth.”[1].

He was probably repeating what Jobs had previously stated:

“I remember very clearly Steve announcing that our goal is not just to make money but to make great products”[2]

However, note that both quotes are qualified. In the case of Jobs, he said “not just to make money”. Jobs clearly stated that great products lead to money. That great products are causal to money and therefore that if you make great products you make money. One leads to the other.

Ive also continued in this reasoning:

“Our goal, and what gets us excited, is to try to make great products. We trust that if we are successful people will like them. And if we are operationally competent we will make revenue. But we are very clear about our goal.”

I would paraphrase the Apple logic as ”Great products are the means by which we sustain our business. By focusing on the product, the customer is satisfied and through that satisfaction we create the free cash flows which can be used to fund more products.”

There is a difference between Apple’s “indifference to money” and the “indifference to business models” that Google exhibits.

Google steps even further away from cash flows. Its goals are to build great things guided by their vision and patterns in the data they collect. The value is in the data itself rather than in any transaction.

As long as the source of money is unfettered, its provenance is uninteresting. A business model is a profit algorithm. It could be linked to the data but it need not be. Markets are messy and imperfect. Data provides much clearer views into value. You could conclude that value itself cannot be trusted to the judgement of the public. Value is to be determined through the recognition of patterns on data privately collected.

So when I say that Google has disdain for market mechanisms I mean that they believe they can do better. Apple still values the user as the ultimate adjudicator of its actions. Google looks past the user and interprets their intentions.

Google sees markets as ultimately obsolete.

Notes:
  1. at the British Embassy’s Creative Summing in July 2012 []
  2. Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs []

The Birth of Silicon Valley

A short anecdote about the history of Silicon Valley told at Asymconf California last year using techniques taught at Airshow workshop.

Next workshop is in San Jose on Jan 30, 2014.

via The Birth of Silicon Valley — Airshow: World Tour.

The Critical Path #108: Chief Magical Officer

With new ChromeOS and Chromebook data, Horace returns us to the topic of Google. How do they define and view their customers, products, and businesses? Who actually serves whom? What user data is collected, how is it used, and why?

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #108: Chief Magical Officer.