This is the second part of a two part blog on Apple reliving the mistakes that Nokia made 4-5 years back. Read Part I here.
Both Nokia (2007) and Apple (2012-13) were trying to time and control consumer preferences in terms of the features and the screen. Conversely, that was akin to letting the competition in thrugh the back door. Instead of creating the future by out-innovating on the feature roadmap – Both the companies were possibly trying to amass the cost benefits from standardized feature formats.
Tim Cook’s comment on this issue, “Our competitors have made some significant tradeoffs in many of these areas to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger display iPhone while these tradeoffs exist. Some customers value large screen size. Others value other factors such as resolution, color quality, white balance, reflectivity, power consumption, compatibility of apps, and portability.”
The strongest parallel is how both companies started fighting the consumer preference for larger displays at the peak of their profitability… and then dug in as margins began eroding rapidly. Sample this: Phablets as a segment are already likely to make up more than 15% of smartphone market in 2013 – And Apple chooses to give this market a miss. At the peak of its prowess, Nokia executives talked about the performance trade-offs of big-screen phones: power consumption troubles plaguing big-screen phones; surveys showing that most consumers prefer smaller models. On and on and on, an endless stream of justifications and carefully constructed defenses, lecturing consumers about what they should want to buy. Do you see the pattern?
Apple already has a well learnt lesson – the iPad Mini which was sacrilegious in terms of Steve Jobs’ definition of a tablet is the one that is holding the fort for Apple against the medium/low cost Androids.
Secondly, Apple’s smartphone market shares now seem to be on the wane with Androids from Samsung doing the pincer attack – both from the top end and the economy smartphones. As smartphone penetration moves from early adopters to mass-market and laggard consumer segments, the smartphone as a product will be less dependent on technical superiority, and more dependent on reliability and value – and it is Apple’s market to loose. (The gainers will mostly be the ZTE, Huawei and Alcatels of the world). As reported by Juniper, Samsung’s smartphone volumes are 2X that of Apple’s. AllianceBernstein predicts that Apple’s market share in smart phones will fall to about 12% this quarter, compared to 23% in the same quarter of 2012. Further, the firm predicts that Apple’s market share may fall into single digits next quarter. IDC’s Q1 market shares also show Apple slowing down on its growth trajectory (YoY).
Apple needs to look at the next evolution of iPhone – the mid level low cost iPhone. The iPhone 5S is already confirmed to be only an incremental over the iPhone5 – and is not going to incite mass hysteria as iPhones normally have done. A low cost iPhone could also be critical for Apple especially because ABI estimates the low cost smartphone market will more than triple, in devices sold, between now and 2018 whereas the mid-range will grow at only (roughly) 50%.
For the present, Apple and Tim Cook look to be in a denial state – which is further going to bleed Apple. The high margin strategy is a great things for share holders – but then market presence and numbers is quite another thing. For the love of Apple, I hope it doesn’t going the Nokia way.
Addendum: Just read that Apple may finally be looking at iPhone low cost model and saw a couple of photos as well. Will this turn the tide or is the initiative lost already
Addendum 2: A further validation of loss of Apple’s grip in the smartphones segment is Apple’s declining profit share of the global smartphone industry. Between Q1,2012 and Q1, 2013, Apple’s profit shares of the global smartphone industry declined from 74% to 57%.
This is the first of a two part blog on Apple reliving the mistakes that Nokia made 4-5 years back.
In 2007, Nokia was the biggest thing in the mobile phone market. It held 60% of the global smartphone market and more than 40% of the overall handset market. Its handset operating margins briefly topped 25%, something that was thought to be impossible in the phone business. In the summer of 2007, Nokia released the N95 – a 2.4” screen dual slider phone with a 5MP camera which in 2007 was a package that couldnot be bettered. N95 went on to create a roar in the markets – but imperceptibly Nokia’s slide was beginning. 3 months after Nokia launched N95, Apple launched iPhone and the rest is history.
The initial iPhone and even the early Samsung phones played on the large screen format – 3.2” – 3.5” and the likes. Nokia’s response to the first smartphones, was a bettered N95 – the N96 – crammed with more features which failed to tickle the market. Touch was catching on – and Nokia was lethargic in its reaction. In an age when customers were falling head over heals in love with the iPhone, Nokia was lamenting the iPhone on subjects such as 2MP Camera and lack of Bluetooth and loaded up the 2.6″ N96 to fightback (in vain). By the time, Nokia responded with the 5800 XpressMusic, it had fallen behind on its tracks. It repeated the mistake with N97 – a large screen which was woefully resistive – in an era when the iPhone3GS ruled and the Androids were beginning to fly. Nokia was edged out of the market – and had fallen behind. Nokia’s next releases N900, N8 failed to woo customers clamoring for the iPhone.
2013 – Apple’s incredible run through from 2007 onwards is slowly running out of steam and gross margins had peaked in early 2012. Apple played economies of scale on standard screen sizes to keep its BOM (Bill of Materials) cost low – driving operational efficiencies in production. However, they seem to have been reading the market wrong as the era of large screen devices was stepping up considerably against the 4” iPhone. Premium buyers were increasingly flocking to the 4.5” segment smartphones and the 5.5”+ phablet space and Apple’s roadmap to large screens is already a couple fo years behind.
The sense of déjà vu is not wasted – as Apple repeats the same mistakes in 2013 that Nokia made in 2007.
Continues to Part II
Continued from an earlier post on Android being Google’s best strategic move ever. This Post examines how and why Android undermines the strategic intent of Google in the mobile space.
The best anti-thesis to “Android is selling in huge numbers” is possibly “Android has huge problems in fragmentation” arguement. On a superfical level what this translates to is the consistently lower engagement and monetization of the platform – a far cry from the Apple iOS. Android is the quintessential open source which also means that the Android army stretches from the Samsungs to the Shenzhen sweat shops – the smallest white label OEMs who are fragmenting the low end markets all ends. Samsung’s dominance of Android platform is not the best solution for Google as it struggles with its own line of Motorola Android phones.
Android today is at the same place where Wintel was a decade or two back with an armmy of clones of cheap PC makers churning out tens of millions of cheap commodity PCs. What Android and its eco-system ( Qualcomm, EMP, Mediatek, Allwinner, Spreadtrum) have enabled is a flood of cheap commodity smartphones and tablets. A vast range of other devices ( netbooks, in-car PCs and DVD players, set-top-boxes and lots else besides) following on behind. Often the fragmentation of the Android means a $45 smartphone with no access to Android Play market – but only a way to latch on to the internet. Google thus starts missing out on mapping this strata of smartphone buyers. (Agreed the search would still come through Google).
Compare this with Apple, a $650+ device – bought by a completely different set of consumers to whole experience, exploration and ads make more sense.Thus,it is quite possible that iPhones generate more advertising revenue for Google than all Android phones combined. In that respect 20% iPhones sold globally are more valuable than 70% of the Androids sold.
Beyond the search and advertising revenues that Google makes from Android, there are those bits of signalling data- that the low cost Androids miss out – those valuable bits of information that map the user holistically. A data mine that can be leveraged for data with relevance to the user. The real structural benefit to Google from Android comes from the understanding it gives of actual users, and the threat comes from devices that do not provide this data – even though theoretically, it can still leverage Google search. A significant portion of the $45 handsets skimp on Google apps just as they skimp on IMEI numbers. These devices are like dark matter: a lot of it around – but nothing really adding up to the worth.
Benedict Evans does a very accurate description of the Android platform- Very powerful but spiralling semi-randomly with no clarity on where it would land. Even when there is the threat of Amazon or Samsung forking the platform, there is also the threat that an increasing number of Android devices might have no more connection to Google than does an iPhone.
To put that another way, Google’s penetration of Android is as important as Android’s penetration of the handset market.
Long time back, i had written a blog on the subject of smartphones becoming the key handheld at the cost of feature phones. If the Gartner 2012 numbers are to be considered, the saturation point for feature phones has been reached and the 2012 feature phones numbers – have been on a 1.66% decline as against 2011.
Incidentally, i see another trend – that of smaller players/ white-labelled OEMs- and a fragmented market emerging – a far cry from the Nokia and Samsung dominance days. The rise of Android is but actually a testimony to this trend with the exception of Samsung. With no malevolence to Samsung – it does seem to me that Samsung is holding on to a untenable position in shares in mobile devices with the white labeled OEMs on the prowl.
While Apple will still hold on to the smartphone ground (because of its ability to leverage hardware, software , services and experience), Samsung doesnot hold that ace with Android. This inspite of the fact that Samsung Galaxy series was the first high end Android that has challenged and now dethroned technology leadership of the iPhone.
The end result looks like an Android dominated market, though there could be a case of Android fatigue setting in with the audiences. However with the low end $50 smartphones on Android’s the numbers for Android will continue to add up especially in APAC and African markets. Thus Android is expected to still rule the volumes game on smartphones. It would be interesting to see how Windows and Blackberry go after Android – but the key still remains that – Android is the undisputed choice in smartphones in the fastest growing markets across the world. Windows and Blackberry will take time reversing this trend.
Worldwide PC shipments increased 12% year-on-year in Q4 2012 to reach 134.0 million units, with pads accounting for over a third. Tablet segment grew by 75% in Q4, 2012 to 46.2 million units with full year shipments totaling 114.6 million units.
Apple continues to lead the PC market, shipping 27.0 million units and taking its share over 20% for the first time. Apple’s growth in the pad segment was driven by strong demand for the iPad mini. Its overall shipments, however, were hampered by supply issues. Canalys estimates that the mini made up over half of Apple’s total pad shipments, with its attractive price point and compact design leading to significant cannibalization in the iPad range and wider PC market. Despite record shipments, Q4 saw Apple’s pad share dip to 49%, becoming the first quarter it has not controlled over half the market. Without the iPad Mini, Apple would surely have lost more ground to its competitors
HP shipped 15.0 million PCs, beating Lenovo by 200,000 units to regain second place, with both vendors taking an 11% share.
Samsung, buoyed by strong tablet shipments, had its first quarter in the top five, shipping 11.7 million PCs, giving it a 9% share and fourth place ahead of Dell. Samsung shipped 7.6 million pads in Q4, an increase of 226%, driven by its ability to push products down into lower price bands.
Dell clocked in 9.7million units, a 19% decline over its 2011 numbers. With the planned buyout of Dell to go through- it will give the company time to rethink its strategy and refocus, away from the demands of Wall Street and shareholders. Microsoft’s involvement in the Dell buyout raises eyebrows in the light of its recent aspirations to become a hardware vendor. But it is not likely to solve Dell’s problems as even Microsoft struggles with pads
Amazon’s worldwide shipments grew 18% to 4.6 million units, as it expanded the Kindle Fire range and launched in markets outside the United States.
Google’s own Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 products performed relatively well, with combined shipments of 2.6 million taking 2% of the global PC market share.
Continued from an earlier post: Why am I so deeply sceptical of BB10 as RIM’s comeback kid?
The Smartphone sector looks to be one of the most extreme oligopolies of the 21st century- even while the market is exploding at 35% YoY (700 million in 2012 versus 490.5 million in 2011) – there is little room left for any one but Android and Apple.
Apple and Android contribute to 92% of the Industry Volume and 102% of the Industry profits! All others combined for 8% of the market volumes but were edged out of the profits – leaving little space for investments into devices and the markets. The thing about market share is that it is liable to change rapidly in a rapidly growing market.However, with the base of 700 million it is possible that growth rate would have topped out. On the other hand, North Americas and Europe are visibly saturated in volumes/and growth is slowing down; and with maturity are only driving Revenues and profits as people tend to purchase more high-end smartphones, including the more expensive Android variants and the iPhone.
Blackberry with its Z10 and Q10 is targetting the high end of the smartphone market – The space that is dominated by Samsung Galaxy SIII, Apple iPhone, Nokia Lumia 920 alongwith handfull others. Instead of beating its competitors out on price, it wants to offer a genuinely quality product that the most tech-savvy consumer would be happy to purchase. This part of the market is by far the most cutthroat, and also the slowest growing.Ergo, even if Blackberry succeeds in creating space in this segment, it will be just a niche! Blackberry is trying to sell an expensive smartphone with a high margin, but it is competing against the most entrenched players imaginable. The part of the market that Blackberry is choosing to enter will not grow much, and RIM will face vicious competitors from every angle. There isn’t room in the lucrative high-end smartphone market for small fry ~ a $8billion Blackberry for instance! (Refer to the Blackberry Torch as an example – well crafted – but it didnot take BB where it was designed for)
On the other hand, the smartphone market is growing super because Android is powering the low end of the market. These markets are typically the South East Asian regions, Indian subcontinent, China and Africa. Even while Blackberry has a strong presence in nations like India, it is the Android army that it has to content with in such markets – and currently Blackberry’s portfolio in the low end is only based on the 4 year old Blackberry Curve which is appearing a little jaded and last generation.
Thus Blackberry really needs to be focussing on low end innovation, pricing, volumes and markets – currently there is no visibility of it doing this. Hopefully it gets its act together before its too late. A flagship device is one thing – numbers, profits, revenues is quite another.
If you are not doing something crazy, you are doing the wrong things
Google CEO Larry Page
However what is so interesting in the convergence space is the approach that the two giants – Apple and Google are taking to the leadership of the technology slugfest. While Apple fiddles with its 7 year old Apple TV inching it to perfection and there is some news about Apple delivering an iWatch towards wearable computing – Google seems to be focussing on Project Glass and its Driverless Cars as the prime future projects. From the current state of affairs – it looks like while Apple fiddles over TV and iWatch – Driverless Cars and Project Glass might be the key for Google to Vault and Ace Apple.
Whats emminent in the next 3-5 year horizon is the paassng over of the Smartphone age substituted by more Always on, Real time Computing.
Post the maps fiasco, Apple has been under some heat – and Google’s alacrity was very natural and expected. Symbolically, Google is now churning better Apps that work with the Apple eco-system thereby challenging the status quo of the Apple Mobile eco-system as the piece de resistance of the Mobile world. Google is thus taking Apple out from its biggest strength eating into it – as like a worm- going inside-out.
From the Google perspective, Google is putting its resources at apps that work on the iOS platform as well and there is statistical evidence that Google strategy is working. Sample the AppData which now records YouTube and Google maps as the No.1 and 2 iPhone apps.
Now then- it puts Apple on the backfoot then? In a pre-2008 Internet world dominated by Google, Apple’s app experience based strategy was a major departure in terms of branded apps, app publications and “there’s an app for that approach”. Suddenly Internet was not a passive media – it was rich content media with immersive experiences designed by publishers for the users. Advertisers and Publishers saw Apple as the challenger in chief to an Internet world to which Google search was the prominent portal. Android coming from behind to take over Apple’s App domain is something that the Late Steve Jobs or the current Tim Cook wouldn’t have wanted. Unfortunately that is how its seems to be panning out now.
However, from a longer perspective – it aint much of anything really – The battle is not so much between Google and Apple as much as Open Source and Propreitary. And Apple has a lesson or two to take home in terms of the amount of control of its walled garden that it must forego, choosing its strenths in terms of device based service/experience integration.
As quoted in an earlier post – Does Apple need to change course its philosophy of exclusivity?
To maintain its position, the company will have to focus more on giving its devices superb access to content it doesn’t control and hasn’t approved. Apples’ dogged and quixotic quest for control on the eco-system, my lead it to block more realistic and better solutions that emerge on the open Internet. There is leaf out of the book of Amazon that Apple could take a learning from (managing the eco-system). Apple must learn and execute to collaborate – rather than whole control.
There is no win-all. You win some,you loose some. The timess- they are changing!