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Author Horace Dediu

The Critical Path #151

Horace and Anders discuss Comcast, cable companies and lowest common denominator content on television screens everywhere. After the break, Horace takes listener questions from Twitter.

Source: The Critical Path #151

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Is Tesla Disruptive?

To the analyst, the car industry is a wonderful study. Unlike some other “high technologies,” whose market births and deaths are separated by a few changes of the seasons the automobile industry has been around for well over a century. It has been sustained through dozens, perhaps hundreds of innovations. Almost everything about the car of a century ago has been improved.

Not only improvements to the product itself but improvements to the infrastructure that supports it: roads, gas stations, services, insurance, regulation. At the same time, its numbers have increased steadily as the car has spread to all corners of the world through waves of increased production and distribution. Although invented in Europe, the production system that allowed it to reach the mass market took hold in the US. That production system was then exported to Europe then to Japan and then to Korea and now to China.  Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 5.30.54 PM

Figures 3.3.9 and 3.3.10 from Arnulf Grubler’s The Rise and Fall of Infrastructures

However, throughout this century of improvement, the business structure—the way money is made—has not changed. Even with the arrival of Volkswagen in the 1960s and Japanese automakers in the 80s, the network of incumbents has not been displaced. Newcomers have taken share, but there have been few exits suggesting that classical disruption has not taken place.

When we look at the reasons for the share displacement that did take place, we see innovation in production systems and distribution as the core causes. We see new manufacturing processes and competition against non-consumption. What we don’t see is new technologies. We don’t see diesel engines or anti-lock braking or crumple zones or fuel injection or radial tires or airbags or automatic transmission or air conditioning or electronic ignition or safety glass, or any of the other hundreds of technologies that have been adopted as causing any change in market share.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 5.32.41 PM

Every innovation tends to diffuse rapidly throughout the industry, being widely adopted by all manufacturers. Production systems such as the ones from Ford and Toyota have been much slower to be adopted which has offered those innovators an advantage for a few decades, but they too have eventually been widely copied and created normative behavior. The opening of new markets like Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and China have created opportunities for local manufacturers but eventually those advantages too have or will be diminished with time.

So, given this, we have to ask if the the availability of new power storage technologies would allow an early mover to displace and move aside these established makers. To answer in the positive would imply that the challenger has an asymmetric business model—one which causes the incumbents to flee in the opposite direction. But Tesla is manufacturing cars using the same JIT processes and ramping quite slowly. Toyota-style process-driven innovation does not seem to be even in the works. There is no shortage of manufacturing capacity, indeed there is too much.

Furthermore, Tesla is selling cars in established markets competing against existing consumption. Volkswagen Beetle or Model T style competition against non-consumption does not appear to be on offer.

Tesla’s product introduction rate is relatively sedate, so a higher rate of product development which might let them “turn inside” the incumbents, does not seem likely.

Finally Tesla is introducing products priced well above average appealing to the wealthiest of customers, again causing us to ask how this might cause a luxury company to look at their solution and exclaim “Not for us!”.

Looking from every angle I am unable to find the way that Tesla is asymmetric. Disruption theory suggests that whatever causes it to survive or prosper will be embraced and extended by competitors precisely because it will also cause those competitors to survive and prosper.

The auto industry may be a lot slower than the computer industry to respond. But once the industry embraces battery-based power, it will convert a world-wide production and distribution system to sustain itself.

That does not mean Tesla is a bad business. They may carry on with Porsche-like or even BMW volumes for a long time. But that’s not a disruptive outcome, it’s a niche strategy.

There is one more point. As Tesla has chosen to share its intellectual property and as Elon Musk has stated publicly, they welcome others to build the same cars they do. So by their own admission the company does not seek to disrupt. Disruption is a competitive stance.

The Asymco Trilogy with Horace Dediu Part 3 – The Asian Cars Edition – Analyse Asia with Bernard Leong

In the last and final part of the trilogy, Horace discussed the Japanese automotive industry, and provided interesting insights into how Japanese car culture contrasts against the European and US counterparts. Using the innovator’s stopwatch framework, Horace explained the challenges on how Tesla, Google, Uber and Amazon could disrupt the car industry, and provide some thoughts on what approach Apple might take on creating the car if they are doing it

Source: Episode 33: The Asymco Trilogy with Horace Dediu Part 3 – The Asian Cars Edition – Analyse Asia with Bernard Leong

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Schiller’s Law

We know how many iPhones Apple ships but we don’t know exactly how many of each model. We can try to come close in such estimates of “mix” by looking also at the market pricing of the phones and the average price Apple obtains[1]

Combining what we know with some guesses allows some of us to estimate the composition of iPhone models in any given quarter’s sales. Here is a graph showing my estimates:

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 2.53.36 PM

Having this, we can then assess how each generation of iPhones has performed. Remember that although we had a new iPhone for each of the last eight years, there are only 5 generations in total. Starting with the 3G (second generation) the generations were two yearly product cycles long.

The resulting estimates for generational growth are shown below. 

Notes:
  1. ASP = Revenue/Units shipped. However, note that there are deferrals in revenue as part of this. []

The Asymco Trilogy With Horace Dediu 1 – New Market Disruption by analyseasia

 

Horace Dediu, current research fellow of the Clayton Christensen Institute and founder of Asymco.com joined us for an epic and insightful discussion focusing on few key interesting topics: (a) new market disruption theories, (B) Apple in China and the luxury market and (c) the Japanese automotive industry and how it shapes up against disruption from Tesla, Uber and Apple. In the first of the trilogy, Horace discussed the origins of Asymco.com and also why he has used Apple as the lens to understand innovation and technology disruption. We also traced back to other Apple-like companies in the past such as Sony in Asia, and look at how Apple and Pixar has displayed a different kind of “DNA” against innovative companies in the past. Last but not least, we discussed the evolution and future of Google and where it might lead them to.

Listen to it here.

Unicornia

Unicorns typically are valued on the basis of number of users. While they are not yet monetizing those users, their growth and engagement metrics are expected to be off the charts. As there are no revenues (or profits) the $billion valuation hinges on a nominal value of $/user. That figure is based on comparable companies (e.g. Facebook) which do monetize their users.

Since the unicorn’s capitalization/user defines its valuation, which company should be considered comparable? Unfortunately they range widely. There are many alternatives. The graph below shows a few Market Cap/Mobile User rates ranging from $45 for Yelp to $747 for Alibaba.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 5-15-2.47.16 PM

 

Note that I’ve also added companies which may not be considered as unicorn comparables because they are not usually valued on a per-user basis. Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon are priced by product sales, typically. However, most of them operate and self-define as service organizations. Microsoft has been “monetizing users” for decades using a recurring revenue model. It has a “SaaS” business logic for most of its revenues. Google[1] likewise. Amazon reports its active users every quarter and obviously is measuring itself by that metric.

Apple[2] is the least likely to be seen as a company whose value is a function of user base. Nonetheless it behaves entirely on that basis. The company’s entire strategy depends on satisfying its customers and building its brand which can only have one outcome: loyalty and repeat purchases. The services and software they offer can be seen as supporting that brand loyalty which is converted to profit through an above-average selling price.

Being mature of business model therefore does not exclude a company from being valued like all the kids are these days.

So, if we do look at the value/user metric we might as well look at the revenues, operating profit and growth data.

Notes:
  1. Google users are estimated at 2 billion active Android/GMS devices []
  2. The assumption here is that Apple has 520 million active users which is based on iOS devices in use estimates []

iPhone, killer

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 5-13-8.20.01 AM

 

Searching for “iPhone killer” returns millions of hits. It’s hard to remember any phone/product/service/platform/initiative/merger/startup which was not at some point considered an iPhone killer. A sampling is offered here.

In reality, the killers seem to have all faded away while the iPhone continues. We could just shake our heads and move on, but a deeper analysis is possible. Take a look at the graph above. Note that iPhone’s (and hence Apple’s) ascent has not caused decline in its nominal competitors. When seen in the context of the graph above, the success of the iPhone has in fact been complementary to those companies who would be its killers.

Consider that the iPhone drives a large portion of Google’s revenues as it is the home to many Google services and engagement through the iPhone is higher than any other platform, including Google’s own. iPhone users tend to make better customers. In exchange Google pays a great deal for traffic acquisition on iOS devices. The placement of search on Safari is probably the biggest single cost item on Google’s income statement ((Estimates are a few billion dollars a year.))

The iPhone example drew Google to build Android as a facsimile and that, coupled with Brobdingnagian spending on marketing, led to Samsung’s Galaxy success. That success seems to have peaked and the brand is now a victim of low-end disruptors which copied it and the iPhone in turn. However, Samsung electronics benefits from the iPhone in terms of its semiconductor division. Apple is Samsung’s biggest customer and the semiconductor division is now the largest source of operating profits.

Winning Against Non-consumption

In the fourth quarter of 2013, mobile phone sales in mature regions fell due to weaker demand.”Mature markets face limited growth potentialis the markets are saturated with smartphone sales, leaving little room for growth with declining feature phone market and a longer replacement cycle,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner. “Lack of compelling hardware innovation has further exacerbated replacement cycles for high-end smartphones in 2013 because consumers don’t find enough reasons to upgrade.” – Gartner

Anshul Gupta’s assertion of market saturation was not the first. IDC also cited “a number of mature markets nearing smartphone saturation” in late 2013.

Shortchanging the smartphone market is nothing new. It was happening very early in the market’s formation when initial growth was not as rapid as expected. I recall Nokia managers disappointed with sales growth losing faith in smartphones in 2004.  Eleven years later, the market is still growing.

comScore reported that during the first quarter of 2015 the US market was adding over two million new smartphone users every month. These are not two million units sold every month but two million new users who began using smartphones for the first time ever, every month.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 5-11-2.33.07 PM

 

Since the end of 2013 when both IDC and Gartner declared the onset of saturation in “mature regions”[1] 31.5 million new-to-smartphones Americans adopted the product. That’s an addition of 11% of the sampled market.

And the sampled market is just a subset of the addressable market. comScore only counts ‘primary phones’ in use and excludes company-purchased devices and any users below age 13.

So according to comScore’s data, the US market is at 77% smartphone usage. My assumption is that saturation would come at the earliest at 90% and could be 100%.[2] The fact that conversion to smartphones is still proceeding at roughly the same rate it has been for five years, makes this assumption pretty safe.

The pattern of growth fits a diffusion S curve (Logistic curve) as closely as ever: 

Notes:
  1. The US is the most mature by penetration data []
  2. Of the market comScore measures []