Category Industry

Twenty Questions from Catalin Stelian Andrei

Catalin Stelian Andrei, Editor of The Day, INTERNET PROTV asked me twenty questions:

1. What phone do you have in your pocket right now? Why that model?

I carry the iPhone 5. The last iPhone I bought was an iPhone 5C which I gave to a family member.

2. Apple is going to launch, form all we know, an iPhone with a bigger screen, long after their market rivals. Is Apple one step behind, being forced to take this road in the fight with Android and Windows Phone devices? Because many smartphone users were hoping that an big screen iPhone, a redesigned model, will be lauched long time ago, and that didn’t happen.

Making bigger phones is easier than making smaller phones. First because miniaturization has always been the most difficult engineering challenge, and second, because a smaller phone has a smaller battery making efficiency much more important. The larger the phone, the simpler it is. The third reason smaller is more valuable is that it’s easier to carry and use. The largest phones cannot be put in pockets and cannot be used with one hand. In the history of consumer, electronics size reduction has been the most consistent measure of performance, and the most rewarding. Usually the most exceptional reductions in dimensions create the highest price and profit bands. There have been niches for larger portable devices but they are consistently a small part of the overall market. If Apple were to introduce a larger device I hope they will be able to solve usability problems and make the category attractive to a larger audience.

3. What do you expect from the new iPhone 6?

I expect it to run the latest version of iOS and, with the new apps developers will ship, that should make the most impact in people’s lives. I imagine health maintenance and home automation will become valuable new franchises. Of course iOS 8 will also run on older iPhones, but I suspect the newest iPhone will somehow run the new software better and have smoother integration with services.

4. What’s the “not to do” lesson that Apple needs to learn for the now iPhone from it’s own past experience or their competitors?

The biggest challenge is to move rapidly with scale. The company has managed to grow from zero phones a year to hundreds of millions. That’s great but it’s still frustrating to wait one year for major improvements. The “cycle time” of innovation for Apple remains one year. I wish it could be faster but perhaps this is also too fast for some. In some services like maps and iCloud and iWork, which are independent of hardware (mostly,) speed is of the essence.

5. The iPhone is the most expensive smartphone on the market right now. In Romania, it certainly is. But where does Apple gains it’s most money from, selling products to users or selling services, like iTunes, App Store? And having that in mind, what will be their next step: better – breakthrough products or bigger, more complete services?

The answer to where a company “gets its profits” is best answered by asking where a buyer “gets his value” from the product. For instance you might answer the question of where a car company gets its value by saying that it’s from making people be in more than one place in a day. So the “differentiation” of a car is in answering the question slightly differently. If it’s hard to see a difference to this answer between cars then it’s hard for any one company to make a profit. For a company like Apple, we need to ask what its users value about the experience and why they are willing to pay for that. My hypothesis is that the brand’s value is in making life a little bit easier. That’s what Apple competes on. Of course, some people are not willing to pay to have an easier life and some even want to make their lives more complicated so Apple’s proposal to make life easier, for a price, is not accepted by everybody—which is ok by them. But for many, paying for comfort, productivity and ease of mind is worth quite a bit. The reason Apple is able to gain a premium over the competition is that this value proposal (of paying for simplification) is either weak or non-existent for competitors. Indeed, many competitors compete on the basis of making life more complicated.

6. What does innovation means for Apple right now? What are their options for assuring a next decade of success? A new Steve Jobs person or a Steve Jobs tipe of group thinking. How hard is that to achieve?

Innovation is meaningful invention—bringing useful creations to a large number of people who then make use of that creation. The interesting aspect of making money from innovation is that it’s a rare phenomenon, requiring many disciplines to work together. It’s like a big movie that somehow works and becomes widely popular but costs little to make. Many movies are made, few are successful and very few of those which are successful are built at low cost. What we know about technology innovation is that it’s a combination that comes together under strong leadership but that leadership alone is not sufficient. The myth of Steve Jobs is that he was both necessary and sufficient to success. The truth is that he was necessary but not sufficient. To make successful innovations requires strong leadership and teamwork and a process of incentives and passion that is hard to create a formula for. How this works at Apple is its biggest secret.

7. Who are the key Apple employees right now? Do they need another Jobs or do they already have him?

All Apple employees are key. I would say that’s the magic formula. There is no chief magical officer (and there never was.)

8. What will be the next best thing for Apple? […]

I don’t know. It’s probably not knowable.

Questions for Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi

The Re/Code conference begins this week, and Apple executives Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi will be answering questions from Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.

Here are some questions I hope they ask:

For Eddy Cue:

  1. Why is there no app store for Apple TV? Even though the product is running essentially the same hardware and software as the iPhone and iPad and iPod touch and even though it connects to the iTunes stores, there is no option for developers to build apps for it or for consumers to use their TVs to run iOS apps. I might add that it’s been seven years since the platform launched and that’s a long time to wait.
  2. As Amazon has been granted a monopoly on the distribution of ebooks by the US federal government, why not compete by selling ebooks as apps? Apps were used as ebook containers well before the iBookstore launched and there were tens of thousands of “book apps”. Why not encourage authors and publishers to build apps by offering tools which make it easy to do so? I might add that if you do this for authors, why not do it for musicians and video producers? Why have separate stores for different media when they are all just content?
  3. YouTube is becoming the TV of choice for millions. Before it becomes that choice for billions, what are you doing to encourage user-generated video content distribution through your ecosystem?
  4. Apple’s Services revenues are growing remarkably quickly. The number of users is over 800 million. Do you see an opportunity for services to become a more independent business at Apple? In other words, why not bring iTunes to Android?

For Craig Federighi:

  1. Marc Andreessen uses the phrase “Software is Eating the World” to describe the disruption that software-enabled businesses are having on those who don’t depend on software. You are the head of software at Apple; what’s on your plate? In other words, what do you see the opportunity for software at Apple beyond enabling device sales? I might add that although you are leading Software Engineering at Apple, Software and Services are part of Eddy’s organization. Does this separation make sense?
  2. It’s likely that iOS will be used by more people than Windows in the near future. What do you see as the obstacles to iOS replacing Windows for what most business users use daily?
  3. If you believe that iOS can replace Windows (at least in some tasks), do you think the iPad will ever replace the Mac?

This was originally posted on LinkedIn on May 28th.

Think local, act global

Three years ago Apple’s Greater China Q1 sales were $2.22 billion or 9% of total. This year they were $9.29 billion[1] or 20% of total. Over this time frame the growth in China was about 320%. The second fastest growing reporting segment was Japan with growth of 187%. Europe was third with 70% and Americas fourth with 53.5%. Rest of Asia/Pacific had the smallest increase of only 4.1%.

A graph showing both the absolute and relative sales levels for the reporting regions is shown below.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 5-19-11.35.17 AM

As overall sales have increased significantly, the revenues from the Americas and Retail combined (as most stores are in the US)[2] went from 51% in Q1 2011 to  42% in Q1 2014. The 11 point increase in share for China can be thus seen as mostly at the expense of the US. As Americas did not decline more appropriate statement would be that China captured much of the growth of the last three years.

Note that I also included Google’s revenue split[3] in the graph above. This is partly to calibrate Apple’s mix and to understand if the expansion outside the US is mirrored by other companies.

Google, in particular, is largely absent from the Chinese market and the only regional detail we have for their revenues is the US, UK and Other. That leaves an analysis of the dependency of each company on the US market.

Google’s US revenue percentage did drop from 47% to 43% but it’s worth noting that not only is the drop slower than Apple’s, the overall dependency of Google on the US for revenues is higher than Apple’s.

A surprising observation as Apple’s concentration of users, measured as market share for various products, is likely to be higher in the US than Google’s distribution of users.

Put another way, Google is broadly popular world-wide (except for search in China, Korea and Russia) but its customers and hence profitability are highly concentrated.

  1. Including China retail, revenues reached “almost $10 billion” []
  2. 60% of all Apple stores are in the US []
  3. Excludes discontinued operations, namely Motorola []

Measuring Not Getting the Cloud

This is what “Not getting the Cloud” looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 5-9-3.30.03 PM

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 5-9-4.04.33 PM


“Not getting the cloud” means that in the last 12 months Apple obtained:

  • 800 million iTunes users and
  • an estimated 450 million iCloud users spending
  • $3 billion/yr for end-user services plus
  • $4.7 billion/yr for licensing and other income which includes
  • more than $1 billion/yr paid by Google for traffic through Apple devices and
  • $13 billion/yr in app transactions of which
  • $9 billion/yr was paid to developers and
  • $3.9 billion/yr was retained as operating budget and profit for the App Store. In addition,
  • $2.7 billion/yr in music download sales and
  • more than $1 billion/yr in Apple TV (aka Apple’s Kindle) and video sales and
  • $1 billion/yr in eBooks sold

In summary, iTunes, Software and Services has been growing between 30% and 40% for four years and is on its way to $30 billion/yr in transactions and sales for 2014.

This is what can be deduced from a reading of Apple’s financial statements of operations. If there are comparable details for companies which do get the cloud, I’ll be happy to tally the comparison so we can calibrate this failure.

How close to saturation is the smartphone?

The US is not the market where penetration is highest. However, it is the largest market where we have reliable penetration data (from at least two sources) and the one where penetration is near the top of the range.

The graph showing the US ranked against others as of a year ago is here. The US was cited at 56.4% at the time. I keep track of comScore’s data and it showed 58.2% at the end of March and 55.3% at the end of January, making the figure very believable.

The most recent data from comScore shows penetration at 68.8%. In order to understand what the limits of that growth could be it’s important to see the longer-term pattern. It would show whether there is a clear point of inflection and thus a predictable “saturation” around an asymptotic value.

The following graph shows the percentage of smartphone users/non-users since late 2009.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 5-8-6.13.29 PM

The following graph shows the rate at which users are being added to the smartphone ranks (measured as new users per month.)

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 5-8-6.14.01 PM


To summarize, the conversion of users from non-smart to smartphone usage is fairly constant. The March ’14 period saw 2.8 million new-to-smartphone users. the March ’13 period saw 3.0 million, the March ’12 period saw 2.0 million and March ’11 saw 3.0 million. There is no discernible slowing of adoption.

Note that I added a trailing three period average in new users which fluctuates somewhat predictably due to seasonality. Finally, note that the figure of 50% penetration was reached almost two years ago and no noticeable change of adoption has happened since. Cellular phone ownership in the US is still rising (though very slowly) and it now about 90%.

The only conclusion is that even at the current 68.8% penetration, we are not anywhere near “saturation” of smartphone users in the US, and the US is a leader among “developed markets” so there is little to suggest that saturation has happened anywhere with significant populations.

The iPad discontinuity

iPad sales were unexpectedly slow in Q1. Tim Cook explained it as follows:

iPad sales came in at the high end of our expectations, but we realized they were below analysts’ estimates and I would like to proactively address why we think there was a difference. We believe almost all of the difference can be explained by two factors.

First, in the March quarter last year we significantly increased iPad channel inventory, while this year we significantly reduced it.

Second, we ended the December quarter last year with a substantial backlog of iPad mini that was subsequently shipped in the March quarter whereas we ended the December quarter this year near supply demand balance.

We continue to believe that the tablet market will surpass the PC market in size within the next few years, and we believe that Apple will be a major beneficiary of this trend.

Tim Cook went on to say “over two-thirds of people registering an iPad in the last six months were new to iPad”

In a later discussion, Luca Maestri said:

As Tim explained earlier, our iPad results and the comparison to the March quarter last year were heavily influenced by channel inventory changes. Specifically, this year we sold 16.4 million iPad into our channel and sold through almost 17.5 million, reducing our channel inventory by 1.1 million units.

Last year, we sold over 19.4 million iPads into our channels and sold through 18 million, and therefore increased channel inventory by 1.4 million units. As a result, the year-over-year sell through decline was only 3% compared to the sell-in decline of 16%.

We exit the March quarter with 5.1 million of iPad channel inventory which left us within our target range of four to six weeks. iPad continues to lead all other tablet by far in terms of user engagement, size of ecosystem, customer satisfaction and e-commerce.

In a later Q&A:

Monthly Apple Users

In the postmodern computing world that we live in, the measure of success isn’t revenue or profit or units sold but the number of users that an ecosystem can attract. Therefore the monthly active user (MAU) unit of performance seems to be in vogue right now. E.g.:

  • Facebook claims Messenger has more than 200 million MAUs
  • WhatsApp has 500 million MAUs, 48 million of whom are in India
  • Line last month announced that it had 400 million users (active or not)
  • WeChat claimed 355 million MAUs
  • Viber claims 105 million MAUs

Startups are aggregating these millions of MAUs in order to obtain valuations for raising capital[1] and the faster the growth in MAUs the more “successful” the company is considered.

When companies are acquired it’s common to take the transaction value and divide it by MAUs to get an idea of “what an user is worth”. This is because there are no revenues to measure and MAUs are taken as a proxy. However, the process by which a MAU becomes a dollar of profit is, to put it kindly, circuitous.

For most (all?) it’s not yet clear how it happens especially since not all MAUs are created equal and MAU loyalties can change rapidly and if we added all the projected revenues each MAU will contribute to each app on her device we might reach some absurdity. In actuality, today, for the companies listed above, there are no revenues at all directly from their services.

In violation of this convention, there are some companies which manage to obtain revenues from their users. Two such are Apple and Amazon.  In the last quarter Apple reported having 800 million iTunes accounts.[2]  These aren’t MAUs since the activity level is not noted, but we do know how much is spent on iTunes and services. In addition, Amazon cites 244 million active customer accounts  representing accounts which generated purchases within the last 12 months.

This allows us to compare Apple and Amazon in terms of accounts, revenue per account, and, via some analysis, even profitability per account.

The following graphs tell this story. First, the total number of accounts:

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 4-29-11.25.29 AM

Note that I added trend lines to both graphs and their formulas.

The following are the revenue per account for iTunes (further broken into estimated iTunes segment revenues per account.) and for Amazon. Note that the vertical scales are different.

  1. It’s been said that it’s difficult to get funded with only 10 million MAUs []
  2. adding, for some unknown reason, that most of them have credit cards. []

Inventive Teens

Philip Elmer-DeWitt cited Piper Jaffray’s latest Teen Survey on Device Ownership where ~7,500 teens in the US are asked about their device ownership. This type of data is similar to the method comScore uses to measure penetration smartphones in the US making the two data sets comparable.

The combined data is shown the following graphs.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 4-10-3.07.04 PM

One graph is the penetration data and the other is the ratio of penetration to unpenetrated on a log scale. The PJC Teen Survey data is shown as dots on both graphs. In the spring of 2012 the difference between teen iPhone ownership and overall population iPhone ownership was 20 percentage points. In the fall 2012 it was 22 points. In spring 2013 it was 25 points. The spread increased to 30 points in the fall of 2013.

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 []


The smartphone market continues to grow. 2013 saw total shipment of around one billion units (up from 683 million in 2012). In contrast, non-smartphone shipments continue to decline, with shipments around 800 million (down from 987 million in 2012).

This pattern is shown below:

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 3-18-12.45.12 PM

Note that prior to 2012 the non-smart market seemed to be holding steady in spite of the growth in smartphones. The notion that smartphones would become universal was widely dismissed. I certainly heard many objections to my 2010 hypothesis that not only would smartphones become ubiquitous but that it would become increasingly difficult to find anything else to buy. (This in spite of the clearly evident demand for “low-end” non-smart devices.)[1]

I also suggested that the notion of distinguishing phones with the”smart” tag would become irrelevant and that we would just call these devices “phones”.

  1. The analogy I used was that of the black-and-white TV market as color TV became increasingly popular. There probably was a market for monochrome screens for a long time after they were discontinued but that is beside the point: the old technology becomes increasingly scarce because of economies of scale []