Search term: modular

What is disruption and how can it be harnessed?[1]

The phenomenon we call business disruption could benefit from a different name. Although it signifies a disturbance or an interruption in an industry, it’s much more than that.

The nominal definition I work with is that disruption is the “transfer of wealth in an industry from dominant incumbents to disadvantaged entrants.” It’s a convenient definition because it’s brief, it puts the emphasis on economic value and because it alludes to a reversal of fortune and the implied extraordinariness.

However, there are several nuances lost and contradictions ignored in this definition. I want to enumerate them here and now:

  1. Although in a disruption there is a transfer of wealth, that wealth is not necessarily conserved. An industry that undergoes a disruption often emerges larger, more productive or more influential. Disruption typically creates net growth.
  2. Although extraordinary and spectacular it is also very commonplace. Disruption is not rare. In fact, it rarely fails to happen. One could even say that if it does fail to happen, it’s a symptom of an industry in crisis.
  3. Being so common, it can be seen as a regular occurrence. But if the regularity of disruption can be considered to have a clock cycle, its frequency is increasing.
  4. Disruption in the literal sense implies discomfort, displacement and even destruction. But it’s necessary to the health of any economy. The analogy to biology is that death is the most important thing in life.
  5. Although only recently characterized and studied in cases set in the past century, the pattern is evident throughout history.

I’ve offered examples of these consequences or side-effects of disruption but I’ll emphasize once more the example I’m most familiar with. To illustrate the primary definition, the AMP index is a measure of the success of one company relative to a set of peers in the mobile phone industry. It’s the average of four market shares: mobile phone units, smartphone units, revenues and operating profits.

This chart shows the shift in AMP index values for the competitors whose data is public and which make up the vast majority of units sold:

[Sponsor] Carnegie Mellon University (with a history lesson)

It gives me great pleasure to have Carnegie Mellon University as a sponsor this week. This is because CMU holds a special, historic role in the development of the platform at the center of the disruption of mobile telecommunications.

I am referring to the kernel behind OS X and iOS: Mach.[1]

When I was a researcher at GTE Laboratories, I remember following the progress of this alternative kernel. As a research project it was one of the earliest microkernels and, along with virtual memory management, inter-process communication and control innovations, pioneered what became the basis of highly modular operating systems. Those innovations enabled an architecture which allowed complex systems to scale down to micro computers and eventually to devices.

There is a huge amount of lore around Unix and CMU’s efforts are deeply interweaved into it (as are Berkeley and AT&T). I strongly recommend a stroll down that memory lane. But I’ll keep it short here and say that original developers of Mach at CMU went on to be key executives at both Apple and Microsoft. It was really a spectacular success as far as academic research projects in computer science. A real inspiration.

So with that history, I want to thank Carnegie Mellon University for their sponsorship and I’m glad to see continuing innovation in their degree programs.

Today they are offering a Master of Information Systems Management  degree with a Business Intelligence and Data Analytics concentration (MISM-BIDA). This particular degree program is essentially cross-training in business process analysis and predictive modeling, two methodologies which deeply benefit from one another. Much of what I do for this blog is exactly this:  mapping, analytical reporting, segmentation analysis, and data visualization. I’m glad to see that his has been codified into a degree program.

Students in the MISM-BIDA program learn to integrate information filters and mining tools with applied business methods yielding insights that you see celebrated in the media every day. They do this with world-renowned faculty teaching a cohesive blend of data analytics, management, strategy, and IT courses.

I can only assume that this unique mix makes graduates highly valued by  financial service firms, consulting companies, technology agencies and start-ups.

If you like the results of this web site and would like to learn how it’s done “by the book”, consider the degree programs at Carnegie Mellon Heinz College.

Highly recommended.



  1. Carnegie Mellon also had a role in the development of Siri.

The parable of RIM

Here are the highlights from RIM’s latest quarter:

  • 14.1 million BlackBerry smartphones shipped, 13 million sold through
  • 150k PlayBook shipped with sell-through slightly higher. 800k PlayBooks shipped so far.
  • BlackBerry subscriber base up to 75 million
  • High growth cited for U.K., France, South Africa, Mexico and Argentina, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. RIM is the #1 smartphone vendor in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Sales outside the US, UK and Canada were 61% of revenues. US is now 20% of sales, UK 11%.
  • Hardware growth outside the US was 56%
  • There are 630 carriers
  • 50k apps in App World with 5 million downloads per day
  • Forecasting 11 to 12 million smartphones next quarter

Given the channel fill with a new product, the device business was marginal at best. The company obtained -1% growth y/y in units but 31% sequential growth from a transitional quarter. The average selling price (inclusive of service revenues) is $354 and about $280 excluding service revenues. I estimate that operating margins have dropped to about 11%. Not a good story, but one we have been warned to expect.

But a crucial new twist to the story is that RIM announced that they don’t expect new BlackBerry 10 devices until late next year. That came as a surprise and the stock sold off significantly, valuing the company at well below book value.

Stepping back, the biggest surprise is that the company seems to have had no plan for sustaining itself.

Let me explain.

Sponsor: Hiring OmniFocus to get things done.

One of the theories that gets significant attention on this blog is “job-to-be-done” theory. It’s a powerful tool for product designers and managers that allows them to uncover unmet needs and build great products that more often than not have no competition. We’ll dive more deeply into this discussion with some future posts and podcasts.

But today I want to highlight how one developer took the commonly observed job of “to-do lists” and, by applying context, made a compelling solution to the job.

In other words, it goes from “what do I need to do” to “what, when, where can I get things done?” This is as important as going from “where do I call to reach someone” to “call someone no matter where they are.” This is what mobility did to communication and now Omnifocus does to task management

Furthermore, you can use OmniFocus to modularize projects. You can combine fragments of ideas or projects into steps to complete goals.

Rather than spending time planning, move the responsibility of remembering daily tasks from your brain to OmniFocus — gather everything into the Inbox for later review, and then organize those bits into folders, projects, actions, and contexts.

OmniFocus is as simple or advanced as you want it to be.

Available on Mac, iPad, and iPhone with free cloud sync. The job isn’t to manage your “to do list”. The job is to get things done.

Read more about OmniFocus here.

The Global Smartphone Market Landscape

There is finally enough information to try to give an estimate of the smartphone market as a subset of the overall phone market.

The chart to the left shows the overall picture.

To sum up: The smartphone market has now reached over 30% of shipments. Non-smart devices are at 69% of total. The individual phone platform shares are as follows:

  1. Android (and Android-like): 17.6%
  2. iOS (iPhone only) 4.4%
  3. Nokia Symbian: 4.3%
  4. BlackBerry: 2.76%
  5. Bada: 1%
  6. Windows Phone 0.5%

The past quarter was the first where there is evidence of significant non-seasonal decline in incumbent platforms. Both RIM and Symbian saw two sequential drops in volume. The iPhone had a seasonal (or, more accurately, transitional) decline. Windows Phone had a very modest increase in share from 1.3% to 1.7% share though this is well below a margin of error in the estimate.

Android (and Android-like) shipments ballooned to nearly 70 million but sell-through could be about 10 million less. Nearly one in five phones sold is now powered by an Android variant. A remarkable story since the share was zero less than three years ago

Of the vendors involved, here is the division of share:

How much does an Apple store cost?

Apple loves to talk about its stores. They do it in every conference call, keynote event and SEC filing. There is a monotony with the repetition of how many they have and how many they are building and how pretty they are. They start to seem like commodities.

But if they were commodities why aren’t there any other networks of successful “vendor stores”?

The answer is partly in the odd integrated business model Apple maintains asymmetric to every other modular technology provider. Apple seems to want to control the relationship with the buyer. It’s also partly in the uniqueness of design, an obsession with the brand. But still, that does not explain why can’t it be copied.

The answer is in the economics.

To understand the cost of developing an Apple store, we turn again to the balance sheet. Fortunately for us, Apple reports details of a particular asset called “Leasehold Improvements.” It’s a substantial asset worth over $2.3 billion in the last statement. It represents “alterations made to rental premises in order to customize it for the specific needs of a tenant.”

The following chart shows the change in that figure quarter-over-quarter.

Can we tie these expenditures directly to stores?

Windows Phone, a year on

Windows Phone is in limbo. The company acknowledged that it has performed below expectations. During the last quarter for which we have data (ending June) I have an estimate that Windows Phone sold only 1.4 million units (Gartner’s sell-through analysis suggests 1.7 million). That gives Microsoft a 1.3% share of units sold (Gartner 1.6%), a new low.

At the same time, comScore data shows

Tele Vision

Every few months rumors emerge of another technology company attempting to create a new product centered around the TV. Apple’s name comes up, of course, but so does Google. And Microsoft has been experimenting with no lesser degrees of vigor than the others. They all seem to be trying to make TV smarter, somehow.

But I would argue that these efforts are misguided. Television is more than the TV set or a set-top box, or any box. It’s more than channels or broadcasters or producers or aggregators or distributors. It’s all of these things; plus more. It’s a value network of great breadth and complexity. It’s a highly modularized industry with well-defined business model boundaries and inter-dependencies. I would argue that its very breadth is what has kept it rigid and immune from disruptive change.

If you look at each technological experiment to move to a new business model, they can all be reduced to the offer of an additional or substitutive module. There is no assumption made that the content being served will change. To put it in the context of mobile computing, it’s like trying to introduce a smartphone in a world without data networks–where the only service to be served is person-to-person calling. Unlike the Smartphone which could only have emerged to leverage the Internet, TV has no “smart content” to leverage. The “smartness” has to be not in the box but in the programming.

Of course, I don’t mean there’s a lack of good programming. What I mean is that there is no innovation in what a program is–the job it’s hired to do. The way it and its distribution fits into a person’s life. TV programs have not changed for half a century. They feature the same genres, the same duration, the same business model, the same series, format and scheduling and the same value chains as when “I Love Lucy” premiered in 1951. They assume people watch TV during the same time each day (while doing nothing else.) They also assume people are equally influenced by brand advertising and that audiences are largely homogeneous.

Contrast that with other media. The song, the book, the game, the newspaper even the movie have gone through consumption changes which have been supported by disruptive innovations. The portable music player, the ebook reader, the console and the mobile phone and the internet in general have all allowed consumption to conform to new usage patterns. The jobs that music is hired to do has changed dramatically. These re-definitions of what media is used for caused dramatic changes in both the production and distribution and hence the way value is captured in media.

TV, it seems, stands alone and immune.

The fate of mobile phone brands

The violence with which new platforms have displaced incumbent mobile vendor fortunes continues to surprise.

  • Nokia’s Symbian platform has gone from 47% share to 16% in three years
  • Microsoft’s phone platforms have gone from 12% to 1%
  • Other platforms have gone from 21% to zero
  • Although far less dramatic, RIM’s decline from 17% to 12%  is causing acute pain and anxiety

This while entrants have grown share in spectacular fashion:

  • Android from zero to 48% (A two year period)
  • iOS from 2% to 19%
  • Bada from zero to 4% (two quarters only)


The picture of platform share over time looks like this:

The Android and iOS pincer movement

Nearly all the data on smartphone shipments is now available for the second quarter 2011. Some fragments are still not public, including ZTE and Huawei (and any others) shipments. We also have estimates for the various platforms including an estimate for Windows Phone and Bada (though not for WebOS).

This allows the following chart:

Using the traditional color scheme which separates “integrated” from “modular” vendors, the chart shows overall volume growth and how the volumes are split among vendors.

The market grew at about 73% y/y and 50% compounded over three years and 9% sequentially. The y/y growth rates for individual vendors were: