Google announced its first computing product: the Pixel. It’s not the first Chromebook but it is the first device which is uniquely branded as a Google product (Motorola notwithstanding.)
It’s a curious choice given that companies which have “crossed-over” from being service or software oriented to hardware have started with more “mobile” devices. Amazon launched the Kindle as a low-end product and gradually moved it up-market. Microsoft launched with the Surface tablet and then followed with the Pro version as a hybrid laptop/tablet.
It’s also curious since Google has spent years contributing to the development of mobile phones and tablets under the Nexus sub-brand. This was an approach consistent with earlier Chromebooks as well.
But the Pixel is a high-end product. It’s priced at the top of the range of what a laptop computer might cost (given the dimensions). Perhaps it’s part of a pattern where Google will hone its hardware skills toward releasing a phone or tablet it can call its own. Starting with a more traditional computer is “easier” than trying to deliver on the more demanding smaller form factors.
And yet, the more obvious question is why would Google want to be in the hardware business? Isn’t being a web-focused company implicitly suggesting that hardware is a commodity to be farmed off to perpetually impoverished and violently abused OEMs?
The truth is quite different from this. Samsung currently makes far more operating profit from Android phones than Google does from all its operations.
When looking at the patterns of sales and profit capture for hardware vendors since 2007 the contrast is stark:
On February 6th, 2013 Apple reported that a total of 25 billion songs had been downloaded from its iTunes music store. The previous definitive value was in October 2011 though there was mention of “more than 20 billion” in November. App download totals have recently been much more frequently updated as the following chart shows:
[I estimated 21 billion for the November total.]
The latest two data points point to a surge in iTunes song download rates. Prior to last fall the download rate seemed to be hovering around 10 million songs per day.
I last looked at the race to a billion in March 2011. Since then, I’ve been updating and adding data to the set giving a broader selection of platforms to compare.
Before we dive in, an explanation: the initial review excluded Windows (PC) and Facebook mainly because (a) the ramp scale I’m using is about a decade in duration and (b) I was reluctant to compare platforms that require payment to join to those that don’t. The (DOS/Windows) PC ramped over several decades (starting in 1981) and Facebook is a service that costs nothing to join. There was much gnashing of teeth and shaking of fists as a result.
Therefore, in the interest of inclusion, I added both to the data set and let the chips fall where they may.
The data is shown below.
I kept the scale to about a decade so that individual lines can be resolved. As a result, you’ll note that although Windows reached one billion first it did so slowly enough to be off the scale shown. Indeed, the “race to a billion” should be titled “The race to one billion users in less than a decade”.
In such a competition, the winner would be Facebook which, in October 2012, 35 quarters after launch, reached the finish line. The second looks to be Android (probably this year) and the third iOS (sometime next year.)
That may sound like the end of it, but what the graph also shows are the more subtle trends:
comScore released one of its rare updates to the EU5 (Spain, UK, France, Italy and Germany) smartphone market. Note that the data is claiming to show installed base and not sales in any particular period. What interests me is a comparison or contrast between the European market and the US market.
First, total users.
The EU has about 500 million inhabitants while Europe overall has 731 million. The EU 5 total about 314 million which is very nearly the same as the US (311.6 million). Therefore the EU5 is a good comparable to the US in terms of population. As the graph above shows it’s also remarkably similar in its adoption of smartphones. Note that the scale reflects users and since the populations are very similar then the penetration should also be similar.
Samsung Electronics’ SG&A expenses are curiously high. Consider the following graph:
It shows SG&A as reported by Samsung and Apple over the periods 2010, 2011 and the sum of the first three calendar quarters of 2012. Note that Samsung appears to be spending three times as much as Apple on sales and administration.
The company offers a break-down of these SG&A costs and they are also shown (Apple does not provide a break-down except for advertising in its yearly report). The suspicion that something is not right comes from looking not only at the overall picture but the notion that Transportation, Warranty and “Other” for Samsung are higher than overall SG&A for Apple.
A video of Horace Dediu’s presentation at IBM’s Electronics Global Leadership Forum in Taipei on 23 October 2012. Horace discusses how Apple’s enormous capital spending is reshaping the global supply chain for the industry.
In the parlance of developers Apple keeps “throwing exceptions.” This quarter the iPad surprised with a significant decline in sales growth. I placed a table showing the sales growth for this quarter as well as the previous 22 quarters at the bottom of this post.
Here is a quick review of each line:
The iPhone returned to a more customary growth rate (which I rate as Very Good–above 50%). The quarter was bound to be quirky due to it being both a transition quarter and a launch quarter. The launch of the iPhone 5 came quite late but not too late to make a contribution. It was also widely rumored and anticipated so there was slowing of the previous generation product. I expect growth to accelerate further in the last quarter of the year.
The Mac turned in a commendable 6% revenue growth (1% unit growth) on the back of the new 15″ Retina screen MacBook. The average sales price increased sequentially and the mix of portables to desktops reached a new high of above 80%. More about the Mac will be written in a future post.
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I’ll be speaking about the jobs publishers are hired to do. Without giving too much away, here is my synopsis of the talk:
We’re inclined to “categorize” or “segment” media according to its attributes. We think of visual, auditory or written forms as distinct. Within each of these definitions of media we further sub-segment according to the way they are packaged. As in books, periodicals, or TV vs. film and albums and singles. These definitions are convenient because they describe the product and the product has evolved into a distribution chain and a therefore a market. It becomes therefore analogous to think of a book market and a TV market and a periodicals market as if these are what people actually desire.
But what people desire are more basic things. They desire to feel good or to be comfortable or to escape into fantasy or to be aroused. They have thirsts for knowledge or flights of fancy or needs for belonging. Authors and story tellers have sought to serve these needs for as long as we’ve been humans, regardless of the medium. When you step back and ask what the real “markets” are you realize that we’ve categorized according to technical and business means of delivering these needs.
Business theorists have a word to describe this categorization: segmentation according to product attributes. It’s a common practice to define markets according to products rather than what these products are hired to do. The great Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” The idea that you can categorize by what consumers want to get done rather than what you are selling them is not new but it’s still a very hard thing to get your head around. It’s become known as “Job to be done” segmentation and has changed product planning for many firms. If you apply this method to your industry you realize that the products you sell are in competition not with other products like them but with completely new products. A newspaper may be in competition with Angry Birds and a TV show with FaceBook and a Movie with a cinematic themed video game.
If you take the history of story telling and job to be done analysis into consideration you realize that technology has always played a part in how stories are told and re-told. This technological progress is accelerating and we are now in an era where apps are the new medium which can encompass much of any of the previous story telling mediums. Apps are so flexible and so easily distributed and consumed that they threaten to converge multiple media types. I’ll explain how app economics are affecting not just games, but all forms of publishing.
With its recent release of the new Kindle Fire HD tablets, some have argued that Amazon has declared war on Apple and its iPad. But how serious is the threat? Are the two companies even playing the same game? I reached out to analyst Horace Dediu, founder and author of Asymco, to get his take. Dediu will speak on all this and more at TOC Frankfurt on October 9, 2012. Our short interview follows.