Why is Apple making a gold watch?

As expected, the gold version of Apple’s watch is very expensive by consumer technology standards - $10,000 and up, depending on the band you take. And, also as expected, this made a lot of people’s heads explode. 

There are really two different conversations here: will people buy a $10,000 Apple watch, and why did Apple make one? 

To the first question, Apple is clearly breaking lots of rules with the watch. There are plenty of $10k watches on the market already that sell just fine, but those are normally mechanical ones, and mechanical watches are sold primarily on the complexity of the mechanism, where of course the gold Apple watch is internally identical to the $350 aluminium model. Mechanical watches are also expected to last: no-one quite knows how long an Apple watch will last (the battery is replaceable, but is the screen? And how long will the software be viable?) but it’s probably not something that your grandchildren will own*.

On the other hand, there is no a priori reason why a watch should have to follow those rules. Plenty of other $10,000 luxury items are far more ephemeral, and once you're selling things for other than purely utilitarian reasons questions like 'value' and 'resale' miss the point. Apple is certainly trying something that’s new to both the tech industry and the luxury goods industry, but it's not necessarily outside the bounds of (rich) consumer behaviour. If we only ever bought things that had rational use cases and the best value, we'd all be wearing boiler suits, or hoodies. 

Ultimately, though, how many people buy the gold one is probably immaterial. The Swiss watch industry sells about half a million precious metal watches a year, and though the size of the overall watch market is not a good indicator of the market potential for smart watches, the size of the market for precious metal watches is probably not far off as an indicator for the gold Apple watch. Even a hundred thousand gold Apple watches at (say) $15k each would be ‘only’ $1.5bn a year, or less than one percent of Apple’s 2014 revenue.  

So (and this is the question that actually matters) why bother? One could argue that it’s a vanity project, or that Apple’s doing this just because it can, or that a few hundred million dollars still matters at Apple (as indeed it does). But I think it’s more interesting to compare it with Apple retail. Despite its prominence, this is only about 10% of Apple’s revenue. It’s much more important as marketing. And it's great marketing. 

Apple stores are huge rich-media billboards on every major shopping street in the developed world: I can't think of any other company that has shops as big as that in such premium locations in as many places. Apple retail is a self-funding marketing operation. So too, perhaps, is the gold watch. Apple might only sell a few tens of thousands, but what impression does it create around the $1,000 watch, or the $350 watch? After all, the luxury goods market is full of companies whose most visible products are extremely expensive, but whose revenue really comes from makeup, perfume and accessories. You sell the $50k (or more) couture dress (which may be worn once), but you also sell a lot of lipsticks with the brand halo (and if you think Apple’s margins are high, have a look at the gross margins on perfume). 

Meanwhile, though other companies are already making metal smart watches, I struggle to imagine Samsung making solid gold watches. Apple's brand might or might not work there, but no other CE company's does. That is, if this is marketing, and if it works, it's marketing that no-one else can do. 

On another tack, perhaps the biggest message that this sends is that the Apple watch is not a technology product. It’s a post-‘feeds and speeds’ product. Today we have prices and release dates for the watch but no tech specs at all - because they’re irrelevant to the user experience. This is a product sold on delight, and experience, and on the feel and pleasure of owning and wearing it and looking at it (which of course means Apple retail is a huge advantage). It’s sold on a butterfly, not on the storage capacity. The value of the gold may be just that message - it’s not a geek’s product at all. One might call the gold a marketing detox - an emancipation of tech from the tech industry.

Finally, whatever your opinion of all this, it doesn’t really matter. Apple’s watch is, after all, coming to market at a lower entry price than any previous new category from Apple. So we can go out and buy it for $350 or $1,000 and get on with working out what, beyond delight, it’s good for - how it changes attribution, and user acquisition, and dwell time, and changes how you use your smartphone, and all the shifting metrics of the mobile internet. 

 

* There was some speculation that Apple might have a plan here - that it might buy back the gold watches, or replace the insides, perhaps - because a $10,000 object that's outdated is different to one that's $600. This may well still happen. 

Notes on cars

A circular building

A circular building

Apple we are told, is working on cars, and there's enough smoke that some fire somewhere seems likely. Apple has enough cash (over $150bn) to do this, if it wants, and this prompts all sorts of investing questions, but I've been wondering how one should think about the market opportunity it might be able to secure, and how that fits into the other incursions of the tech industry into cars. 

First, can Apple create new value in the industry in the way that it did in phones?  With the iPhone, Apple created a new price segment and (with Android following) made the phone industry's revenue much bigger - the average price of a phone sold has more than doubled since 2007. But cars are, pretty obviously, more expensive than phones. Many people can find $400 for a better phone or, this year, a smart watch, if they're persuaded that they really want one, but rather fewer can find an extra $40,000 for a better car, or to replace their car every two years instead of every 4 or 8.  If you're in the market for a $20,000 car, there is very little that anyone can do to a car that will put you in the market for a $60,000 car. Cars do not come out of discretionary spending.

That is, lots of people never thought they'd spend the extra to get an iPhone or one of its imitators, but they did, and it wasn't actually that much money. A billionaire and a teenager have the same phone. Conversely Jonny Ive could invent a car that flies and makes perfect espresso, but if it costs $60k or $80k then people driving second-hand Corollas aren't going to buy one. 

In addition, Apple created a premium segment in phones, but there's already one in cars - Apple could take share of that, but it's ipso facto too late to create it. 

 So, it seems, at the very least, much harder to increase the overall size of the market than it was for phones.  This isn't necessarily a problem. The major premium brands BMW, Lexus, Audi and Mercedes Benz sold 5.5m units in 2013, and had revenue of around $220bn. (The total market was around 65m cars, with a further 22m commercial vehicles). Taking a share of $220bn a year, even without changing the overall market size at all, would be just fine.

Meanwhile, there's certainly scope to change the product and take market share - indeed, we are now rethinking what a car is for the first time in generations. Electricity leads to different manufacturing economics, allowing (potentially) lower costs and lower maintenance costs. It also allows the car to be reconfigured, at least to some extent, though obviously less than a self-driving car with no manual controls at all. And the experience of driving the car itself about adding more and more software - one wonders what one would do with a dashboard if one started from zero as a software company? It seems that there might be quite a lot that could be done to reinvent the experience. And though we should assume Apple will retain a premium experience, we can make too many assumptions about the price - remember that the iPad was certain to cost $1000.  

However, there are other reasons besides electricity for the reinvention of the car - the rise of on-demand and the possibility of self-driving cars. These do have the potential to change the size of the market, but by making it smaller, not bigger. 

Both on-demand and self-driving cars would appear to drive a reduction in car ownership and certainly car use (which means slower replacement), to the extent that they become a major part of the urban landscape. That obviously means fewer car sales. They also change what cars get bought. If you don't own the car yourself, and don't even see it before it arrives, the brand and styling matter less than efficiency. That effect is probably strengthened if we move to a fleet model (as many taxi systems work) rather than owner-operators - a fleet manager will choose the vehicle based on metrics, not the fit and finish. That is, the car market would be both smaller and might look more like the corporate PC market. It might also start to bifurcate - people buying $15k and $30k cars substitute $20-25k on-demand vehicles, while the high-end is less affected. Or, high-end sales might be affected most, if those people are best able to afford going entirely on-demand. We don't know, but there are lots of moving parts and will be many unanticipated consequences. Who looked at the Model T Ford and predicted Wal-Mart?

On the other hand, self-driving cars might support both an on-demand model and an AirBnB model for cars - does your car drop you off at work and then roll off into the city to earn you some extra money driving other people around? Would people want to do that? Would that reduce the opportunity for 'dedicated' on-demand vehicles? Who knows. Of course, it's also possible that self-driving technology, said to be a decade away now, will remain a decade away indefinitely, as so many other AI projects have done. 

In a sense, all of this is the unbundling of public transport. Instead of large vehicles aggregating passengers on fixed routes, you have many small vehicles, with many different ownerships, on almost infinite routes - packet switching instead of circuit switching, if you like. 

The challenge for Apple and anyone trying to make premium cars in all of these questions is that they are matters of AI and routing and algorithms - they are matters for Google, not Apple. They shift the value away from the hardware to the cloud, and turn the car into a generic commodity - dumb wheels instead of dumb glass.  Apple doesn't really do algorithms (though it does do privacy, which may become a lot more relevant). And meanwhile a shift to self-driving and on-demand is focused precisely on the urban 18-35s who are its best customers. 

There's a counter-argument to all of this, of course, that the correct place for intelligence is in the device you hold in your hand, take everywhere with you and replace every two year, not the large piece of moving metal that you replace every 5 or 10 years. Cars are for car makers, and though Apple could make a nice one with all its design skills and capital, it could also make a nice retail bank, or chain of restaurants. This is especially the case without self-driving. On this view, the car should be dumb glass, with all the intelligence in the smartphone.

This of course is the real problem, which I talked about here - forecasting how the tech will evolve is often easier than how it will be used. Agatha Christie supposedly said that when she was young, she could not imagine being rich enough to have a car or poor enough to have no servants. The ways that both would change in the next half-century were totally opaque. Now we're reinventing the car again, but it's much easier to see what might be possible than what people would choose. 

Ways to think about market size.

When you try to work out the market potential for something fundamentally new, you’re actually trying to resolve two, linked problems.

  • First, you have to look past what it is now, and see how much better and cheaper it might become
  • Second, you need to think about who would buy it now, and who else would buy it once it is better and cheaper, and how it might be used. 

The second problem is actually the hard one. Anyone with a sense of history ought to have been able to look at a phone the size of a brick and say ‘well, this could come down to the size of a pack of cards and cost $100, given time”, just as anyone should have been able to look at the Krieger electric landaulet above and see that it would get much better and much cheaper, just as trains and steamships had done. If you understood technology, that much was pretty easy. But if automobiles had only replaced existing horse-drawn carriages and carts then the market would have been much smaller. The hard part was to forecast Wal-Mart, and Los Angeles. 

That is, it’s easier to predict 'cheaper and better' than to predict the changes in behavior that will come from that. And pricing is only one dynamic - once the price falls below a certain level it stops mattering. Cheaper and better is necessary but insufficient: if billions of people can afford it, it doesn’t follow that billions of people will buy it. You need to have a theory as to why more and more people will care.

Hence, if I’d shown you a 2015 PC in 1975, would you have predicted that there’d be 1.5bn of them on earth 40 years later? Why? If I’d shown you an iPhone or Android smartphone in 1995, would you have predicted that we’d now be on track to have 4bn of them on earth - fourth fifths of all the adults on earth? 

So, to work out market size, really, you have to work out who will care, if it is cheap. To do that, as for any estimation, you look for numbers that might tell you - other, similar products, or the products you'll compete with - something that can act for a proxy for how people might look at what you're making. There's a sliding scale here, I think: there are some markets where you have a lot of data, and others where, really, you're just guessing. 

First, at one end of the scale, there are those people who are entering an existing, fairly mature market, with a superior product or price, expecting to take market share. In that case you already know how the market size works - you know why and how people use these things. For example, the US market for, say, refrigerators is xm units a year, with ym homes having them and replacing them every z years. Prices are low enough that every home already has one and the product lasts for a decade or more, so you only change them when you move or rework your kitchen. So annual sales in the overall market (for the sake of argument) are outside your control, but you can take share. You can get people to buy yours, but not to buy more than they did before, so the question is how much market share you can take with a better operating model.

Second, at the other end of the scale, there are companies that are creating something entirely new. The personal computer was an example: imagine trying to forecast this in 1980. You know what typewriter sales are, you know how many middle class households there are and you can assume that only corporations and middle-class households will be able to afford one for the next few decades. But you don’t know about the internet as the key driver for consumer PC adoption,  and you don’t know how many office typewriters will become PCs, nor that typing pools will disappear and every executive will write his own emails instead of dictating letters to his PA. 

The same problem applied to mobile phones. You could do a bottom-up analysis that counted business travelers, taxi-drivers, fleet dispatch and so on, and get to maybe 10-15% of the population. Lots of people did that in the 1990s. They were all wrong. For phones, as for PCs, you had to make an imaginative leap into the unknown. You had to say ‘I believe’ that this experience will be transformative, and everyone on earth who has the money will get one. Moore’s Law takes care of ‘having the money’ meaning 4-5bn people, but it's the imagination that gets you to teenage girls living in text messages. You could predict that phones might get really cheap, but not what that might mean. 

In that light it’s worth comparing these two mobile phone ads from the early days of the industry in the UK. The first, perfectly rationally,  starts from the mentality ‘how many people will need this?’ This is the '10-15%' argument. The second, from Orange, assumes that everyone will want one and it’s our job to get it to them, because we're changing the world. Phones don't have specific use cases - they're a universal product. Hence, the CEO at the time, Hans Snook, went around saying that the UK would go to 150% penetration and most people thought he was mad (note that the Cellnet ad was made two years later). 

This is the problem with forecasting sales of the Apple Watch. Annual watch sales are a bit over a billion units, and people buy watches at anything from $5 (China exported over 600m watches last year at an average wholesale price of $3) to $500, $5000 and $50,000. But this doesn’t tell us anything useful. The fact that you buy a $10 watch, or a $1,000 or $10,000 watch, or buy no watch at all, tells me nothing about whether an entirely new product that you also wear on your wrist would be appealing. The fact that you bought a watch x years ago and the average replacement rate for watches is y tells me nothing about whether you’d replace it with an Apple watch, tomorrow, if you saw one. 

That is, there are, in principle, hundreds of millions of people available to be persuaded to buy a smart watch, but we cannot draw any firm conclusions about how many will do so from looking at the existing watch market. That's like looking at the typewriter market to forecast PCs. It might be more helpful, perhaps, to look at the broader luxury goods market (how many women buy how many $500-$1,000 handbags each year?), or the camera market before smartphones killed it, or the phone case market. One can look at the high-end segment of the phone case as a proxy. One can triangulate one's guesses. But we're really just going to have to wait and see. We have no data for how many people will find a place for this in their lives, just as, 20 years ago, we had no data to support the idea that almost everyone would find a place for a mobile phone.

Third, you have companies that sit somewhere in the middle - companies that are entering a market in which the top line dynamics are mostly fixed  but there remains plenty of scope to change things. This is where the iPhone and Android came in. The global mobile phone market has somewhere between 3.5bn and 4bn users, growing steadily as a function of macroeconomics and increasing distribution. Apple and Google didn’t change that - they couldn’t. By reinventing what a phone was, Apple did not change how many people bought a phone, or even (really) how often, but it did change what they paid. It converted $200 phone sales to $500 iPhone sales (only partly helped by operator subsidies), and Android followed at lower prices, such that together they now make up about 70% of unit sales.  As a result, the average selling price of a mobile phone more than doubled from 2007 to 2014, from $80 to around $185. 

Everyone likes to quotes the Wayne Gretzky line that he was skating to where the puck was going to be, not where it was, but Apple and Google didn't do that - they changed what the game was. In the same way, saying that you’re aiming for x% of a $ybn industry is unambitious - great companies change the y, not the x. It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, Apple is planning in cars. I'm not entirely sure there is quite the same scope for changing the market size that there was in phones. Watches on the other hand, are wide open. 

iPhone 6 and Android value

The new iPhones were much the most predictable part of Apple's event - widely leaked and impelled by an irresistible logic - the customer is always right. For all that Apple thought and argued that you should optimize for the thumb size, it turns out optimizing for the pocket size is a better metric. *

(Of course, this isn't the first time - Steve Jobs famously said that no-one would watch video on an iPod, and that small tablets should come with sandpaper for your fingers).

Meanwhile, Apple did not, as I and others have argued it now could, make any real change to its pricing strategy. We still have a new model at $600 or so (plus another that's even more expensive) and older models at $100 and $200 cheaper, together with a (very) large secondary market act to address some of the top of the mid-range, but no more. 

Instead, these phones are a direct move against premium Android. 

Apple currently has about 10% of global handset unit sales, at an ASP of $550-600, and Android has another 50% at an ASP of $250-300 (almost all the rest are feature phones, now also converting fast to Android at well under $100). But within that Android there is a lucrative segment of high-end phones that sells at roughly the same price and in roughly the same numbers as the iPhone. To put this another way, Apple has 10% of the handset market but half of the high-end, and Android has the other half of the high end. 

That Android high-end is dominated by Samsung, and by screens with larger screens than previous iPhones. Until now.

How much of an impact will these new iPhones have on that segment? There are a bunch of reasons why someone would buy a high-end Android rather than an iPhone:

  1. Their operator subsidies an Android but not an iPhone - this has now ended, with Apple adding distribution with all the last significant hold-outs (Sprint, DoCoMo, China Mobile)
  2. They don't particularly care what phone they get and the salesman was on more commission to sell Androids or, more probably, Samsungs that day (and iPhones the next, of course)
  3. They have a dislike of Apple per se - this is hard to quantify but probably pretty small, and balanced by people with a dislike of Google
  4. They are heavily bought into the Google ecosystem
  5. They like the customizations that are possible with Android and that have not been possible with iOS until (to a much increased extent) iOS8 (more broadly, once could characterize this as 'personal taste')
  6. They want a larger screen. 

Splitting these out, the first has largely gone, the second is of little value to an ecosystem player and nets out at zero (i.e. Apple gains as many indifferent users as it loses) and the third is small. Apple has now addressed the fifth and sixth, and the massive increase in third-party attach points means that Google's ecosystem (and Facebook's incidentally) can now push deep into iOS - if Google chooses to do so. 

That is, with the iPhone 6 and iOS8, Apple has done its best to close off all the reasons to buy high-end Android beyond simple personal preference. You can get a bigger screen, you can change the keyboard, you can put widgets on the notification panel (if you insist) and so on. Pretty much all the external reasons to choose Android are addressed - what remains is personal taste.

Amongst other things, this is a major cull of Steve Jobs' sacred cows - lots of these are decisions he was deeply involved in. No-one was quicker than Steve Jobs himself to change his mind, but it's refreshing to see so many outdated assumptions being thrown out. 

Meanwhile, with the iPhone 6 Plus (a very Microsofty name, it must be said) Apple is also tackling the phablet market head on. The available data suggests this is mostly important in East Asia but not actually dominant even there - perhaps 10-20% of units except in South Korea, where it is much larger.  Samsung has tried hard to make the pen (or rather stylus) a key selling point for these devices, but without widespread developer support (there is nothing as magical as Paper for the Note) it is not clear that these devices have actually sold on anything beyond screen size and inverse price sensitivity (that is, people buy it because it's the 'best' and most expensive one). That in turn means the 6 Plus could be a straight substitute. 

Finally, not unlike Nokia for much of its history, Apple remains the only handset maker of scale making phones with a premium hardware design. Both Nokia and HTC also made equally desirable hardware but for different reasons have faded from the scene, while Samsung appears unable to make the shift in approach that this would necessitate. Several Chinese OEMs are making significant progress here (most obviously Xiaomi), but are not yet in a position to challenge Apple directly, and indeed are much more of a problem for Samsung, which finds itself squeezed in the middle. 

Setting aside the OEM horse-race commentary, the important thing about this move is how much it tends to reinforce the dominant dynamic of the two ecosystems - that Apple has a quarter of the users but three quarters of the value.  

We know from data given at WWDC and Google IO that Apple paid out ~$10bn to iOS developers in the previous 12 months and Google paid out ~$5bn. Yet, Google reported "1bn" Android users (outside China). Apple, depending on your assumptions about replacement rates, has between 550m and 650m active devices (though fewer total human users). That is, Apple brought in twice the app revenue on a little over half the users. (I wrote a detailed analysis of this here.)

We used to say that of course the average spend for Android users was lower, because the devices were available at any price for $80 to $800 where iPhones average $600, and sold well in poorer countries, but the premium Android users were bound to be worth much the same as iPhone users. This new data showed that this was not true. 

If premium Android users were worth the same as iPhone users, but the mid-range and low-end Android users were (naturally) worth less, then the Android number should have been (say) $11bn versus Apple's $10bn. But it's $5bn. So, even the premium Android users, the very best ones - even the people buying phablets - are worth much less to the ecosystem than an iPhone user. And now Apple is now going after them too. 

This takes us to a final question - is it the users or is it the ecosystem? If Apple converts a big chunk of premium Android users to the iPhone 6 when they come to refresh their phones (and note that since they won't all have bought their phones in September 2012, they won't all be up for upgrade as soon as the new iPhones come out), will their behavior change? Are we seeing less ecosystem value for these users because of differences in the platform they're on, or is there something different about those users' attitudes?

And, of course, if those users do leave, what will the Android metrics look like then?

* Just as for multitasking, and the new extensions in iOS8, Apple had to work hard to make this possible - in this case it had to move away from pixel-perfect layouts to something more responsive. This of course is where Android started - since it was predicated on a wide range of devices it had to allow for different layouts, where Apple started from one screen size. This, I think, reflects a broader trend - that Android and iPhone started in quite different places and have converged over the past 5 years.

Podcast: Apple day

NFC (near field communication) technology has been around for about a decade, and with the exception of transit cards mostly outside the United States it’s gone nowhere. Now Apple has debuted Apple Pay. Has Apple filled in the gaps in terms of user experience, sheer number of devices, and retail footprint to finally make NFC work? In six months will we all be swiping our phones at every coffee joint and grocery store? Once Apple has virtualized your credit cards, what comes next? Benedict Evans is joined by a16z’s Frank Chen and Zal Bilimoria to discuss the latest from Cupertino’s finest around payments, the long-awaited Apple Watch, and a bigger (and biggest) iPhone.

Note on cheap iPhones

Ever since the iPhone launched, people have been pointing out that it is very expensive, relative to the rest of the market, and wondering when, and how, and if Apple might go cheaper. Much like the 'Apple television', this is a story that's so old people have got very bored with it, but that doesn't mean we should forget it. 

First, a recap.

Apple's phones start at $400 and average $550-$600 where the average for phones globally is about $180 and the average for Android is $250-300. Apple's sales are entirely high-end. This has taken it to around 10% of all the phones sold on earth each quarter - it appears to have about half to two thirds of the high-end segment, with Android (mostly Samsung) having the rest. However, the bulk of Android's sales are actually at lower prices: hence Apple has 10% of sales and Android has another 10% selling at the high end but a further 40% selling at lower prices. Windows Phone and Blackberry have 2-3% and the rest is feature phones, which are converting to smartphones at prices under $100, which means Android. 

This difference between market share and pricing is, incidentally, the reason why the iPhone has 10% of handset unit sales but a third of revenue, and why the iOS app store has two thirds of app store revenues.  

So, maybe 20% of the phone market is premium, of which Apple has half, and 40% (say) is at $100 or lower and still mostly featurephones (though within that there's a lot of people trading up from lower prices). But there is a lot of debate within the industry about how the space in between plays out. The narrative generally splits the market into four rough segments: 

  • $50-100 smartphones: currently these are dominated by companies you've never heard of using off-the-shelf chips from Mediatek, Spreadtrum and others, and though they run Android and have 3G they often have only 256 meg of RAM, which makes for a pretty poor experience. And the build quality and screens are not great. 
  • $100 to (say) $200 - this is where the branded companies start playing. At this price devices like the Lumia 520, the Xiaomi Hongmi and the Motorola X provide an experience that you would not, actually, be unhappy with. I describe these phones as like driving a Toyota or a VW: you know you're not in a BMW (or a Bentley), but there's nothing wrong with them at all and some of them are pretty cool. 
  • Then, $200-450 (or thereabouts) counts as mid-range, and 
  • $450-500 and up counts as premium. Arguably there's a super-premium segment further up. 

One can debate where I've drawn the price bands, but the point is that there are different tiers of experience. One of the big debates in the industry is how viable the third category is. Do people who bought a $400 phone two years ago decide they can get something better for $200 now? Or do they decide to upgrade to $600? Do people move up into this segment from below? Do people who bought a $500 phone two yeas ago move down into this category? (Since these people are by definition less price-sensitive this seems less likely). 

So.

When people talk about whether Apple should do a 'cheap phone', it's important to be clear about which of these segments you're really talking about. When people say 'Apple is missing out on the next x billion people' - that is, the portion of the market that's still on feature phones - they're actually talking about the first category. Even Samsung doesn't really play here, nor Xiaomi. This is is the land of the $200 PC - very low margin commodities with a poor user experience. 

However, the second and third categories are rather more interesting. Apple says, over and over, that the objective is not to sell the most phones, but to make phones that it can be proud of. In 2007 the iPhone was an MVP lacking industry standards like 3G and a decent camera, yet it still needed to be $600 or more to deliver the vision. Today Apple could perfectly well make a phone it could be proud of at $300. Indeed, there's nothing that it would be ashamed of in the Lumia or Xiaomi at $150 and below.  

Meanwhile, if you look at the history of Apple's pricing, it has always made products at the high end but also in the mid-range. It has pushed to find the 'lowest viable price' for an 'Apple-quality experience' (and then added 10% or 20%, perhaps). In 2007 that price for a smartphone was $6-700, but now it is $200 or $300. That is, there is absolutely no technical reason why Apple could not make a great iPhone and sell it for $300 or so today. It wouldn't be the same as the premium product, but then the iMac was not the PowerMac. 

There are, obviously, a bunch of execution questions around this, such as how to avoid fragmenting the platform too much and how to segment the different product lines to avoid cannibalising the high-end too. What would the product matrix look like? Would Apple stop selling older models entirely? What happens to the gross margin with a wide range of entire new phones and no older ones? What happens to the resale value of the new flagships, and how does that affect sales? But then, Apple didn't worry about cannibalising Mac sales with the iPad. This might be, in a sense, a test for Tim Cook - whether he can do the right thing (assuming that's what it is) even if it erodes other businesses or pushes the stock price down, the way Steve Jobs could (or Larry Page, or Mark Zuckerberg) - can he behave like a founder?

There are two interesting sets of consequences from any such phone: the impact on Apple and the impact on Android. 

First, Apple. I've embedded a simple spreadsheet below calculating the financial impact on the company from a blockbuster 'cheap iPhone'. One can argue about the detail, but the key point is that if you sell 40m 'iPhone Nanos' (and presume for the moment that you actually can) at $250 at a 20% gross margin, that generates $2bn a quarter in gross profit for a company that reported almost $15bn gross profit last quarter. That is, a blockbuster iPhone that doubles Apple's market share adds just 15% to gross profit, before allowing for the inevitable cannibalisation of the high-end product. Factor that in and you probably only add 5-10% So, this does not really address the 'growth question' - it doesn't double Apple's business again. 

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That does not mean it is not worth doing, of course. Even apart from the financials, the broader value is the impact on the ecosystem landscape. I am not convinced that iOS, with perhaps 500m-600m active devices already compared to Google Android's 1bn or so, can really be described as sub-scale, especially given it has two thirds of app store revenue. However, adding a 'gateway' device in the mid-range with significantly more unit sales would build a much deeper moat around that ecosystem. (Though it would also dilute that high-level customer base.)

The other side of this coin is of course the impact on Android. The two markets where iPhone sales are effectively at parity with Android are the USA and Japan, and those are also the two markets where the subsidy structure means that the iPhones is not at a big price premium to Android. This is probably not a co-incidence. Meanwhile, we also see strong indications that the second-hand market for iPhones, mostly in the $2-300 range, is also extremely strong. It doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose that a new, attractive iPhone in this segment would be highly competitive. So, such a phone would sell, and sell well, and take a big chunk of the most valuable Android customers. Not, of course, the ones who value 'open' and the Google ecosystem above everything else, but true enthusiasts are a minority on both Android and iOS. 

It is also worth noting that in the high-end, where Android is roughly equal in sales to the iPhone, two major competitive drivers for an Android purchase are a larger screen and more customization options: Apple addresses many of the second with iOS8 and is strongly rumored to be planning a large-screen phone, addressing the first.  Hence, in six months, we could see both a stronger Apple proposition at the high end and also a new and pretty compelling offer in the mid range. 

Finally, the interesting thing about all of these questions is that they are largely under Apple's control. Apple chooses not to do a large screen phone, and it chooses not to go into the mid range, and it chose not to allow, say, third-party keyboards. There were strong technical challenges for all of these, but those have probably now been removed (certainly for the third point, given the extensibility of iOS8). This means Apple has more cards to play than we've yet seen. 

App store revenue

App store revenue is not an ideal way to scope the value of an ecosystem to developers. The majority of the revenue comes from games, mostly freemium using IAP, while a large proportion of the most valuable apps are offered for free and generate revenue through other means (Facebook or Amazon, for example).

However, it does give a pretty good proxy for the broader behavior of the users, and it also of course is very relevant for developers who do want to to charge. 

For the first time, Google gave numbers for app store developer revenue at IO this year, and in the latest quarterly results Apple gave (almost) like-for-like numbers: 

  • Google said it paid out $5bn to developers from Google IO in 2013 to Google IO in 2014 (a little over 13 months)
  • Apple said it has paid out $20bn to developers in total by the end of the June 2014 quarter, and at WWDC June 2013 it gave a figure of $10bn paid to developers (at the June 2013 earnings call a month later it then said it had paid out $11bn). So in the last 12 months, it paid out roughly $10bn. 
  • Google also said at IO that it has 1bn 30-day active Android users - the degree of precision is not clear. The iOS number is fuzzier: trailing 24 months' sales would be a little under 500m, but extending that to a three year lifespan would take it to over 600m. 

Obviously all of these numbers are rounded and were given at scheduled events, so need to be taken as imprecise. The fact that four different growth rates are involved also makes calculating ARPUs a little tricky.

That said:

  • In the last 12 months, on public numbers, Google has paid out roughly half of Apple - $5bn versus $10bn, on roughly double the number of devices. 
  • On a run-rate basis, annual gross app store revenue across iOS and Android is now $21bn. 

The chart below shows the public data points. 

The problem with this, of course, is that with only two data points from Google, we don't know the trajectory - if this is a steep curve the recent period might be pointing more sharply upwards. 

A further observation: if the current market dynamics remain, Google Android's user base will at least double in the next few years - the iPhone base is still growing, but it will probably not double. However, those users will be gained at progressively lower (much lower) device price points, and with significantly lower spending profiles. 

For more discussion of why the two platforms look different, see this post. 

Finally, just to make life easier, Play is not the only payment system you can use on Android, even Google Android. A material number of apps, mainly games and mainly in emerging markets, use other payment methods. So that number might really be somewhat higher. 

The next phase of smartphones

It’s now 7 years since the iPhone reset the phone business, and indeed the entire computing and internet businesses. But it was pretty clear at the time that the first iPhone was an MVP, and Google’s first Android… homage, the HTC G1, was even more so. It feels rather like the last 7 years have been spent adding all the things that really needed to be there to start with, both in hardware and software. For iOS and Android these have come in different orders, since their opening assumptions were very different, but they’ve ended up at much the same place in terms of the user experience and interaction model. There are small differences in how you interact, and there are always things that are on one platform before the other, but the basic user flows are very similar, and almost all the obvious gaps have been filled. 

Along these lines, my colleague Steven Sinofsky makes the point that for any new ‘thing' in computing, at the beginning everyone is doing roughly the same stuff because the stuff you need to add is pretty obvious and undifferentiated - you might deliver different things in different orders but you’ve got basically the same wish list. It’s once you’ve finished building out that stuff that things start to diverge. 

This, I think, is what we started to see at this year’s WWDC and Google IO - the end of the first 7 years and the start of a new phase, with the fundamental characters of Apple and Google asserting themselves. As Jean-Louis Gassée put it, iOS 8 is really iOS 2.0

Hence, WWDC was all about cloud as an enabler of rich native apps, while the most interesting parts of IO were about eroding the difference between apps and websites. In future versions of Android, Chrome tabs and apps appear together in the task list, search results can link directly to content within apps and Chromebooks can run Android apps - it seems that Google is trying to make ‘app versus web’ an irrelevant discussion - all content will act like part of the web, searchable and linkable by Google. Conversely for Apple, a lot of iOS 8 is about removing reasons to use the web at all, pulling more and more of the cloud into apps, while extensions create a bigger rather than smaller gap between what ‘apps’ and ‘web sites’ are, allowing apps to talk to each other and access each others’ cloud services without ever touching the web. 

Unlike the previous differences in philosophy between the platforms, which were mostly (to generalise massively) about method rather than outcome, these, especially as they evolve further over time, point to basic differences in how you do things on the two platforms, and in what it would even mean to do specific tasks on each.The user flows become different. The interaction models become different. I’ve said before that Apple’s approach is about a dumb cloud enabling rich apps while Google’s is about devices as dumb glass that are endpoints of cloud services. That’s going to lead to rather different experiences, and to ever more complex discussions within companies as to what sort of features they create across the two platforms and where they place their priorities. It also changes somewhat the character of the narrative that the generic shift of computing from local devices to the cloud is a structural problem for Apple, since what we mean, exactly, when we say ‘cloud’ on smartphones needs to be unpicked rather more. That's a subject for my next post. 

Meanwhile, this sort of divergence is why I’m a little skeptical about the other two big reveals in the last couple of months: the Fire Phone and Facebook’s mobile announcements at F8. Facebook is trying to build essential plumbing to connect the web and apps together, in particular with its deep linking project. But this is like building the plumbing for a building that’s still going up, and where you don’t know what it's going to look like. Making tools to connect apps and the web together when Apple and Google are shifting the definitions of those terms is going to be challenging. 

Amazon has a bigger problem. Most obviously, more and more of what it means to be ‘Android’ will come from the closed Google services that aren't part of AOSP and that it doesn’t have access to. If Amazon wants to free-ride on the Android app ecosystem, it will need to spend more and more time replicating the Google Android APIs that the apps it wants are using, or the apps just won’t work - presuming that Amazon even has the sorts of search-led assets to do that. But more fundamentally, AOSP is being pulled along by Google’s aims, and will change in radical and unexpected ways. This isn’t like building on Linux - it could be more like taking a fork of DOS just before Windows 3.1 came out. Are we quite sure (to speculate wildly for rhetorical effect) that we won’t be running Android apps in a sandbox on our ChromeOS phones in 5 years? Where would that leave Amazon’s fork? AOSP is not necessarily a neutral, transparent platform for Amazon to build on. 

Phases in mobile

This was the launch ad for Orange, in 1994. Orange was one of the very first mobile operators to think that mobile could be a consumer product rather than a piece of technology sold to niches, and one of the first to think in terms of brand and brand values, and the products that might flow out of them. The founding CEO, Hans Snook, was crazy enough to suggest that pretty much everyone would have a mobile phone. 

It's probably one of the best ads ever made. 

Also, note the freephone number and the lack of any suggestion of data services. All about voice. 

This video was made by Orange in 2000, 6 years later, the year of Europe's €110bn 3G spectrum auctions. At this point there were no phones with colour screens on sale outside Japan, but they did a pretty good job of predicting the future - it's fun to try to spot how many of those services have now been launched. None by telecoms companies, of course. 

This, of course, is the first of the original launch ads for the iPhone, in 2007, 7 years later. The fascinating thing about this video, today, is how much that we now take for granted was then entirely new. And, of course, this changed the world again. 

Finally, another 7 years later, Apple's note to the developers for a platform that didn't exist before. By the end of this year around 2bn people will have a smartphone, spending around $20bn a year on apps. 

This, of course, begs the question of what extraordinary leap we'll have made in another 7 years. 

Market shares and ecosystem value

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There's lots that was interesting in this year's Google IO, and indeed some of the absences were also interesting (no mention at all of Glass or Plus, for example). 

But we also, for the first time, got some decent numbers. Google Android has 1bn MAUs (not including China or Kindle), and Google paid developers $5bn in the last 12 months, and $2bn in the previous 12 months. 

Apple told us that it paid out $7bn in calendar year 2013 - given the growth trend, it probably paid $10bn in the last 12m. On a trailing 24m basis, there were 470m iOS users in March 2014.

 So, Google Android users in total are spending around half as much on apps on more than twice the user base, and hence app ARPU on Android is roughly a quarter of iOS. 

This is not surprising - it is entirely in line with innumerable reports from developers and publishers. It reflects a mix of several factors: 

  1. Android's market share is strongest in relatively lower income countries
  2. Many people in those countries lack credit cards and Google has been very slow to offer carrier billing
  3. Android phones average $250-$300 where iPhone average $600 - people who choose to spend the extra money are sending a signal about their intents. That is, we don't know what the ARPU for a Galaxy S5 user is, but it's probably very similar to an iPhone user - but Galaxy S5 users are a small minority of Android users
  4. Apple offers a distinctly different proposition to Android: perhaps the people who are attracted to that proposition are just more likely to spend money - that is, maybe iPhone users do spend more than GS5 users.
  5. Finally, this can become circular: if developers believe that Android users do not pay, then their behavior will be affected - they may offer a free ad-supported app instead of a paid app, or have a lower price. And if they decide not to support Android or support it second, then their users will gravitate to iPhone first, which becomes self-fulfilling. You can see this clearly on Android tablets - magazine apps have low use on Android so are slow to support Android, so users who want magazine apps don't buy Android tablets. 

Whatever your view on the relative importance of those factors (and I'm open to suggestions for more), it makes any discussion of market share complex. That is, there are lots of market shares, depending on what you're doing and where you're doing it.  

Notes

There is no way to dedupe tablet and phone devices from users who own both, so I have used phones as a consistent value in the chart above, except that of course there is no way to split this out for ecosystem revenue. I'd prefer it otherwise, but this doesn't affect the validity of the comparison.