A short interview for iCon where I’ll be presenting tomorrow. The interview originally took place on January 9th, 2013.
Jasna Sykorova: You have focused on mobile devices for some time now. What made you to start to give a special attention to Apple related data?
I began to look at Apple in 2005; long before they were in the phone market. I had an iPod and liked the Mac but I did not have particular reason to think about the company. You might find it strange that it was the launch of two very peculiar products that caused me to change my perception of the company. They were the iPod Shuffle and the Mac mini.
These are not seen as important today nor were they back then. But they signaled to me that something dramatic was happening: the company was shedding its “premium” image. This and the earlier move of iTunes to Windows signaled [to me] that Apple was serious about the mass market and the minimum price that a person would need to pay to become an Apple owner.
This was pivotal to me also from the point of view of disruption theory. If a company takes the fight to the low end it means it protects itself from a low end disruptor and may even enter new markets. So if the thinking is that Apple would disrupt then it would have to get into new categories. I then asked myself what it would target. I told myself (again, in 2005) that Apple will do three things:
- build a phone
- disrupt the PC market
- enter the living room.
1 and 2 are well understood to have happened and 3 is nearly here with Apple TV.
Each of these were tremendous opportunities and it’s been fun watching it happen over the last 7 years.
By the way, my expectations were right not because of any insight into the company. I had not studied Apple much at the time. All my expectations came from understanding the psychology of a disruptor. Nor does it mean that what Apple did was deliberately planned. It’s possible to predict what people will do even if they don’t know what they will do themselves.
Can data tell stories? Can you judge just by data?
In the latest quarterly report Apple changed how it reports product revenues. In previous quarters the iPhone and iPad were reported including accessory revenues while iPod accessories were reported under “Music” revenues.
“Under this new format revenue from iPhone, iPad, Mac and iPod sales is presented exclusive of related service and accessory revenue […] revenue from all Apple and third party accessory sales is presented as a single line item [Accessories.]“
Apple provided a document showing re-classified product summary data. By measuring the difference between original revenue and re-stated revenue per product we can determine how much service and accessory revenue was being attached to each product.
I did this for two quarters as a sample:
The analysis shows that the iPhone has been receiving about $15 of accessory attached value and the iPad about $25. Interesting trivia, but how is this insightful?
Consider the impact on this analysis of revenues/unit shipped:
How much does it cost to have the world’s best maps?
The answer may seem simple: $8.1 billion.
That was the cost to Nokia in cash for buying Navteq in October 2007. It would seem that buying that asset (or another one like it) is a cut-and-dried solution to anyone needing a mapping “solution”. But it’s not an answer that is either complete or explanatory of how mapping solutions are valued.
Navteq was not priced as a database for an app. It was a business which was expected to create licensing revenues and profits. The actual price for this business net of cash was $7.7 billion but the following graph shows the net sales and operating profits since Nokia began reporting its performance:
The blue area represents the difference between sales and costs and hence the operating expenses–the payments needed to “keep the lights on”.
[The following is a post written by James Allworth.
James is the co-author of How Will You Measure Your Life?. He has worked as a Fellow at the Forum for Growth and Innovation at Harvard Business School, at Apple, and Booz & Company. It follows and builds on a discussion we had on the 56th Critical Path podcast.
You can connect directly with James on Twitter at @jamesallworth -ed]
A lot of ink has been spilled in the wake of the recent Apple Samsung patent disputes, and the legal wars see no sign of abating any time soon. The rise of Samsung’s phone business has been meteoric, and Apple is right to be concerned. But the real threat that Samsung poses to Apple has very little to do with the copying (or not) of Apple’s designs. The lawsuits have simply been a convenient (if expensive and risky) way to attempt to quash a threat that is of Apple’s own making. While there’s no doubt that Google has played a key role in Samsung’s success by handing out a free mobile operating system to pretty much anyone who wants to build one — it is actually Apple, more than any other company, that is responsible for Samsung’s present success.
How? By outsourcing as much work to Samsung as they have. And it’s impossible not to wonder whether Tim Cook’s announcement yesterday on bringing back Apple’s manufacturing to the USA is the beginnings of an attempt to rectify the problem.
Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a post titled It’s time for Apple to look at owning factories again.
What I argued then was that of the problems that Apple had the means to fix, production was what most needed fixing.
Since then we’ve seen evidence of significant investment in manufacturing tooling, where Apple is effectively purchasing the means of production rather than just renting or contracting it out. This capital equipment investment is the equivalent of owning one of the three asset classes that make up a manufacturing operation:
- Tooling or capital equipment. The “Capital” at the root of the concept of “Capitalism”.
- Skills, talent and knowledge. This is the softer kind of asset that turns out to be harder to replace or buy.
- Labor pool. Although considered a commodity even unskilled labor is difficult to obtain if flexible employment is needed in a regulated environment.
It did not stop there. It has also used capital to ensure capacity through pre-orders thereby allowing the skills and labor to be more predictably applied by its suppliers (and preventing competitors from having sufficient supplies). Apple has also taken control of chip design for the vast majority of its CPUs thus building a more bespoke supplier chain.
However these are not enough steps to make production “good enough” to meet the demands of a billion customers buying a new product every other year.
In addition to the video (On Capital Spending’s Transformation of the Electronics Industry – YouTube), you can download the presentation used as an iPad Perspective story here.
It is a featured story on Perspective App on the iPad and now on iPhone and iPod touch.
Here is an exchange with Robert van Apeldoorn, Journalist with Trends Tendances Magazine in Belgium. (www.trends.be/fr). The exchange took place in early September via e-mail.
Robert: -Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is considered in Europe as a way to push growth, and is a target of national and EU policies (digital growth,etc), but the result seems to be a failure: the European computer industry (hardware) is almost dead (ICL, Siemens computers bought by Fujitsu, Olivetti almost out of computer business, Nixdorf dead) since the 90’, and the telco industry seems to be in crisis. All European companies are out of the handset business (big and fading exception is Nokia, but with American software), and Alcatel is suffering with telco equipement manufacturing. It seems that at best, Europe can be a good niche player, with companies like ARM (chips). Technology seems to be reduced to localized services (computer services), some software businesses. What do you thing about that point of view? Is it correct or exaggerated ?
What will remain to the European companies ?
The main problem is perphaps the creation of European platform/ecosystems. Almost all are American today: Apple IOS-iTunes, Android, Amazon,…
Why Symbian didn’t succeed as a competitive platform ?
Is it possible to create European platforms? After all, IOS succeed after a short period of time.
What are the European tech companies that could play an important role in the near future ?
The following article is published in Filmmaker Magazine. Fall 2012, Vol. 21 #1.
There is a saying I once heard: “Once you change the method of distribution, the product has to change.”
This itself is a take on the idea that distribution defines the product. You see this around you every day in the products you buy. Cars are influenced by the dealership networks that sell them. Phones by the mobile network operators and the choice of computer you use at work by whatever the IT department or value added reseller prefers to work with. Mass market restaurants offer what can be sold by wholesalers–typically frozen, long shelf-life staples. Almost every product category is shaped more by what can be distributed than what can be produced. That’s simply because in mature economies distribution is harder than production. In consumer products it requires access to wholesalers who then require access to shops who themselves have access to prime real estate which attracts foot traffic. Production only requires capital. Distribution requires relationships, often exclusive ones.
This pattern is even more pronounced when looking at media products. Production is arguably easier since it’s constrained by talent, which is fungible. But distribution is even harder as it is addressing bigger audiences in shorter time frames. You see this lopsided balance of power in the abundance of books being written relative to those being published. There are thousands of films produced and hundreds get distributed.
But the saying suggests that if distribution were to change then the product itself would change. Indeed, if you can sell ebooks direct, then they tend to evolve into new genres (e.g. Fifty Shades of Grey). If you can sell cheap adult video online it tends to evolve into new genres as well (I’ll leave examples to the imagination.) YouTube videos quickly cluster around “Fail” or “Win” compilations which evolved from America’s Funniest Home Videos. They get millions of views. Even before the Internet, the availability of cable created the genre of music video, which created the first music broadcast alternative to radio. And of course, cinema itself redefined theater once it could get shown to millions rather than thousands. The new methods of distribution of media affected what gets produced rather than the other way around. Consider the converse: innovative filmmakers who try new storytelling methods are stymied by a lack of acceptance by existing distributors and find their material languishing in festivals or perpetual cult status.
So we can re-state the saying to a new “Law of new media”: Once you change the method of distribution, the medium itself has to change.
Marc Andreessen famously coined the phrase “software is eating the world.” It’s an apt observation. If you look back on the history of computing you’re likely to measure computers sold or devices sold or users harvested or productivity gained. These things are measured because they can be measured. But the greatest cause of value created and captured has been the development of software. An ephemeral product whose value is often ignored in analytical discourse.
Software is not easily measured and it’s not easily valued due to its intractable nature. Firstly, because businesses that make software tend to have weird cost structures–absurdly high fixed costs and operating margins: They operate without income for years and then suddenly are massively profitable with a minimal set of resources. They have a non-linear, “big bang” trajectory.
Secondly, software companies tend to capture revenues from something other than the direct sale of the good. Software is rarely sold. Services sometimes are sold on the basis of software but more likely audiences for services are sold to a set of bidders, or revenue is obtained in even more circuitous ways.
Thirdly, because there are curious multi-sided markets for software platforms. Charlie Kindel hints strongly at how difficult it is to understand the dynamics of software platforms. There is the prospect of lock-in of users and data. There are relationships to nurture with developers and there’s the principle of an ecosystem that creates network effects. The virtuous/vicious cycles are non-linear and unpredictable even for the experts who have been at it for decades (e.g. Microsoft).
Quarterly financial data is often a lagging indicator of strategic success. RIM’s vital signs were exceptionally strong up until early 2011. Consider the following graph showing RIM’s device growth.
Using language commonly heard among analysts, one would say that the company was “reverting to the mean” and growing nearly in-line with the market. In other words, exceptional growth was over but continuing growth was likely. The company was returning to something “normal.”
However, keen observers of the market would have been hard pressed to find any reason for justifying that performance. Seen through a disruptive lens, it was evident as early as 2008 that RIM’s strategy was not sustainable. The company had a very weak smartphone product relative to emergent iOS and Android ecosystems. And yet, the company continued to prosper for nearly three years, through 2008, 2009 and 2010. Those shorting the stock during this period would have been unrewarded.
But then in early 2011 it fell off a cliff.