UPDATE - There is now a more thorough complete number-crunching of what Apple needs to sell per region, and per quarter, plus significantly more complete analysis of the market potential for Apple at this blog from June: Crunching the Numbers for iPhone.
So Tomi, you are the global guru on phones and 3G, advising the global handset makers, biggest mobile operators (wireless carriers), network vendors, content providers, telecoms suppliers, writing bestselling books and lecturing at Oxford on competition in mobile. Give us your handicapping of the iPhone's chances.
Fair enough. I am not the world expert on stand-alone music players, but hey, I can't escape my reputation in mobile phones. And now the freshly renamed Apple Inc is stepping into "my" backyard. Its a fair request. Here is my view of what Apple are up against.
COMPARING THE PHONE
The iPhone is a fabulous slim, sleek and sexy device. Loaded with most of what you'd expect of a high end smartphone today, with most obviously an enormous bright high-resolution screen of 3.5 inches in size (for comparison my new Nokia N-93 that I was so happy about last week, has a screen of only 2.5" in size.)
The resolution of the screen is also impressive at 320 x 480. That is twice that of its typical music-playing rival smartphones from SonyEricsson, Motorola, Nokia, LG and Samsung. When combining video viewing, internet browsing and Apple's smart touch-screen (they call it Multitouch), this screen size and resolution are both justified, and clearly differentiating from much of the competition. Of course with 1500 mobile phone models currently sold in the world, Apple is not cornering the top end of the market. For example Nokia's 9300i Communicator has an even wider screen of 640 x 200.
The iPhone has the newest and best iPod features built in, so it is a true iPod phone, not like the sad Motorola Rokr was. No matter how much the industry has loved SonyEricsson's Walkmans as "iPod killers" - we can safely trust that this iPhone will be the best of the bunch for music.
And the rest of the phone features are pretty impressive too for a high-end smartphone, with quad-band GSM, meaning it works in every GSM network, meaning the most wide network coverage in the world, covering almost 80% of the phones in the world. It also has high speed cellular data, on the EDGE standard (what is often called 2.8G, just short of 3G) and WiFi and Bluetooth.
Sadly not being true 3G (WCDMA in the GSM evolution path), this phone won't work in Japan and South Korea. And EDGE does lack speed in comparison with 3G especially on downloading music, videos etc. EDGE is not deployed by all GSM networks, and more have deployed 3G, so in some markets and countries this phone will be seriously handicapped for speed having to resort to 2.5G ie GPRS. The rival high-end musicplaying smartphones are just about all 3G phones. This is a serious flaw for the market outside of America, but not really a major flaw for the American market itself.
Unfortunately adding 3G to the phone involves a complete additional radio unit, increasing weight, complexity, reducing battery life etc. So this is not an easy upgrade to the next iPhone. Adding 3G is a very complex and costly step, and it also requires "double" the amount of testing at all network operators before it is accepted into the supported handset portfolios of any operator. This may be part of the reason why Apple launches in America first (being the laggard market in mobile telecoms and in 3G) and Europe next, with Asia last (as South Korea and Japan are the industry leaders especially for handsets, mobile internet and music on mobile, as well as 3G)
The camera is perhaps the most disappointing feature at only 2 megapixels. That may be borderline ok for January 2007 - but many new cameraphones are now in the 3 to 5 megapixel range, and by June 2007 when this is to hit the market, 2 megapixels may well be very "last year". But it is also something Apple might be able to upgrade rather quickly to at least 3 megapixels.
Size? Very slim at 11.6mm - about the same thickness as the Motorola Slvr, in fact height 115mm is almost identical as well, but the iPhone is 20% wider than the Slvr at 61mm.
Weight? Here the iPhone is quite heavy for its size, at 135g - significantly heavier than the obvious rivals from Moto (Razr V3x) and SonyEricsson (Walkman 950i) and LG (Choco KG800), almost exactly same weight as the "heavyish" Nokia N-80
Storage. This is an interesting one. 4GB or 8GB may sound like much, also when comparing with existing phones. Until you notice that this is not removable media. 4GB for a musicphone/videophone without a slot for a memory chip is quite a drawback (and it is possible the iPhone will have a memory card slot, but they haven't mentioned it). Just about all of the competition offer memory slots, which today go up to 4GB in capacity and we'll have 8GB chips by the time the iPhone ships, and more soon thereafter. For one, the end-user does not have to pay for excess storage in the device when buying it; and for another, the end user can buy low-cost memory chips to upgrade the phone's storage; and use the chips to swap pictures, clips and songs - and take them onto the next phone(s). Not to mention the 10% of all people who have two phones - who may well want to bring the fave music collection onto one phone during the week at work, and onto another phone for the weekend partying etc. Music, pictures and videos stored onto the Apple cannot be removed or swapped (without copying such as using Bluetooth or WiFi)
Battery life seems good enough, 5 hours talk time, 16 hours music time (no word on standby time)
I mentioned the SMS text messaging as the only true killer application in mobile, in my open letter to Apple. I won't speculate here about how good the phone without the keypad but using its Multitouch screen will be. Lets assume SMS text messaging (and IM instant messaging and mobile blogging etc) will be on par with the competition. Like I've said, if not, then this iPhone will definitely disappoint in all markets, and fail in the most advanced mobile markets like Italy, Israel, South Korea, Japan, and Scandinavia.
So its a 500-600 dollar device, a so-called Smartphone. You've maybe read here at the Communities Dominate blogsite that the worldwide mobile phone market is almost a billion devices annually. How many are smartphones? Good question. Smartphones are growing strong. In 2006 they were 8% of all phones sold, and Gartner says in 2007 they will form 12% of all phones. I trust Gartner's forecast will be close enough on target, certainly the proportion of smartphones will grow, as people will upgrade phone abilities when they upgrade phone accounts. And the replacement cycle for phones is already down to 18 months globally.
12%. Even if mobile phone sales grow only marginally in 2007, this means a target market for Apple of 120 million smartphones. And Steve Jobs talked (in his interview on CNBC right after the announcement at Macworld) about capturing 10 million of those, in its first year. 10 million is 1 percent of all phones, that is "reasonable" but 10 million is 8% of the worldwide smartphone market - that is quite a tall order in its first year, and even more so with only two phone models.
More significantly, Apple starts with America. Yes, this is the logical market to start with as Apple's strength is its music side with the iPod, and the USA is iPod's best market (in no other country does the iPod even have 60% market share, not even in Canada - these are by Apple official figures, and most countries are in the teens or below); but even more importantly, as America is last of the industrialized world to get into musicphones. Europe have had them - both as devices and supported by the mobile operators (carriers) for two years now, and they were of course launched in South Korea and Japan over three years ago. Makes sense to start with the "low-hanging fruit" for Apple, where the competition is the weakest and the established phone makers (and carriers) have the least established success.
But. Then we are looking at quite a small market. Out of the 2.7 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world, only 200 million (7.5%) are in the USA. If we assume that smartphone shipments will roughly correspond with this proportion, then 7.5% of all smartphones would be sold in the USA. What was that number? 120 million. And 7.5% of that is... 9 million handsets. Ouch. Now the target of 10 million in the first year is becoming quite challenging.
If we assume that by June of 2008 Apple's iPhone global sales are split evenly into three, with one third out of America, one third out of Europe and one third out of Asia, and we need 10 million, and we have 12 months of sales in America, 8 months in Europe and 6 months in Asia, it means Apple has to achieve 4.7 million iPhones sold in the USA, 3 million in Europe and 2.3 million in Asia. The European and Asian market shares are somewhat reasonable as these are much larger markets than the USA. But in the USA, this means taking over half of the total smartphone market. Questionable. And that is before we look at the radio standards.
Here is where Apple really suffers. GSM is not the majority of mobile phone uses in America. A little over half of Americans are on an incompatible standard called CDMA. Verizon, Sprint and Alltel are on CDMA. So these customers cannot use an iPhone unless they switch carriers to Cingular. And Cingular is not the only GSM operator, but if I understood CNBC correctly, Cingular has an exclusive on the iPhone. Cingular serves only about 27% of the American phone owners. Now the economics of this strategy really hurt the goal of 10 million units in the first year - and my analysis this means 4.7 million iPhones in America.
If we assign American smartphone users evenly across the operators, and therefore Cingular would have the same proportion of smartphone users as their overall marketshare (not a fair assumption, as for example Nextel and Verizon are very strong in the corporate customer segments where the majority of smartphones are sold), then out of the 9 million smartphones sold in America next year, Cingular has only 2.4 million. OUCH !!!
To reach its target, Apple would have to convince every Cingular smartphone user (probably many very loyal to their Motorolas, Nokias, SonyEricssons etc) to switch to the iPhone. This means all Blackberry users in its network with corporate e-mail clients therefore as well; and then capture AS MANY new customers by stealing them from the rival networks. Cannot be done. Is totally beyond all reason. If the GSM standard based smartphone market in America is about 4.3 million, Apple cannot capture all of that. Not in one year, not even with a miracle phone. And the iPhone is far from a miracle phone.
But all is not lost for Apple in America. While the analysts talk about the smartphone market, I would rather look at the musicphone market. That is much larger. It includes many cheaper musicphones, but for many considering a mid-range musicphone, when the iPhone becomes available, it will well be a worthwhile alternative, even if on the high end of what that customer would be willing to pay.
How big? Gartner tells us they sold 309 million musicphones in 2006 (vs about 40-42 million iPods. Can you guess the theme of my upcoming iPod vs musicphone review next week when Apple releases official numbers for the Christmas quarter of iPod sales?). Musicphone sales rocketed in 2006, more than doubling. It is fair to assume, even at very conservative rates, that musicphone sales will reach 400 million units in 2007. This of course includes most of the 120 million smartphones mentioned above.
Now we are talking about a valid market opportunity for Apple. 10 million means only 2.5%, and that is quite do-able.
So back to America. If we again assume that the 7.5% of all musicphones are sold in America, it gives us a market of 30 million. If under half are on GSM, we're at 14 million, and out of those, if Apple wants 4.7 million - that means 33.5%. A tall order, but it can be done. Out of Cingular's own customers it can be done and not all need to be converted. With a bit of clever marketing - Cingular will want to use this as its competitive advantage in capturing churning customers - it can be a very potent tool to steal customers from the rival networks. Certainly knowing Apple, we will get a massive, exciting and creative launch campaign. Everybody will hear of the iPhone in America in June.
REST OF WORLD
Here it gets more tricky. First, Europe (and Asia) is not one market with a couple of operators (carriers). They are a hodgepodge of markets with about a hundred significant operators. Each will require testing and verification (network specs vary, even on a global standard like GSM). Each will have local rules on subsidies.
If the country allows subsidies like the UK, the phone will be sold to given segments at zero dollars and at that price level obviously will fly off the shelf. If the country doesn't allow subsidies like Italy, it will require very aggressive marketing to succeed, against very well entrenched manufacturers and fickle customers who are very well aware of what they want out of their phone. Much like the world car ideas of the past - whether the VW Beetle or the Ford Escort - this only works in an unsophisticated market (Ford Model T), and in reality in any mature market, the tastes vary so much that segmentation is needed. Someone buys a Kia, while another buys a Jaguar and the third buys a BMW while the fourth buys a Hummer. In Europe where Apple fights on the full price (markets without subsidies), two models is certainly not enough to gain anything like 2.5% of the musicphone market.
But if the country has subsidies, that is no guarantee that Apple will succeed. Then the market is TOTALLY in the hands of the mobile operator (carrier). It is relatively easy for Apple to convince one carrier in America to carry its sexy new world innovation product, the iPhone, especially if that carrier can be the world launch customer. But if you have to go to every tinpot little European country, and haggle with every little one million customer operator about a substantial subsidy for the iPhone - without an exclusive deal - then it is a huge headache indeed.
This means real, long-term customer-service and relationship management with the carriers. Yes, one hundred of them in Europe, another 100 of them in Asia. Does Apple have an army of account managers to manage all of these? Do they have the distribution systems in place with DHL to ship the phones as these customers will then demand to fit their given launches, replacements, upgrade plans etc. Where can I have my Orange logo. Where can I have my Vodafone Live button, etc etc etc.
Europe will be a HUGE mess for Apple, any which way you slice it. Some of the operators will rush to want to launch the iPhone. Others will feel they hurt because their rival got the phone, and will not be eager to push it. In some markets it may work out fine, that one of the giants is the eager one, but in more markets it is probably the hungry smaller players, who are always looking for the chance to make headway against the incumbents. Then you get the promises of smaller players and easy disappointments with their bigger rivals.
In Europe by the fourth quarter, for a high-end smartphone which specializes on data downloads (songs, video and internet content) - the lack of 3G will be a very serious flaw. Already now in Italy, Austria, Portugal, the UK etc some 10% of all customers have migrated to 3G; that will be about 20% by year-end. This phone will be almost obsolete in Europe by then. But also, since Apple has a clear delay between the American launch and the European launch, they may be planning a 3G variant for Europe. That would be most prudent. It does considerably raise the cost and complexity of the device, though. But European smartphone buyers are quite accommodating with high-end phones if they fall in love with them and are willing to pay a lot for a good multipurpose device. But at least all of Europe is GSM.
Asia is another story again. Like Europe, Asia is not one market but a total hodgepodge again of a couple of dozen countries and a hunded operators (carriers). People in China buy 6 million phones every month, in India they buy seven. While Indonesia is a poor country, one of its bestselling phones is the Nokia Communicator, a 1000 dollar smartphone, the most expensive in the Nokia line. The wealthy like to show off that they are wealthy, and a phone is the way to do it in Asia. In South Korea the replacement cycle is down to 6 months so you can always show off the latest phone.
In Asia there are a couple of large markets that will be closed to the iPhone. China's second operator China Unicom is one of the world's largest CDMA operators. India's Reliance and Tata are also CDMA operators. South Korea and Japan have no GSM at all. There are CDMA operators in about half of the Asia-Pacific countries including Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. Still, the vast majority of Asian subscribers are on GSM networks.
But in Asia the fashion-side of the phone handset market is even more pronounced than in Europe. Thus the variety is even more critical (two models of identical appearance and differing only in storage ability, means one model for fashion-purposes). The phone can very easily find a strong appeal in being cool and desirable. But these customers are totally spoiled for choice already, and most have developed their own preferences. Here the camera resolution of only 2 megapixels is a huge drawback. Remember that Samsung has already released a 10 megapixel cameraphone, the B600 last October, which of course first went on sale in South Korea.
If there was one smartphone market segment in Asia, the iPhone would have a chance in it. But smartphones in Asia break into very well established groupings from the business phone (eg Communicator), the musicphone (Walkman), the cameraphone (Samsung), the digital TV phone (eg LG), the videocam phone (Nokia N-93) etc etc etc. Each of these has of course an MP3 player, camera, video player and internet access, so for the feature set of the iPhone, there are very many variants better at one angle, matching on others. Remember the Ford Escort world car. One model is totally not enough for Asia.
3G will not be a big factor in many countries where 3G has not launched (like China, India). But in Japan and South Korea (both are countries where more than half of all subscribers have already migrated to 3G), it is a death-nail to the proposition. If a phone is not 3G in Japan or South Korea, it is a "cheap phone" for young kids or grandparents or the poor people. Nobody in their right mind would buy one
But Apple has until 2008 to fit 3G into the iPhone, so for South Korea and Japan, this can be fixed by then. Besides, neither country has any GSM, so true 3G (not EDGE) ie WCDMA, is absolutely a must to get into these markets (or a CDMA variant of the phone)
In Asia there will be the same issues with the mobile operators (carriers) as in Europe. Some markets allow subsidies, others don't. Each market has multiple operators, each of the operators will need testing and verification with the network, and then often prolonged and difficult negotiations to get the operators to market and sell the phones (in markets with subsidies) or get into the local distribution systems in markets that don't allow subsidies.
THIS MARKET MOVES FAST
So yes, Apple can capture 4.7 million customers in America, as long as it targets the wider musicphone market, not only the smartphone market. In Europe it can gain its 3 million sales, but it will be costly requiring new sales and marketing efforts, at scales Apple is not used to (and perhaps not staffed to). Europe will need at least a 3G variant. For Asia it can gain its 2.3 million units, but for Asia Apple will have to expand the portofolio with several true variants of the phone, variants which are also visually different (including clamshell).
So then there is the problem of market response. The development of a completely new phone takes about 18 months, but if you can fit it into an ongoing "platform" and modify an existing product, new devices on a given family can be introduced in 9 months. Before Apple launches in Europe, at least a couple of the majors will have released an iPhone clone. Remember there are 1500 phone models out there, by over 20 manufacturers. The iPhone clone will not have Apple's intuitive interface or the iPod functionality. But it will have a better camera, 3G and a memory card slot. And if by any of the top five (Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, SonyEricsson, LG) - it will have an established brand and loyal customers who prefer the way that phone works. None of us like learning the user interface of a new brand of phone.
I could very well see an iPhone variant of say the Motorola Slvr or a thin LG Chocolate to match much of the iPhone (including a touch screen and no keypad) very "easily" with only a slightly smaller screen. One could well be out by June, and both by the fourth quarter of this year. But these iPhone clones would actually be more complete smartphones by current expectations and standards eg 3-5 megapixel camera, 3G and 3.5G (HSDPA, yes, we are now into 3.5G already), and the memory card slot. Toss in a clamshell variant (think Razr) and suddenly you have outdone Apple's big innovative product.
I've said before, this is a cut-throat market. Very big players with deep pockets and masses of custom customer-research JUST on how phones are used - like Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson - make massive mistakes from time to time, not catching market nuances and trends. This while they release several new phone models every month.
APPLE IS VERY POWERFUL
But Apple has a couple of things going for it, that are truly the envy of the telecoms industry. Apple has fiercely loyal customers who often become evangelists for the brand. Mac users tend to be iPod users, and iPod users tend to become Mac users. I am sure the iPod user base will predominantly expect to upgrade their next cellphone to an iPhone. This will help especially in America.
And Apple is brilliant at marketing. BRILLIANT. I can say when I was still working for Nokia's marketing, we envied Apple. This at the time when all in telecoms envied Nokia as the smartest company in marketing among those in the telecoms industry. Apple is years ahead of the telecoms handset makers and this game is ever more one won on marketing, not technology. Apple comes in with enormous potential.
And most of all, I am convinced that as we move from a voice phone to a multipurpose pocket device built around the phone, the user interface needs to "grow up" past what was the simple numeric keypad idea that is a hundred years old, from the dawn of telephones. We DO need innovation in the user interface. Whether the "magic bullet" is this Multitouch screen now on the iPhone or some other ideas, here Apple reigns supreme.
Remember Windows was Microsoft's Macintosh envy. All of our use of hypertext, screen icons, clicking with our mouse, and print matching what is on the screen - were pioneered by Apple (with the Mac). And the same with all of their major launches. Certainly all love the user interface on the iPod, and the standard line in any review of any MP3 player is that its user interface is not as good as the iPod. This is Apple's core competence. And as we add new functionalities to our phones - from messaging and web browsing and cameras, calendars, MP3 players of today; to TVs, credit cards, keys, barcode scanners etc of the future; the user interface will be ever more vital. Apple totally rules in this area. Even if the first iteration of the iPhone were not perfect (and it may well be) - trust Apple to push this envelope harder and further than we've ever seen by the Nokias and Symbians and Blackberries of the world so far.
But Apple is not infallible. Sometimes its first step is not enough - remember the Lisa, the predecessor of the Macintosh PC? A great computer at the time, and revolutionary in some ways, but did not take the market by storm. Only the Mac did. Same for the Newton, a great and innovative early PDA but its timing was off and other PDA makers took over what Apple pioneered.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Apple is also blessed in being based in America, with the IT industry press loving them. While some "deep experts" in the telecoms industry understand the real imporance of SMS text messaging, Apple is not troubled with that. Most IT -oriented technology writers in America - the best-read tech press and business periodicals - will fall for the glitz of the big screen and the American fascination with touch-screens (must be all that Star Trek Next Generation). The rest of the world is addicted to SMS text messaging and appreciate keypads for secret and urgent messages.
Apple can do a lot with its brand, PR machine and reputation. If Apple promises this is the next leap in cellphones, they have the benefit of the doubt, for a long time, from their own backyard, the IT and business press in America. As America lags in the mobile phone market and innovation, American analysts are really not competent to accurately measure how innovative the iPhone is. Obviously Nokia, Samsung, SonyEricsson etc don't bother releasing their top phones first into the American market, and American carriers are still years behind those in Europe and Asia.
So Apple also has a strange "boost" out of being in a market that doesn't really understand their product. Expect the most glowing reviews and opinions from the American press; and the most critical reviews and opinions from the Northern Asian and Northern European press. This regardless of how good or bad the iPhone ends up being when it ships (and obviously I am now assuming it ships on time, ha-ha, wouldn't be the first time a revolutionary product slips in its launch, also with Apple's history ha-ha)
CAN THEY DO IT
I would say 10 million iPhones - with prices in the 499 and 599 dollar range, and with only a GSM model and launching with only Cingular in America first - this is a tall order, but it can be done. I would suggest history will find that this is a much bigger drain on Apple's marketing and sales support resources than they can have imagined, but the writing is honestly on the wall. The reign of the iPod came to an end last year, and this is in reality a "defensive move" by Apple to remain relevant in the MP3 player market. They have to do it. In reality they should have done it a year ago.
With the launch and aim of 10 million sales comes a certain corporate-wide commitment by Apple to make it happen
I would say they will do it. But it will come at a serious cost to profitability. Note that this expands Apple's portfolio and helps a PC maker move into the mobile internet - the future, so this is also a clever move by Macintosh, to gain a foothold into the mobile computer market of the next decade.
Good move by Apple. A lot of worries by major handset makers. An exciting time for the industry. But I want to see a family of iPhones before the end of the year. One (with 2 storage options) is not enough beyond America.
UPDATE - there are two other relevant postings about the iPhone. First, I wrote an Open Letter to Apple urging them to consider SMS Text Messaging abilities. It is the only killer application for mobile (not wireless e-mail such as Blackberry). Read my posting here
I also report on a surprising development, Engadget discovered that one of the LG Chocolate phone's variants - in fact an industrial design award winner, preceeds the iPhone with almost identical form factor, touch screen and all. Read my posting and follow the link to see the pictures side-by-side at:
Finally - many of our visitors seem to come from the IT side of technology, who maybe do not know the mobile telecoms industry very intimately. For those visitors, you might be quite surprised in the immense scale of the 750 billlion dollar mobile telecoms industry worldwide, with 2.7 billion cellphone subscriptions worldwide, with contrasts to the other major technologies and industries of our lives, such as automobiles, credit cards, TV, computers and the internet. Read the posting at:
RELATED - At our blogsite we've tracked the rapid shift of consumer tastes away from stand-alone MP3 players like the iPod onto the converged device of the musicphone. Now that Apple has released its final numbers for the Christmas Quarter of 2006, we can calculate the final market share of iPod vs musicphones, with iPod now down to 12.9% and musicphones outselling iPods at a ratio of almost 7 to 1 in 2006 (and the gap is moving further in favour of musicphones). The article is long and full of facts and sources, but may be of interest to those thinking of the iPhone. It is here: Requiem for a Heavyweight: Reign of the iPod is Over