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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Revisiting the Apple Predicament – What's Next?

This article from the New Yorker brings out several good points about how Apple has lost some of its luster over the past months, but is still in good shape on fundamentals, although it did drop to below $400B market cap a few days ago. As we noted in December, Apple was coming under criticism for not being able to scale to demand for the latest iPhone launch and had several other hiccups to deal with, including questionable worker conditions in China and that its principal manufacturer, Foxconn, was rumored to have begun discussions to pick up the slack by investing in new factories in Brazil.

On the other side, Apple was in a bitter legal fight with Samsung, an important supplier and competitor (frienemy), and could not get an injunction to stick after a lengthy lawsuit. A recent ruling in the case reduced damages awarded to Apple from $1.05B to $600M and the appeals process is ongoing. Another cause for concern in our opinion was that Apple had slipped to 6th place in the China mobile segment (the world’s largest and fastest growing major market), where local manufacturers Lenovo and Huawei were eating up share regardless of how much manufacturing was being done by Apple locally. Samsung leads the handset market in China, underscoring another competitive issue – in Korea, Apple is considered the most prestigious handset and it sells very well in the market, while Samsung is considered a premium brand in China due to early and broad Consumer Electronics investments by the Korean conglomerates; Samsung chief among them. China also has affinity with Korea based on the hope they can emulate the incredible economic growth shown by Korea over the last 25 years.

It was looking a little grim, but as noted at the time, Apple’s considerable war chest of almost half a trillion dollars was adequate to stave off short and medium term threats, however, as the above article notes, competitors are closing the gap and have introduced increasingly sophisticated models, most notably Samsung, with its’ Galaxy S line, which is seen as the strongest challenger to Apple’s technical leadership. Samsung’s newest version, the S IV is expected to be introduced this month, and in an example of raising the bar, is rumored to include “eye scrolling” technology.

Device OS Market Share History

 

The Big Picture

Apple has always been in a market crowded with well-funded competitors. Keeping the OS and architecture closed had major implications to the development of Apple, as seen above Apple never gained more than a 10-12% share of the OS market during the 1980-2000 boom of the PC market, which eventually forced them to accept both MS Office and Intel into their products to remain viable and while keeping a stubbornly loyal following for computing devices. It was really when Steve Jobs applied his design genius to a series of personal mobile devices starting with the iPod, which displaced the Sony Walkman, that Apple found a large enough consumer base to really explode onto the scene. iPhone followed with several versions and then the iPad was introduced in 2010 and the rest is history as they say…

The point here is that Apple became the largest technology company by using high-quality, high aesthetic design principles that allowed it to survive in the PC segment and applying them to a new category in the market: coveted personal technology devices that displace Phone, PC, Camera, Voice Recorder, Wristwatch, GPS, Media Player, Personal Planner, and other single use devices/apps combined into a single, small footprint high-tech productivity tool.

While Apple survived the PC Wars, many (including myself), gave them little more than niche player status and came close to counting them out altogether. The current situation is similar in a couple ways as Apple looks forward, but instead of Microsoft and Intel the arch rivals are Google and Samsung. The chart shows how WinTel dominated the PC segment from 1985-2005, squeezing Apple to 10% of the market. Currently, the rise of Mobile Computing brings hundreds of millions of new devices into the market, passing the threshold where Smartphones eclipse PCs in both volume and installed base within the next few years, creating an Android camp and an Apple camp. This has many implications for Apple, a few of which include:

Innovation: Apple needs to continue to innovate at a rapid pace. In the first 20 years of the PC market, consumers accepted a very high churn rate in both hardware and software categories because each generation was substantially more efficient and productive than the previous one. To prevent a backlash from consumers, Apple and other players are going to have to make fundamental improvements like very accurate voice recognition and new visual interfaces, not just new form factors.

Price/Performance: demonstrated Price/Performance increases in the bandwidth, applications availability and usability for less money will drive higher adoption. Again, looking back to lessons in the Personal Computer market, there was a long period of time where $2,000 was what the market expected to pay for a quality PC, and new models came out at a regular pace with faster CPU cycles, larger memory and storage subsystems, expanded OS and App capabilities, while keeping within the price range. This worked for a long time, until the market became too crowded and some vendors, led by Dell, overhauled their cost structure by cutting out the channel, using direct sales and a more tightly integrated and automated supply chain, giving back to the consumer in the form of lower prices - then it was a race to the bottom. Remember when the hot new vendor was eMachines?. The de-facto premium price-point that has been set for iPhones and iPads in the market is ~$700 and to maintain it there will be pressure to continue delivering more for the same price or less, as the slew of competitors undercut Apple’s premium.

How Many Form Factors?Cutthroat Competition: All of these segments are characterized by intense competition, and with Google’s ownership of both Android and Motorola brands, things become even more interesting in the handset segment. As Apple goes it alone against the whole market, similar competitive issues will appear as they did with PCs; many companies adding applications and value to a standard operating system (Android), diffusing the R&D costs among a whole ecosystem of suppliers while Apple concentrates on staying ahead of everyone by themselves. Ensuring a steady flow of high quality finished goods coming from China, concentrated among a relatively small group of suppliers, could also become an issue as trade friction, consumer backlash and other uncontrollable variables come into play in the global supply chain and domestic market.

As Apple looks to expand into Televisions there is a potential to tap into another ~$120B market, however, this is not going to be like the introduction of the iPhone; the market is mature and growing slowly, ironically dampened by the move to Tablet computers and Internet content, with a lot of heavyweight competitors led by #1 vendor in the world - Samsung. And Google is also waiting in the wings. Déjà vu all over again. If Apple can pull a rabbit out they may be able to add enough value to demand a premium in flat screen TVs, but that is going to be much easier said than done, the brand only goes so far when displayed next to a similar product priced 20% less on the Walmart showroom - Apple's retail success is based on a much different formula. No 35% margins here without the same kind of fundamental improvements discussed above; interface improvements, simple but deep integration with other devices and something like a super green carbon footprint on top of the demonstrated product superiority. Maybe.

Again, Apple proved very resilient as a survivor in the PC wars and many underestimated their staying power. The Market Cap remains near $400B and they have room to maneuver, it will just get harder over time, as it does for every company that gets to the top.

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Pick of the Week - Exxova

"As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information."
- Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881), British Prime Minister

We are in a transformational time for Mobility and Mobile Business Intelligence, with lots of innovation happening in both hardware and software. Factors such as declining data plan prices, improved broadband availability, software investment, and widespread access to Smart Phone applications will continue to drive market acceptance as barriers to adoption fall away.

Mobility Requests to SMB ChannelsTaking a channel partner  view of the market, this chart shows what SMB Channel Partners (50%+ Revenue from SMBs) are hearing from their customers: overall 60% report that customers are asking for Mobile Solutions, including ~80% of ISVs, 54% of VAR/Sis and 47% of Service Providers.

One of the trends in BI overall is a large  increase in embedded BI functionality into software applications. This arose through the enterprise-level dashboards and  reporting capabilities that SMBs saw with Salesforce.com functionality and quickly become must-have features for serious software applications, especially those delivered as a Service (SaaS). On premise and SaaS versions have been updated through development of new internal code or OEM arrangements and open source code from players like Pentaho and Jaspersoft.

Enabling BI mobility is accomplished by moving  existing functionality to a mobile environment, using the new technologies on top of the old, which is more complicated than starting from scratch in many cases.  The larger companies such as Oracle, IBM and SAP are approaching  this through acquisition of smaller companies and integrating them into existing products. But in a classic build vs. buy fashion, smaller companies offering SaaS BI services have been building new offers from the ground up, directly employing the newest technologies like HTML5, iOS and Android for delivery to Apple devices, smartphones and the burgeoning number of tablets in the market. Smaller providers in many cases have gained a timing advantage; using native technology brings existing mobile functionality to bear on the problem; instead of simple links to server data, the presentation of the information can immediately be rich and interactive using screen manipulation, i.e., pinch and squeeze or geo-location awareness, as part of the data exploration and visualization experience.

Other features of “true” mobility integrated with “true” BI include the ability to interact with data objects on the screen, such as search, filters, check-boxes, drill-down and drill-through to the record level and other interactive functionality. Of course, then being able to use the built-in device communications capabilities is also important once the information has been isolated – SMS, email and  forms should be available for manipulation and dissemination of the information.

Many use case scenarios present themselves from the low end retail – such as immediate revenue and profit reporting from the new generation of card swipers into QuickBooks or MS Dynamics and received on a smartphone, to a mid-market electronic component manufacturer checking inventory turns in the Singapore distribution center using SAP Business Objects or IBM Cognos 10 through a Samsung Galaxy Note Tablet.

Among the pure-play SaaS Mobile BI firms to have emerged in the last few years is Exxova, based out of Atlanta, which we chose as our Cloud Vendor Pick of the Week. We chose Exxova because they have a unique value proposition: although they use some of the most powerful  back end analytics technology – SAP, Business Objects, Oracle, etc., they have managed to simplify this technology and allow administration of database structure and reporting by literally dragging and dropping fields in a web-based interface, creating new groups and calculations, and having the results delivered immediately through mobile devices running iOS and Android as described earlier. Having separated the reporting layer from the analytical engine allows them to provide deep BI capabilities to end users without the additional cost of licenses for all the back end tools, while at the same time allowing Flash and Flex to be delivered in original format to the Apple environment.

We interviewed their President Mark Hillam, a BI industry veteran and former Business Objects executive for this post. In response to how Exxova reduces complexity for the users and administrators of Mobile BI, Mr. Hillam replied:

“Every report, dashboard, and analytic is rendered with perfect fidelity to the original source.  All of this is accomplished without any modification or changes to the Enterprise BI platform or the existing content.  Even full report editing is capable from the mobile platforms.”

Exxova offers a strong example of true Mobile BI functionality which is relatively easy to administer and use at a good price point. There are others in the market such as SAP, Microstrategy, Oracle and IBM, who also have strong mobile solutions. For the SMB marketplace there will always be a balance between cost, complexity and functionality to be taken into account before long term commitments are made, Exxova seems to fit this space well. For more information, see it in action below.



 

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New Microsoft ad - Will it work or will it hurt?

Microsoft released a new ad that has been making the rounds on various web video sites and on TV. The new ad shows a lady who states she is not too cool to afford a Mac. Clearly Microsoft is taking a swipe at the higher cost of Macs in a down economy. During  discussion last night with some friends, they all liked the ad (Disclosure: they all work at Microsoft. That said, they are generally pretty objective people). They liked the ad because they believed it was on target. I respectfully dissented and here's why -

1. Everyone knows that the Mac is more expensive. That fact does not need to be reinforced. If at all it should be reinforced in good times when people are spending freely. They are not.

2. Windows rules. And will for the foreseeable future. People don't buy PCs for low prices. They buy them because they are the standard. So what is the point of this ad?

3. Mac is a luxury brand and is consciously positioned as such. Luxury brands are forced to sustain their cache during rough economic times. That is the risk they take. You don't see Mercedes and BMW lowering their prices because their image is linked to those prices. And once you lower prices you can't bring them back up again. Occasional rebates, yes. Lower MSRP, no.

4. Finally, this approach can backfire. The PC ad indirectly heightens the "aspirational status" of the Mac. Like the guy who goes from driving a Honda Accord to driving a BMW, the current ads suggest that when times are better, it is OK to buy a Mac and indeed a consumer should aspire to do so but for now buy a PC.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIS6G-HvnkU]

The Microsoft ads that have "I am a PC and I am not alone" are therefore on target and beautifully made. The other set of "I am a PC" ads that show kids doing stuff are awesome. Perhaps the best tech ads I have ever seen. Both of the above evoke a strong sensory reaction. Exactly what is needed to counter Mac ads that have done this so effectively on the past.

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