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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.

 

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Gravity

Apple is doomed. So are you. As mortals we are used to the idea of death. We do not dwell on it even though it’s inevitable. We do know that we’ll die but what we don’t know is when we’ll die. That certainty/uncertainty makes us, more or less, do everything that we do. And so we carry on. But companies die too. And when they die is also a mystery but it’s not at all clear that their inevitable demise determines what they do. If you think you’re immortal you may live dangerously. Perhaps as a result they live shorter lives than we do.

Life expectancy for humans has been rising but for companies it has been declining. Even more curiously, the richer you are the more likely you are to live longer but the wealthier a company, the more likely it is to keel over at any time. The longest lived small businesses live over 1000 years but the longest-lived large business is probably the East India Company that made it to the ripe age of 274. But that was before 1800.

In the modern, industrial era there are very few corporations that survived over a century and the Fortune 500 shows a turnover in inhabitants that resembles that of a plague-infested medieval inner-city. In contrast to their conservative, geriatric organic owners, synthetic companies are more likely to behave like live-fast, die-young punk rockers.

So it’s no surprise that Apple, at age 40, is seen as being well past its sell-by date. And yet it seems to be saying, somewhat faintly, “I’m not dead yet”. By generating more cash than can be comprehended by human observers and by controlling assets that are well beyond the means of many countries, they (it?) is confusing us with its persistence.

The confusion is exhibited in the following graph which shows the crises in confidence by that wonderful reflector of human perception–the stock market. By voting millions of times a day, the market shows us with great precision the totality of human emotion with regard to an asset. That emotion turns rapidly negative on Apple with surprising frequency.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 2.32.03 PM

There have been over 8 bouts of collapsing confidence (exhibited by 40% drops in value) for Apple’s shares. Consider the latest where we’ve seen a 40% drop followed by 57% increase in share price over the last 12 months. 57% might not seem extraordinary for a small company but for the world’s largest market capitalization with the corresponding colossus of cash that it straddles, the robustness of brand and the loyalty of customers, the mind boggles.

The same thing happened in 2012 and 2008 and as far as I can tell the company has not changed one iota during that time. The same people, mostly, are in charge. With the same mission statement, and even the same product line. The resources, processes and priorities–the only determinants of the essential value of a firm–have not shifted.

One could try to suggest that even if Apple is unchanged, the world around it has changed. But if anything the world has come to match Apple’s own view: more mobile vs. fixed, more design vs. generic, more integrated experiences vs. more modular DIY.

The ethos of Apple is rigid so why is perception about the company so fickle?

If the graph above reflects perception about a constant entity then perhaps it charts how the world has changed rather than how Apple has. Perhaps perception revolves around a center of gravity far heavier and permanent. Perhaps the tug-of-war between fear and greed reflects more upon us that it does upon the object being observed.

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The First Trillion Dollars is Always the Hardest

In its first 10 years, the iPhone will have sold at least 1.2 billion units,[1] making it the most successful product of all time. The iPhone also enabled the iOS empire which includes the iPod touch, the iPad, the Apple Watch and Apple TV whose combined total unit sales will reach 1.75 billion units over 10 years. This total is likely to top 2 billion units by the end of 2018.

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 10.15.00 PM

The revenues from iOS product sales will reach $980 billion by middle of this year. In addition to hardware Apple also books iOS services revenues (including content) which have totaled more than $100 billion to date.

This means that iOS will have generated over $1 trillion in revenues for Apple sometime this year.

In addition, developers building apps for iOS have been paid $60 billion. The rate of payments has now reached $20 billion/yr.

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Not included in this payment total are “mobile-first” or “mobile mainly” businesses such as FaceBook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tencent, YouTube, Yahoo, NetEase, Pandora Radio, Google Search, Baidu, Google Maps, Gmail, Instagram, Amazon, eBay, JD.com, Alibaba, Priceline, Expedia, Salesforce and Other Enterprise Software, Ride Sharing Apps, AirBnB and many other services which monetize independently of the App Store.

I estimate that the cumulative revenues enabled by iOS across these businesses have exceeded $500 billion, with a rate of revenue soon to reach $300 billion/yr.

The revenue numbers can only hint at the change in behavior among users. An iPhone is unlocked 80 times a day. Assuming 600 million devices in use there are 48 billion sessions on iPhones every day. 17.5 trillion sessions every year. It is these instances of interaction and engagement which are desired by all businesses built on top of the ecosystem.

These instances of engagement must be multiplied by the quality of the customers which Apple captures. iOS users spend more and are more loyal than those on alternative platform thus qualifying the platform as “premium” and thus adding to its value in the eyes of developers, content producers and service providers.

As the install base of iOS increases and as users hire the devices to do more and spend more time with them the virtuous cycle of value creation will continue and accelerate.

There is a temptation to think that such a business is fragile and will be disrupted. Challengers appear daily and the number of iPhone “killers” is not measurable. One can cite the billion users of Nokia phones which defected. One can cite the loyalty of BlackBerry users that evaporated. One can even cite the juggernaut of Windows and how it became impotent. One can cite the vast number of Android devices offered at low prices.

But there are reasons to believe that the iOS empire is far stronger and resilient.

Unlike Nokia’s phones, Apple’s product is an ecosystem with network effects and dependencies on software and services. It’s also a monolithic product with a singular interface and form factor.

Unlike BlackBerry, the iPhone does many jobs–too many to count. Indeed the iPhone evolves and changes its core value over time.

Although different in many ways from Windows there are strong similarities in terms of loyalty and persistence of users. iOS even developed a dominant position in enterprises. Microsoft’s attempt to become a hardware company is a testament to the confluence of the two business models.

And whereas Android was originally seen as the “good enough” iPhone, potentially disrupting it, it turns out to be the ersatz iPhone. Chances are higher that users will switch from Android to iPhone and not the other way. Again, the reasons have more to do with the ecosystem and quality of users (which are hard to measure) than with the hardware (which is easy to measure.)

As we look toward the second decade of the iPhone, the expectation isn’t one of another “big bang” but a process of continuous improvement. The market is nearing saturation so the goals must be to capture more switchers from Android. Apple has achieved this with the Mac: survival, persistence and eventual redemption.

More exciting is the apparent expansion of a network of ancillary “smart” accessories. The Apple Watch, the AirPods, Pencil and possible new wearables point toward a future where the iPhone is a hub to a mesh of personal devices. The seamless integration of such devices is what has always set Apple apart.

 

Notes:
  1. Includes forecast for first six months of 2017 []

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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.

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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.

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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.