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Category Nostalgia

Peak Cable

Paying for TV has been a curious consumer phenomenon. There was a time when TV was free to consumers. It was delivered as a broadcast over-the-air and paid for either by commercials (US mostly) or by taxes on viewers (Europe mostly). The consumers were delighted with the idea as it was far better than radio and radio was delightful because it was far better than no radio.

The process of convincing consumers to pay for something that used to be free was quite interesting. The first benefit to be articulated was that the quality of the picture would be much better. It would, in essence, be noise-free.[1]

The second benefit was an increase in the number of channels. VHF and UHF television would cover about three and 5 channels respectively while cable could offer dozens, many specializing on specific types of content like the Home Box Office (HBO) offering movies and ESPN offering sports only and MTV music videos and CNN news only.

The third benefit was fewer (or no) commercials for some of the channels. This was especially valued by fans of movies whose interruption by commercials was often detracting from the immersive value and continuity of the cinematic experience.

These benefits were very attractive during the 1980s, to the extent that about 60% of US households adopted cable. An additional group later adopted satellite-based pay-TV as the technology became reasonably cheap.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 2.29.06 PMThese benefits were priced modestly but as the quality and breadth of programming increased, prices rose. An average cable bill of $40/month in 1995 is $130 today[2]. Some of that revenue went into upgrading the capital equipment in use (the plant) and some into paying for the higher production values. Yet more went to the sports leagues and their players whose business models increasingly depended on broadcast rights.

Notes:
  1. This was in fact the birth of cable TV: a shared antenna for a community in an  electromagnetic shadow []
  2. a 6.1% compounded rate of price growth vs. a 2.4% rate of inflation []

Conversations with Apple’s brand

According to Folkore, in 1981 Apple took out a two page ad in Scientific American which explained that whereas humans cannot run as fast as other animals, a human on a bicycle is the fastest species on earth.

Jobs had made the observation that a computer was “a bicycle for the mind” earlier, in 1980, at a time when the decision to purchase a computer was driven by an intellectual curiosity and justified as an improvement or assistant to the intellect. It was to make the lighten the labors of our intellect.

Apple brand at the time as an appeal to the intellect via a humanistic argument. A more emotive positioning of a tool, but a tool nonetheless. This positioning evolved throughout the 80s and 90s into an “intersection of technology and the liberal arts.”

We can see how the conversation with the potential buyer was along the lines of appealing to the intellect while offering a humanist sweetener. Humanizing the product allowed it to be accepted into a world that feared the complexity and awkwardness of such a machine.

During the 2000s, with the ascent of iPod, the conversation shifted to prioritizing  the emotions more than the intellect. The products had to appeal to those who wished to express and enjoy products of emotional value. Products like music and videos and the output of the arts rather than the sciences. The brand became emotional rather than intellectual. It created an aesthetic, and become culturally iconic.

During the 2010s, with the ascent of iPhone and the emergence of the Watch, the brand speaks a language of instinct, leaving intellect and emotion as secondary or tertiary voices. Instinct is visceral, lust-inducing. It seems to short-circuit any of the rational. Non-rationalism does not mean irrational. It just skips right over the head and heart and hits the gut.

One could argue that during these three decades, the organs the brand was engaging in conversation shifted from the mind to the heart and then to the glands. Those glands which release hormones and are directed by non-rational neurons. The evidence of the conversation would be in resulting products causing pupils to dilate, breaths to be quickly drawn and skin temperatures to rise.

The brand therefore has managed to move from a rational, to a neurological, to an endocrine response.

The curious thing is that during these shifts, Apple’s entry into new biological spheres of influence has been largely unchallenged. I suspect this is because emotional or instinctive products are appealing due to their lack of rationalized value. In other words, what makes a product hormonally appealing is a lack of intellectual appeal[1]. Apple can enter into the world of lustful appeal while lustful brands can’t enter into functional appeal.

This is a classic asymmetry which perhaps no other brand can pull off.[2]

Notes:
  1. and vice-versa in many cases []
  2. The reason is complicated but stems from the firm having been built to execute nothing but home runs. By shunning portfolio theory, Apple can wander into new categories far from its biological home grounds. []

Haunted Empire

The “Stupid manager theory of company failure” (and its corollary, the “Smart manager theory of company success”[1]) remains the most popular, perhaps even the most universally accepted theory of management. Book after book, thoughtful article after article alludes to this theory and whenever a company is perceived to be under-performing, all fingers point to the leadership with demands for blood letting.

This is not a new phenomenon. When catastrophe strikes, as a thoughtful species, we have always asked for leaders to be sacrificed. In Europe during the Iron age leaders were sacrificed when crops failed. In South and Central America leaders were ceremonially tortured for similar reasons.

Of course most crop failures were due to weather phenomena and the anointed leadership had nothing to do with these causes. Nevertheless ancient correlation analysis would have revealed the pattern that good leadership meant good weather and bad leadership meant bad weather.

There was a balance to the downside however. When times were good the leadership enjoyed luxuries and praise. This was the essential deal societies made: we’ll keep you in riches and allow you to be idle as long as times are good but ritualistically slaughter you when times are bad. We’ll declare you “chief magical officer” and place all our faith in you. But, of course, if you fail, we will will be vengeful.

And so it goes in today’s corporate world. I’ve often said that corporate governance is medieval, or pre-scientific in its approach to understanding causality. That may be too generous. As far as the reward/punishment system (also known as Human Resources) it’s probably pre-neolithic. The luxuries and extravagance which we heap upon the leader provide abundant evidence. Leaders insist on these ironic “pay packages” and boards approve them because they know they can and will be ritualistically sacrificed if and when the mobs turn against them.

A manager would be a fool to accept even generous pay given the risk, actually near certainty, of ritualistic slaughter. They demand and are unquestionably given absurd pay that has no relationship to performance. Such pay has no relationship to performance because it isn’t designed to reward performance but to account for the risk of arbitrary and very public sacrifice. Boards (and hence shareholders) are deliberately hiring a scapegoat for sins as yet unknown. Luxury and violence are thus finely balanced in what is called “Executive Search”.

Notes:
  1. As well as the “Smart/Stupid leader theory of national success/failure” []

Biggest news of 2014

As corporate romances go, IBM and Apple’s must rank among the most unexpected. As I wrote on the date they changed their Facebook status, the two companies were antagonists for the better part of twenty years and their rapprochement was met with a shrug mostly because yet more decades passed since.

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 11.28.03 AM

Nostalgia aside, this new union is profoundly important. It indicates and evidences change on a vast scale. The companies’ antagonism was due to being once aimed at the same business: computing. Since the early 1980s, “computing” came to be modularized into hundreds, perhaps thousands of business models. It is no longer as simple as selling beige boxes. IBM was forced out of building computers and into services and consulting while Apple moved to make devices and the software and services which make its hardware valuable.

The convergence of interests which was consummated into a deal this year stems from the migration of computing around what has come to be called “mobile”. Apple intends to accelerate the adoption of its mobile platforms among the remaining non-adopters: enterprises–a group which, by now, qualifies as laggards.[1] Simultaneously IBM intends to connect data warehouses at those same enterprises to their employed users.

Notes:
  1. There was a time–when Apple was young–when enterprises were the innovators, early adopters. That role ended approximately in the year 2000 []

What next, Samsung?

I received a few questions from Shirley Siluk of NewsFactor as a follow-up to my post on the trajectory of successful companies.

1. Do you foresee any hope for a turnaround for Samsung? If so, where do its best opportunities lie?

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 1.44.54 PM

The smartphone business was a huge opportunity for Samsung and they took full advantage of it. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult business to stay on top of. The list of victims in that industry is quite long and there have been no long-term winners. Samsung’s operating model seems to be to invest as a ‘fast follower’ filling in the market after it’s established while leveraging capital intensive components synergies. That has also worked for them in consumer electronics (at the expense of Sony and other Japanese vendors). If the modus operandi does not change then their turnaround will depend on the creation of new opportunities/categories. Wearables may be such an opportunity but it may not be as big as the phone business.[1]

2. What has contributed most to Samsung’s decline? Which competitors are posing the greatest threat?

Notes:
  1. The graph shows estimates of smartphone shipments for a select number of vendors. []

Tentpoles

When the iPhone launched, Steve Jobs introduced it as being three products in one:

  • A wide-screen iPod
  • A phone
  • A breakthrough internet communicator

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 2.40.54 PM

 

When the Apple Watch launched, Tim Cook introduced it as being three things:

  • A precise timepiece
  • A new, intimate way to communicate
  • A comprehensive health and fitness device.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 2.37.52 PM

Revolutionary User Interfaces, Part 2

In 2011 I wrote:

My hypothesis is that The Primary Cause for the shift of profits from Incumbents to Entrants has been the disruptive impact of a new input method.

It was a description of what I considered to be the “disruptive technology” which caused incumbents which had a “front-row seat” to the future of their industry to be completely displaced and marginalized by an entrant[1] with no discernible right to do what they did.

I illustrated what underpinned the sea change in the phone business via the slide that Steve Jobs used in the iPhone launch event:

Screen-Shot-2011-11-03-at-11-3-10.45.20-AM

 

I added the years when each input method was introduced and the  platform/ecosystems created as a result. These new ecosystems were the primary cause for dramatic industry-sized shifts in profits.

Not coincidentally, during the 2014 Apple Watch launch, the presentation began[2] with a re-telling of the “mouse, click wheel and Multi-Touch” story.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.07.55 AM

Seven years later, the difference is that there is a new object added to the story. It answers the question that has been on my mind since that first post on revolutionary user interfaces was written: what will come next.

Now that we have an answer, the next step is to understand the new platform, its ecosystem; which industry will be affected and which incumbents will be displaced and to what degree will value be created beyond that which will be displaced.

Piece of cake.

Notes:
  1. later more than one []
  2. Begins one hour into the 2 hour downloadable video []

Is the PC back?

Gartner’s own press release has an interesting spin:

“After Two Years of Decline, Worldwide PC Shipments Experienced Flat Growth in Second Quarter of 2014, According to Gartner”

Gartner’s actual figure is 0.1% growth. Gartner and IDC measure slightly different quantities as “PC” but they don’t disagree much. IDC still shows declining PC sales at about -1.7%. However both also include the Mac in their accounting of PC. If we were to remove the Mac and measure “Windows PC”[1] Gartner’s figures would show -0.8% drop in PC ex-Mac shipments.

The difference in growth between the Mac and non-Mac PCs is shown in the following graph.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 7-23-5.23.08 PM

As Apple puts it, the Mac grew faster (and hence gained share) for 31 out of the last 32 quarters.  It missed on this perfect record during the fourth quarter of 2012 when the then fresh new iMac was impossible to buy due to production issues.

So as far as the Mac is concerned the slowing of the decline in PC unit shipments isn’t at its expense.

Notes:
  1. In quotes because this total includes Linux and Chromebook []

IBM and Apple: Catharsis

IBM did not invent personal computing but their “PC” became synonymous with the category. Having entered the market in 1981, the IBM PC quickly became the top selling brand. From 1984 to 1993 IBM sold more PCs than any other vendor, conceding the spot to Compaq which remained on top only until 2000. No PC vendor remained at the top of the sales leagues longer than IBM. HP had the second longest run but that run was broken last year as Lenovo (who acquired IBM’s PC business) surged.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 4.19.11 AM

As the graph above shows, the period of time when IBM was dominant was characterized by far lower volumes. In 2004, the year IBM exited, they sold about 10 million units. ((as the graph shows, if we consider Lenovo as taking over from there, they did a very good job extending the legacy.)) It was a decent performance but one that did not keep up with the Dell and HP/Compaq race to the bottom in pricing and subsequent rise in volumes.

However, throughout its position of strength, IBM was a reluctant PC maker.

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.