Categories

Category Market

App Story

The App Store is almost 9 years old. In that time it has generated about $100 billion in revenues, of which about $70 billion has been passed on to developers and $30 billion was kept by Apple. It’s very likely that running the App Store for 9 years did not cost $30 billion so, if it were an independent “business unit” it would probably have been and still be quite profitable.

But Apple does not run “business units” with separate Profit and Loss statements. The App Store is a part of Services which is an amalgamation of non-hardware sources of revenues but that does not mean it’s a business. The purpose of Services isn’t to turn a profit or define its value through some metric of financial performance.

The purpose of Services is to make the experience for the Apple user better. The combination of good experiences allows Apple to be perceived as a valuable brand and that allows it to obtain consistently above-average profitability through pricing power. I like to emphasize that the iPhone at over $600 in average price is more than twice the average price of all the other smartphones and captures over 90% of all available profits.

This is something that remains after a decade and indeed the price is rising in the face of overall price erosion, all without a decrease in volumes. The sustainability of this exceptionalism is due to no one single thing. It’s due to the persistence across all the things Apple does: product, stores, software and services and many other details too numerous to count.

The result is a large and expanding base of satisfied customers and a large and expanding base of partners both in hardware and software and services. The WWDC event this year showed how the ecosystem of Apple is booming with over 3 million new developers and Keynote screenfuls of partnerships. All this makes for a complex picture but it’s a real picture.

The latest numbers on Services try to tell this story: 180 billion App downloads from 500 million App store weekly visitors. The download rate is accelerating as shown in the following graph:

The revenue or payment rates can also be shown as accelerating though at a different rate. In both cases, the story of apps is not yet over, regardless of commentary to the contrary. Much of this growth comes from new markets like China and as India joins the iOS world, there is yet more opportunity emerging.

This enables part of the story of Services which can be tracked with several other metrics: reported revenues, iCloud accounts, active devices, and iTunes accounts are highly correlated.

The patterns after a decade are remarkably consistent. One would have thought that with mobile saturation in advanced markets, the content story would be told through horizontal lines. What we still see is the same slopes we’ve seen since the earliest days.

But the biggest story at WWDC was the re-design of the App Store as a curated content market. The changes are profound: discovery, curation and the surfacing of content have been revamped. It’s hard to predict the implications of this but one of the indications of direction was the separation of “Games” from “Apps”. This is a jarring idea since if all Apps are content, what makes Games different from other Apps? Is this a genre elevated to a new medium?

I can’t yet get a sense of where this is heading, if anywhere, but the remarkable story of Apps is that it’s still an ongoing story. We may be on chapter 2 and we can’t predict how many chapters remain.

Keep an eye on Apps and Services and developers. They are not lagging indicators of success for Apple. They are very much leading.

Predictably Profitable, Unpredictably Valuable

Predicting Apple’s yearly revenues has been fairly easy. The following graph shows the relationship between budgeted spending on Machinery, Equipment, Internal-use software, Land & Buildings and the shipment of iOS device revenues.

The company conveniently publishes a full-year forecast of these expenditures every fiscal year so by October we know roughly how sales will be during the following year. This pattern has held for 10 years so there is little uncertainty about the 11th year of iOS devices.

Predicting The Second Quarter

The last quarter of 2016 was Apple’s biggest ever. $78.4 billion in revenues. 78.3 million iPhones. Both records. Earnings of $3.36[1] and cash reached new highs. The growth was modest but Services is now not just the second largest revenue but also the fastest growing, on track to doubling in four years.

The reason for this is the vastness of Apple’s user base coupled with the loyalty the brand engenders. The company reached one billion active devices more than a year ago and is quite likely to have nearly a billion users. Not just any billion either–the best billion most probably.

The realization that Apple benefits from extreme quantity and quality of customers has led some observers to defer the imminence of Apple’s demise. Share prices have risen lately to new highs and the ratios between these prices and earnings have started to come closer to the average of other large companies.

But enough with the reductio ad absurdum. Let’s look at the next quarter. The company has been very precise with its own offered predictions (guidance) so it’s a simple task to make an accurate forecast. The history of guidance vs. outcomes for revenues is shown below:

Placing the pipper on the upper edge of the guidance range was a safe targeting method for 11 of the last 17 quarters. We have never seen a drop below the bottom of the range but had a few overshoots, some huge. Doing this for the latest quarter and working backwards to the individual product contributions to revenue and using historical margin and cost patterns we can get the following core financial performance metrics:

Fiscal Q2 2017:
Rev ($B) 53.4
EPS ($/share) 1.96
iPhone (thousand units) 53100
iPad (thousand units) 9900
Mac (thousand units) 4100
Watch (thousand units) 2300
Services ($ million) 7129
Other products ($ million) 2300
Gross margin (%) 37.8

I sent these estimates to Philip-Elmer DeWitt and I recommend looking at his survey of the other analyst estimates on his excellent Apple 3.0 blog.

Overall, the quarter is shaping up to offer slight growth y/y and indicating a plateau formed after the surge from the iPhone 6 surge in ’15. All eyes are on the “super cycle” for the next iPhone.

The reason it’s “super” is that the iPhone has a 2+ year cadence for form factor changes and the user base updates on a similar cycle. The demand is vast due to the user base and accumulated age of devices in use. Expectations are that supply will be offered to meet this demand.

If history is a guide then the next iPhone will be the best iPhone ever.

 

Notes:
  1. On shares priced at the time around $105 or 3.2% yield quarterly earnings []

Contact Less

In September 2016 Apple Pay came to support the world’s largest public transit system. It happened through the integration with Japan’s FeliCa and gave Apple Pay access to 160 million daily transactions.

This, along with many other milestones don’t get a lot of attention. Apple Pay is in what could be considered an attritional competition with non-consumption. There are no decisive battles won or lost, only the relentless pressure to make progress against a reluctance to change.

Before I go on, I should make the attrition/decisive type of conflict clear. The terms come from military science. A war of attrition is one where two sides essentially grind against each other and the winner is the one which lasts longest. A decisive battle is one where a conflict is won through a single, acute encounter where, due to either demoralizing or circumstance reasons, one side gives up. It’s the knock-out punch vs. the fight to exhaustion.

When applying this dichotomy to competition, we need to be careful about who we define as competitors. Note that I said that Apple Pay is in a fight with non-consumption. It’s tempting to say Apple Pay competes with some other payment system like Samsung Pay or Google Pay. But none of these alternatives are as powerful as the existing mix of contact payment systems: cash, credit card magnetic swiping and some other hybrid of codes and user experiences (especially online.)

When seen this way the challenger must compete through persistence. It’s impossible for Apple Pay to decisively defeat non-consumption in one battle. It takes literally millions of decisions for adoption: each consumer, each merchant, each bank, each point of sale. It’s a relentless grind of pitching, selling, demonstrating and shaming into action.

It’s been three years of this type of competition and progress may seem hard to spot. That is because we don’t see the big wins. We can only see small wins. The win in Japan, as significant as it might be (160 million daily transactions added to the addressable market) is still small compared to all transactions world-wide.

iPad Optics

The iPad has an installed base of over 300 million. This is a far larger audience than that of the Mac (which has somewhere between 100 million and 150 million). And whereas the iPad acquired this audience in about 7 years, the Mac took 33 years.

Curiously however, it is the iPad that is seen as the more fragile product. The iPad is considered to be failing, with a presumption of an end of life in the near future. The evidence of this failure the year-on-year decline in units sold. This is illustrated by the following graph. Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 10.05.21 PM

Note that the iPad decline is paired with a steady increase in the Mac. The iPad exhibits a four year decrease in overall volumes. This has, as they say, bad optics.

But what is seen isn’t all that might be,

If we look further we see that the iPad is still a much loved and much used product. Data from the Pew Internet Survey shows that tablet ownership among US adults increased from 45% in April 2015 to 48% in April 2016 and 51% in November 2016. The rise has been steady. Although this counts tablets, the iPad had 85% share of the U.S. market for tablets priced above $200 so it’s a fair assumption that the iPad audience is growing. Similar data exists for the UK.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 10.11.50 PM

In addition, user satisfaction with the product continues to be very high. Apple cited that in November, 451 Research measured a 94% consumer satisfaction rate for iPad Mini, a 97% rate for iPad Air, and 96% for iPad Pro. Finally, browsing, shopping and app usage data also show continuing high utilization for iPads.

Furthermore, iPads are still growing in “non-consuming” markets. iPad posted double-digit growth in both Mainland China and India, it continues to attract a very high percentage of first-time tablet buyers.

Finally, within corporate buyers there is a 96% satisfaction rate with 66% purchase intent. Apps and solutions are continually being developed for the platform.

Taking into account that the iPad has a large, stable, engaged and loyal user base that continues to expand and find new uses the optically bad sales data needs an explanation. The simplest explanation is probably the best: iPads remain in use far longer than phones, and perhaps even longer than some computers.

Anecdotally we can see evidence for this. Few iPads are replaced every two years the way phones are. They are not tied to service contracts or subsidized. They are also less likely to be damaged during usage as phones are dropped and banged-up. iPads are more stationary or carried in protected containers. Phones are in pockets, iPads are in bags.

So iPads are longer-lived products and it’s perfectly reasonable that people who have them keep using them and more people are joining them but slowly. Note also that the decline in sales seems to be flattening out and perhaps might show stabilization.

Further countering of the iPad in decline idea is the continual improvement in the product. The latest is a refresh of the iPad with more battery life, a better screen and support for Pencil.

Perhaps the iPad will not return to rapid growth, or perhaps it will. But the more likely possibility is that the iPad will level out maintaining steady levels and, perhaps, grow slightly. This flat rather than up/down trajectory is unusual in devices but it isn’t when you look at the Mac. And isn’t the goal of the iPad to become a computer?  If so then perhaps Mission Accomplished.

 

The Genealogy of the MacBook Pro

I was an early user of the first MacBook Air. When that product was launched I saw in it something different: a dedication to a new measure of performance: thinness and conformability. The key image used to launch the Air was the laptop sliding neatly into an inter-office envelope. The implication was that the laptop does not need to have its own special “laptop bag”. It could fit into any bag. Users would be able to slip it into all manner of new contexts. It sought to compete with computing non-consumption.

The Air was launched by Steve Jobs in 2008 and was almost universally panned. It was considered underpowered and the dedication to thinness was seen as irrelevant to what consumers wanted. The stock price fell.

The product went on to become Apple’s most popular laptop. It still is. It grew the base of Mac users to over 100 million today.

For the same reason, I was an early adopter of the newest MacBook Retina. The even thinner new MacBook was spectacularly thin. It was smaller than an iPad. It had no ports except one USB-C and a headphone jack. It required dongles for physical connections. It had a new keyboard that barely registered movement and it had a new trackpad that did not move at all but played mind tricks to make you think it did.

As I used it over the last year, I became used to it. It was not my only laptop. I had an older 15 inch Pro, but over time I came to use the MacBook Retina exclusively. I thought I could not do “real work” with it but I managed. I got used to the keyboard. I got used to the trackpad. I got used to the need for a dongle to connect a display. But these challenges were more than offset by delightful improvements. I was delighted by the small power brick and the ability to use any USB power to charge it. I was delighted at the all-day battery life which meant I would charge it the way I charged my Phone: at night.  I was delighted that I could use it in places where I could not use a laptop: on any airplane tray, stowing it in the seat back pocket. And I no longer cared what bag I had for my computer. It did not make me productive by completing tasks more quickly. It made me more productive by letting me be do things when and where I otherwise couldn’t. I love my MacBook.

Now Apple launched a new Pro Mac laptop.The new Pro laptop has the same (slightly improved) keyboard as my MacBook. It has the same (larger) trackpad as my MacBook. It has the same (but more of) USB-C port.  It has something new called a Touch Bar which puts function keys into a touch screen but mainly it feels like a grown-up version of my MacBook Retina. It’s faster too.

Overall, the new MacBook Pro feels to me like an evolution of the MacBook of 2015. I remember at the time thinking that this baby MacBook is probably the wave of the future: the new keyboard, new trackpad, new thinness, new USB-C, deprecation of other ports. These required enormous engineering efforts and it would be silly to leave them on only one model. In any case, from where I was standing all these were “better”. Not along the previous definition of goodness but along a new definition: making the computer more conformable and easier to put into use in more places. The very ideas that drove the development of the Air of 2008. Indeed the very idea that drove the development of laptops since the 1990s.

What’s fascinating to me from a product management point of view is that the groundbreaking new features which re-define the product’s direction are not designed to trickle-down from the top-of-the-line to the bottom, but rather that they trickle-up. The low-end product gets the updates first and the the Pro products adopt them later.

And we can even trace this genealogy of features through to an even “lower-end” product: the iPhone. The iPhone “ethos” of usability and conformability has permeated through to the Macs, starting from the lowly and advancing to the top of the range. The question of where Apple’s design direction comes from can be answered: the bottom.

All this is consistent with a strategy of “low-end evolution”. A way to defend the low-end rather than abandon it in pursuit of what the most demanding customers are asking for. Rather, Apple seeks to incubate a new performance measure. Re-defining goodness.

So is this new MacBook Pro a worthy successor to the MacBook Retina? My attention is riveted by the Touch Bar. It seems a completely new way of interacting but requires discovery and practice. What Apple has to achieve is allow the product to work well without it but also to allow users to evolve their experience with it. Over time we got used to trackpads instead of mice (many resisted the change). We got used to a different, small travel keyboard. We got used to new ports (HDMI vs. VGA) and we got used to wireless everything (it may seem easier, but remember having to always enter credentials vs. plugging in a cable).

The touch bar is a new UI metaphor. It will take time but it is looking at me right now, winking.

Wherefore art thou Macintosh?

Managing the Mac product line must be one of the most challenging problems at Apple. That may not be obvious given the product’s success. Consider what it has achieved:

  • The product is in its 32nd year of market presence. A longevity that in unmatched by any other PC maker.
  • Apple reached a top five position in the ranking of PC vendors. This was achieved for the first time only this year, far along in the evolution of the market.
  • With about $23 billion in revenues per year, Apple places among the top four PC vendors in terms of revenue.
  • With an estimated $5.5 billion in operating margin Apple is the most profitable PC vendor, capturing over 60% of the available PC hardware profits.
  • The product has retained an average selling price of over $1200 for at least a decade. At the same time the average pricing of Personal Computers has more than halved.
  • Although volumes have fallen for three quarters, the product grew volumes and sales for 22 out of 29 quarters. As a result, volumes almost doubled in eight years.[1]

The contribution of the Mac to Apple’s revenues is shown in the following graph.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-22-23-pm

It’s attractive and convenient to contrast the Mac with the rest of the PC industry. A David vs. Goliath tale of redemption. The classic comeback story. But the split between the two old rivals (Windows/MacOS) focuses the mind into a limited view of the computing market. The big change in computing has not been a growing Mac vs. declining PC. It has been a huge surge in mobile device use vs. a decline in PC use overall.

This data is visible in many ways. Browsing data shows mobile overtook PC use this year. Shopping data around Black Friday points in the same direction. Data on user interaction captured by comScore is shown below[2]

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-3-45-49-pm

PC use went from half to a third of time while mobile went the other way: from a third to half of time within only four years. All the data is consistent: mobile use has swept PC use aside.

Notes:
  1. The unit volumes in third quarter 2008 were 2.6 million. Eight years later they are 4.9 million and could easily be over 5 million in the holiday quarter. []
  2. Although US only, the global picture is likely to be even more skewed toward mobile as PC didn’t saturated global markets before the smartphone swept to power. []

Post-keynote Apple event San Francisco – September 8

 

I will be presenting my latest analysis of Apple at the Sustain event in San Francisco on Thursday Sept 8th, the day after Apple’s keynote, along with Ben Bajarin, Carolina Milanesi who will alsob equipped with their latest market insights.

sustain-title-white

There is a time to disrupt and there is a time to sustain.

Sustain event is about understanding Apple’s levers of control to sustain the iPhone as it moves into direct competition with Android. We will also examine positions of top five technology brands: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

Learn more about the event at Airshow.io. Given he short notice, we are keeping this event on the small side so reserve your seat soon.

The most popular product of all time

The following is a list of the best-selling products across several categories:

Car model: VW Beetle 21.5 million
Car brand: Toyota Corolla 43 million
Music Album: Thriller 70 million
Vehicle: Honda Super Cub 87 million
Book Title: Lord of the Rings 150 million
Toy: Rubik’s Cube 350 million
Game console: Playstation 382 million
Book series: Harry Potter Series 450 million
Mobile Phone: iPhone 1 billion

The iPhone is not only the best selling mobile phone but also the best selling music player, the best selling camera, the best selling video screen and the best selling computer of all time.

It is, quite simply, the best selling product of all time.

It is that because it is so much more than a product. It is an enabler for change. It unleashed forces which we are barely able to perceive, let alone control. It changed the world because it changed us.

And it did all that in less than nine years. One has to wonder what it will enable in the next nine.

Missing the boat in music

When Spotify and Pandora were starting their streaming services many were quick to point out that Apple was about to be disrupted. The future, they said, was streaming because (young) people could not be bothered with ownership of music and the limitations of a personal collection. Who would want to pay for a few hundred songs when they could listen to millions for free?

This perception continued and became more vocal over the years. Seven years in fact. Spotify collected 20 million paying subscribers while Apple did nothing. Pandora grabbed 80 million active listeners and possibly 4 million paying subscribers while Apple did nothing. The boat had sailed and Apple was not only not on it but oblivious that there was a boat in the first place.

At first Apple launched a half-hearted streaming service and then a paid service finally showed up with Apple Music in mid 2015. Since then the company managed to add 15 million subscribers. A tiny number compared to the 900 million iTunes accounts it had reported a year earlier. Pathetic. The number of music subscriptions relative to iCloud accounts, iTunes accounts and active devices is shown the the graph below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.30.38 PM

It may be paltry compared to the count of users Apple may have in total, but how does a 15 million user base in 1 year compare with the growth rate for the incumbents Spotify and Pandora?

The following graph shows the ramps for Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music since their moments of market entry. The accumulation of users by Apple looks to be the fastest yet.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 3.31.02 PM

This is, of course, due to a maturing use case. Apple did not have to educate people to the notion of music as a subscription. It could just announce it and users would discover it and just sign up, especially if they were already iCloud subscribers and had a credit card attached to their iTunes account.

But that’s the whole point. Apple did not have to move first in music subscriptions. It did not even have to move second or third. When it did move it could just skim the market and add to its already healthy Services revenue (orange line in the first graph above.) Missing the boat in music in this case meant capturing all the value quickly and with minimal expense.

Fundamentally, Apple’s entry into music subscriptions was a sustaining effort. Streaming sustained Apple rather than disrupting it. The difference may seem merely one of semantics, but it is also the difference between life and death for a challenger. Meaning matters.

This is a cautionary tale for those who would pronounce every new idea as “disruptive” to Apple or anyone else on the basis of novelty alone. The tests for disruptiveness are easy enough and it behooves the analyst to apply them before dropping the d-bomb.