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« Obama gets to keep Blackberry, limits use to senior staff | Main | The Pope also on YouTube, as is Monty Python »

January 23, 2009

Comments

Adam

The iPhone 3G was launched last July, at the very beginning of the third quarter. It wasn't possible to sustain that level of sales during the fourth quarter —reasonable assumption on your part— because there is a spurt of growth when a new model is introduced and then sales typically slow down. Add to that the fact that the economic environment was worst during the 4th quarter. Yet, Apple shouldn't be overly concerned about this. Analyst firms like Canalys, etc, measure sales compared to the year-ago quarter, not sequentially. And recognized revenue from iPhone sales was $1.25 billion this quarter, it showed a 417 per cent increase in revenue year-over-year and a 88 per cent unit growth.

Apple doesn't have a broad portfolio of models. I think that the line-up will expand eventually, but Apple will focus on a few handsets, they will never sell like 47 different handsets with 3 different operating systems, heterogeneous features sets, incomprehensible naming scheme, etc. The whole line would look like a confusing mess, a la Motorola. I guess that Apple won't release many models per year. How could the (imaginary) iPhone from october 2008 be any different from the iPhone released just 3 months earlier? It does not make sense to me. If they want to add new features after a few months, a firmware update will do the trick and keep the platform consistent.

Apple does not want to be the biggest phone maker. See the latest earnings call transcript when Tim Cook stated: "You know us. We're not going to play in the low end voice song business. That's not who we are. It's not why we're here. We'll let somebody else do that. Our objective is not to be the unit share leader in the cell phone industry. It's to build the world's best phones."

Teemu Kurppa

It's an interesting question that is the quarterly release cycle inherent in this business, i.e. something that a demand from customers create, or something that's created by the current device manufacturer - operator ecosystem.

However, one thing is sure - quarterly release cycle doesn't mean that there's quarterly innovation happening. From the software perspective - and most of the innovation in the mobile is software innovation at the moment - the difference between Nokia models released fall and spring can be nada. Building software innovation into an operation system is slow. Building software innovation as applications and web sites done by third parties, that's a different story.

I think Apple is playing a platform game at the moment, which is a wise move as there is not yet a dominating smart phone platform: S60 ecosystem is not working properly, Windows Mobile hasn't took off, Linux platforms aren't yet there.

Their iPod Touch strategy is a brilliant from this perspective, as it's supports platform strategy and can be sold outside of standard operator ecosystem. It's probably the first commercially successful secondary internet-capable mobile device, at least in the western world. iPod Touch sales are not separated in Apple's stats, but there were 4 million more iPods sold than predicted by analysts in Q4. AdMob's stats indicate that a lot of people got iPod Touch as a Christmas present (a plug: see my blog for the stats).

kevin

I have no idea if Apple plans to release more than one model a year (considering that models with different amounts of memory is really the same model), or if they will always discontinue the previous model with the new model release.

Regardless, it seems to me once a year is enough for hardware innovation for a smartphone if there also are 3 or 4 significant software releases during the year. The customization or "fashion" piece for those that desire it, is then mainly fed through software applications and accessories that one adds to it.

The question I have for you is what really drives the "industry to move so fast"? Is it really hardware innovation? Is it software innovation (since most mfrs don't update software on already released phones)? Is it to meet the customer desires for different fashions?

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Adam, Teemu and kevin

Thank you for the comments. I'll address each invidually. I do want to point out, for all, that obviously my main thought was about Motorola suffering, and Apple was a side-story to the main blog entry, and all three of you were discussing the Apple side. I trust you all agree, that Motorola itself is in a tail-spin and very perilously risking the future of that brand in the mobile space..

Adam - "does not want to be the biggest phone maker" - yet Apple has been pursuing an aggressive growth rate for its launch - all analysts in early 2007 agreed that 10 million units in the first full year of sales was a serious attack to the mobile phone space, on par with RIM's Blackberry (based on their 2006 whole-year sales) who had been in the smartphones business for five years by then and considered a big success for a new-comer in the mobile phone manufacturer market.

Also Apple does seem to be loud about its successes, whether it was with the market shares of the iPod a few years ago, or last year when they suddenly claimed to be second-largest smartphone maker by sales volume in dollars, not by units of sales, etc. I do think Apple have strong interests in growing their market share, but are managing expectations.

But as to a 3 month release cycle of iPhones - that would mean they manage 4 phone models per year. Is this too complex in your mind? They already do that today with the iPod, with four iPod models sold today. Not confusing at all. I think this would be far healtier for Apple also with its phone line, rather than the rush of sales in the July-Sept quarter, and then decline decline decline next three quarters, to almost no sales in the April-June quarter, until the next new model is released. They would be far better off, if they had steady sales every quarter, than a huge spike in the summers, and then declines ever since.

Its just my view...

Teemu - about iPod Touch - yes totally agree. Brilliant strategy, capitalizing on the appeal of the iPhone and extending the sales of the iPod range and also providing a far larger addressable market to the Apps Store. I too wish they'd break down the iPod sales by type, so we'd know how many there are. I've seen some estimates that say for every iPhone there is 1.5 iPod Touches.

Kevin - I understand, and your reasoning seems very conventional and reasonable. Except that the phone industry does not work like that. The phone industry IS a fashion industry now (as first postulated by Nokia in 2002) and in the leading markets like Japan and South Korea, the heavy users buy two phones per year, totally harmonized with the fashion cycle - a Spring fashion and an Autumn fashion for phones. No matter how much some "reasonable" (often engineering-oriented) people may say that this is "unnecessary" - it is a fact. The global fashion industry drives that and it is often only very superficial changes in styles, colours, cuts, fabrics etc. And that same pattern has arrived for phones. There is an honest, hundreds of millions of phones per year subsegment of the market, that is driven by fashion, and in the leading countries - dozens of millions of consumers who totally think like this. That trend is spreading to Hong Kong, Milan, Paris, London, New York etc. Young adults, who do notice exactly which model of phone you have, and make judgements on your "fashion-sense" on how new or old your phone is, and is it in harmony with the rest of your outfit.

I am not for or against this trend, I just report it as I find it, and this is a fact in the phones business. For any manufacturer (like Apple) who only release one phone model per year, they fall behind in this cycle and lose vital sales. That is partly why RIM offers four models in their lineup, to be able to release one new model every quarter, to have one new phone at any given point in time. Obviously the big makers offer a new phone model every week or more.

Oh, kevin, you asked why the industry moves this fast? It is driven by the handset makers, not the mobile operators or the independent third-party developers. The operators would prefer that the consumers put their money on more services, not new phones. The developers would prefer a less-hectic rate of change. But the handset makers need an increasing sales cycle to grow the market, where phone-prices are dropping year on year, due to Moore's Law.

So the phone makers are behind this. Its in their interest.

Thank you all for writing

Tomi Ahonen :-)

kevin

Thanks for your insight. So now, will that fashion subsegment slow down given the recession? We'll see soon enough.

I think we all agree with you that Moto is rapidly becoming an also-ran; their 4Q results announced today just confirm it. The underlying rot probably began a long time ago and was just well hidden by their one big many model Razr success.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi kevin

Yes, very good point. Fashion is typically hit very hard in recessions and that part of mobile is likely to be hit harder than the mobile industry in general.

I saw something from Japan about Softbank saying the replacement cycle is slowing down in Japan, but haven't yet seen any official numbers on it. But we can be seeing a global slowdown in particular on the fashion side of it.

And yeah, we agree on Moto. Sad though, would hope they could revive. Its the same market that created the Blackberry and the iPhone. Why can't Moto do something as spectacular with as big passion and customer loyalty..

Thanks for returning kevin

Tomi Ahonen :-)

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I think we all agree with you that Moto is rapidly becoming an also-ran; their 4Q results announced today just confirm it.

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    Tomi Ahonen is a bestselling author whose twelve books on mobile have already been referenced in over 100 books by his peers. Rated the most influential expert in mobile by Forbes in December 2011, Tomi speaks regularly at conferences doing about 20 public speakerships annually. With over 250 public speaking engagements, Tomi been seen by a cumulative audience of over 100,000 people on all six inhabited continents. The former Nokia executive has run a consulting practise on digital convergence, interactive media, engagement marketing, high tech and next generation mobile. Tomi is currently based out of Hong Kong but supports Fortune 500 sized companies across the globe. His reference client list includes Axiata, Bank of America, BBC, BNP Paribas, China Mobile, Emap, Ericsson, Google, Hewlett-Packard, HSBC, IBM, Intel, LG, MTS, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Ogilvy, Orange, RIM, Sanomamedia, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Three, Tigo, Vodafone, etc. To see his full bio and his books, visit www.tomiahonen.com Tomi Ahonen lectures at Oxford University's short courses on next generation mobile and digital convergence. Follow him on Twitter as @tomiahonen. Tomi also has a Facebook and Linked In page under his own name. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and as expert witness, please write to tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com

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