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M is for Mystery

I recently tweeted that any discussion related to wearable technology needs to begin with a description of the job it would be hired to do. Without a reason for building a product, you are building it simply because you can.

The reason a product deserves to exist is that it can do a job that needs doing and that few, if any others can also do it. This happens when the job is unstated and difficult to perceive. Put another way, the difficulty behind jobs-to-be-done based design is that jobs are never plainly evident. In contradiction to invention, where the problem being solved must be as clearly stated as its solution, value-creating innovation meets new and unarticulated needs. Even when created, the value is more subtly perceived, often only after prolonged use.

Which brings me to the M7. Apple chose to highlight a component (curious in itself) which it bills as a “motion coprocessor”. It claims to be measuring motion data via accelerometer, compass and gyroscope and processing the information in some way. By bundling the sensors and their management into one integrated chip battery consumption is reduced and these motion monitoring functions are performed more efficiently.

But what for? The examples given during the presentation for an iPhone with M7 don’t add up to a lot of benefit. An iPhone could be used as a fitness companion but it would not a very good one. Compared with, for example, a Nike FuelBand, an iPhone could not track your activity well. It’s often not moving, sitting on a desk or in a purse or pocket while you are doing exercise. It’s too big to take into a basketball game. It can’t “observe” your activity because it’s not worn during many activities and if it is worn it is in a position which does not inform much about what you’re doing. Phones are too big to be used as physical activity monitors.

Hence the question of what is the M7′s job to be done. As part of an iPhone, it does not seem to have one. Saving a bit of battery life is not a job, and certainly not one that needs to have billing in a media special event. The answer must be that the M7 was developed for some other, as yet unstated reason.

When the A series chips were created Apple leveraged the in-house design and cost reduction to make a wide range of products with more than 700 million examples built. Designing a chip needs a broad application domain.

Perhaps this is why Apple chose to describe the iPhone 5s as “forward-thinking”. The M7 and the Touch ID are like research projects whose actual value will be realized at some future time, in probably different contexts. The M series of chips may become Apple’s “low end” microprocessor as the A series climbs the trajectory into core computing tasks (read: phone, tablets, TV, laptops).

M might be the chip for the wearable segment, woven into a whole new fabric of uses and jobs to be done.

That Competition Thing

Bill, I think the smartphone market has always been competitive. [Only] the names have been changed.

Tim Cook responding to Bill Shope’s question on the competitive landscape, April, 2013.

Indeed, over the years, the companies considered Apple’s primary competitor have been many.

In years gone by in the phone market there were RIM and Nokia and Palm and HTC. In the iPod era there was Creative and Sony and innumerable others long forgotten (not to mention the tyranny of DRM).

Even today we struggle to decide whether Apple competes with Google first or Samsung. Or perhaps with the iPad it’s with Amazon or  Microsoft. Or maybe iTunes is threatened by Netflix or Spotify. The Mac surely competes with HP and Dell and Toshiba. What about iCloud? Clearly it’s Dropbox or Google Drive. iWork? Both Office and Google Docs.

Doing a competitive analysis for Apple is then mostly a struggle of whom to compare it to. So forgive me that I only track the few challengers shown below.

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 8-13-2.14.59 PM

Switcher

Nokia’s Windows (Smart)Phone performance was drowned out last week by Microsoft’s big announcement of the Surface inventory write-off. They are pieces of the same puzzle however.

First, a look at Nokia.

There were 7.4 million Lumia phones sold in Q2 with 0.5 million sold in the US. Although Windows Phones grew sequentially from 5.6 million the previous quarter, and up from 4.0 million in the same quarter last year, total smartphones are down y/y and nearly flat over the last four quarters. This is of course because Symbian phones have finally disappeared from volume shipments. The following graph shows the history of Nokia’s smartphone shipments.

Although it’s tempting to compare Lumia to iPhone (given the premium positioning in the US) the average price of €157 or $206 shows that Lumia is more adequately compared to Android. This is about a third of what Apple gets for its iPhones.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nokia’s always had a knack for mass-market phones and certainly that was one reason Microsoft was attracted to them. Presumably, the promise of the relationship was to insert Windows Phone into the Nokia development and distribution pipeline, squeezing out costs and filling up channels.

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 7-22-3.24.21 PMThe problem for the brand has been that although priced at Android levels, volumes are nowhere near and the gap is widening. At current activation rates, Android is selling 16.5x faster than Windows Phone (assuming 90% of Windows Phones are Lumia).

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Netradar supports all major smart phones and tablets including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Meego and Symbian Belle.

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Forecasting Windows market share

Last week Frank X. Shaw, VP of corporate communications at Microsoft stated:

 … most of the people around me were using their iPads exactly as they would a laptop – physical keyboard attached, typing away, connected to a network of some kind, creating a document or tweet or blog or article. In that context, it’s hard to distinguish between a tablet and a notebook or laptop. The form factors are different, but let’s be clear, each is a PC.

Actually this “admission” that iPads are PCs is not something new. Steve Ballmer made the same assertion in 2010 pre-iPad (though calling them slates). Arguably, the notion that tablets are PCs has been dogma at Microsoft for over a decade and Windows running on all form factors has been a strategic guiding principle.

Which is why I’ve always added the tablet data to the PC data to create a picture of the “personal computing” market. And this is what that picture looks like today:

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 6-3-5.31.21 PM

Note how the share of various platforms has evolved over this brief time span:

My questions for Tim Cook

Next week at AllThingsD’s D11 conference in LA, Apple CEO Tim Cook will be interviewed by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.

Here are some questions I’m hoping they will ask:

  1. Why is the iPhone not sold as a portfolio product? Meaning, why, after six years, is there no iPhone product range being updated on a regular basis. Having a portfolio strategy is not only followed by every phone vendor but also by Apple for all its other product lines, including the iPad, which came after the iPhone. In other words, please explain why the iPhone is anomalous from a product portfolio point of view.
  2. There are more than 800 operators world-wide so why are there only about 250 of them carrying your phone? Competitors large and small (from BlackBerry to Nokia to Samsung) have cited relationships with more than 500 operators so Apple is being uniquely selective. My question does not stem from a lack of patience: this total number of iPhone distributors has not increased markedly for over a year. Are you limiting distribution through conditions placed on operators (like the availability of sufficient quality data services) or are operators finding the distribution agreement too onerous (e.g. too high a minimum order quota)?
  3. In 2012 Apple’s capital spending has reached the extraordinary level of $10 billion/yr, higher than all but the most capital-intensive semiconductor manufacturers. This is unusual for Apple as it was less than $1 billion in the year before the iPhone launched. It’s also unusual for Apple’s competitors in phones, PCs or tablets. It’s on a level matched only by semiconductor heavyweights. What is the purpose of this spending and what should we read into it leveling off at $10 billion for 2013?
  4. Depending on one supplier is an operational faux pas, and yet Apple has found itself in that situation with Samsung for mobile microprocessors. It may be excusable in PCs with Intel having an architectural monopoly but it’s not excusable for a chip that you designed yourself and purchase in massive quantities. Why did you give Samsung such a concession, especially knowing their potential as a competitor vis-à-vis alternative suppliers who had no such potential? Does the answer have something to do with the previous question?

Surface Tension: The effect of Surface on Windows revenues

According to Strategy Analytics 3 million Windows-based tablets shipped in Q1. That is not inconsequential. It would add 4% to the total Windows-based computers and reduce the decline in Windows PC growth to -8% (from -11%). You can see the effect of those units on share in the following graphs.

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 5-2-2.06.21 AM

Happy Birthday iPad

The latest data on PC shipments from Gartner showed a decline of  11.1% from the first quarter of 2012. As we don’t yet have the final data on Apple’s Mac shipments, I used my estimate of 4.38 million units (14% growth as per NPD estimate for the US) to obtain an estimate of Windows PC shipments.

That number is 74.8 million units. In the first quarter of 2012 the corresponding calculation yields 85.1 million units. That makes Windows PC rate of decline -12%.

The historic shipment data and growth rates are shown below:

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 4-11-6.07.30 AM

 

Note that tablet data is not yet included in the shipments summary. Windows shipments are shown in shades of Brown and tablets in shades of Blue/Green.

The decline in PC shipments is persisting and even accelerating.

Coming only a week after the iPad’s launch birthday, it’s perhaps a fitting testament to its impact.

Where are the Android users?

Google occasionally reports data regarding Android. Very occasionally. The last time we had some data was in September 2012 when we learned that activations were running at 1.3 million per day and that a total of 500 million total activations had taken place.

As of today, being March 2013, the time between updates has reached five months. It’s the longest gap so far. Benedict Evans also notes that it’s been five months since the data regarding screen size stats has been updated on the Android developer site.

But we have to live with what we get and, in the absence of an update, the pattern of growth in Android, if sustained, looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 3-10-11.05.14 PM