The Next Billion Users

Five weeks ago Apple forecast 100 million iPhone OS devices will be sold by summer. This was fairly easy to predict but the question comes up: when will the next 100 million be sold? And what about after that?

The iPhone OS three-legged platform is now the fastest growing platform ever and enjoying network effects which naturally accrue to platforms under solid custodianship. However, I am observing signals from Apple that they intend this platform to become the global standard for mobile computing, which, in today’s world, means targeting 1 billion users. Here are the signals that I’m noting:

  1. Geographic and cultural universality. What plays in Peoria should play in Beijing.  As it has shown by being big in Japan, the iPhone crosses over cultural idiosyncrasies. Not long ago it was taken for granted that “mobile tastes” differ and “one size does not fit all” in mobile phones hence the need for hundreds of phone models in every portfolio. Apple has completely destroyed this myth. (One could ask why should mobile computers be polymorphous when their slightly larger cousins the laptops are rigidly monotonic?) By broadening the platform with multiple screens and connectivity options, Apple is cleverly spanning the jobs that he platform can be hired for.
  2. Avoidance of a pricing umbrella.  Note that this does not mean being low prices, but rather, the protection of their franchise through pricing. Apple has developed a way to stretch a single product across multiple price bands, and carefully builds product to price and margin targets that have strategic placement.
  3. Product cycles and product ramps. Apple has imposed upon itself a yearly product cycle for the iPhone and the iPod.  This is a brilliant move because it keeps the product fresh without having it seem disposable.  It also keeps competitors within its turning radius. However, the challenge is that the distribution network has to be filled rapidly and drained rapidly to maximize availability. This gets harder and harder as the volume grows. Imagine having to manufacture and ship into the channel a billion devices in less than a quarter.

I would point out that all these are marketing, not technical challenges. They are thinly disguised questions about product placement, portfolio, pricing, production and distribution–classic Marketing 101. (Promotion, which is what most people equate with marketing is not particularly challenging, especially for Apple who mostly does it through PR).

It is comforting perhaps to know that Apple is the best marketing organization in the industry today. So to answer the question, 100 million is in the rear-view mirror, 200 million will come up in no more than 2 years and 1 billion will take 5 to 8 years.


Mark Bernstein: Platform Control

And somewhere in the recovery was a moment when Apple stood on a hill, before the setting sun, and shook its fist at the heavens and vowed that it would never be hungry (and powerless) again Never again would another company decide whether the Macintosh lived or died. So, Apple supplanted Metrowerks and wrote its own IDE. It wrote Keynote to inform Microsoft and the world that, should Microsoft discontinue Office for Mac, Apple would be prepared to replace it without delay. It wrote Safari to ensure that it would have a Web browser option, come what may.

This is the key to modern Apple. It’s a big company, and it’s now wildly successful. It assumes that it can write a successful software product in any niche. It’s very talented and very confident. But always, at the back of its collective mind, is fear — the fear of depending on the kindness and competence of others, and the fearful memory of the days when it was cowering in a dark closet, waiting for the blow to fall, while the trade press laughed and jeered.

Mark Bernstein: Platform Control.

41 million BlackBerry users

“Officials at the WES 2010 keynote said that RIM has redesigned all of the core applications within the BlackBerry operating system. It also revealed that there are 41 million BlackBerry users, and 90 million BlackBerrys have been sold to date.”

Apple already announced that they see 100 million iPhone OS devices sold by this summer. The installed base for iPhone OS devices is likely to be much greater than 40 million since most of the 85 million devices sold as of today were purchased less than 2 years ago. With the iPad and the iPod broadening the portfolio, the Apple mobile platform will grow more rapidly than RIM’s leading to increasing network effects.

The Progress of the Platform

The Progress of the Platform.

On why there is a ban on intermediate layers of software development on the iPhone OS.

But the reason isn’t technical. It’s partly business (Apple doesn’t want another company to control any important part of the iPhone platform), but it’s also in no small part grounded in aesthetics and the progress of the platform. Apple wants developers to do things the iPhone and iPad Way because they believe it will result in a better user experience and better designed apps. That’s an aesthetic, design-centered argument about how touch apps should be done. Apple has created tools customized to the iPhone and iPad; hell, they built a whole new touch-based operating system. They created a whole set of user interface metaphors that are supposed to be standard and system-wide, and they want developers to do things the new way not because Apple just loves power, but because they believe it’s necessary to force developers to think about the new world of touch-based computing correctly. All of this in service of giving users who are taking their first steps into touch-based computing a great experience.

Developers who want to write software for the iPhone have to write iPhone-like software. To do otherwise will hinder the progress of the platform.

Smartphone Penetration in the US

This is active users in the US only.

iPhone now tops WinMo and is second only to RIM. The only line that is going down is the dumbphone category which lost 10 million users.

Those users were mostly switched to RIM and Apple. RIM gained about 4.3 million users and Apple gained about 3.5 million.

Android user base still lowest of all platforms and increased by about 0.6 million. They are likely to beat Palm however next few quarters. At this rate however it’s very hard to see an installed base that is going to challenge Apple for a long time.

Palm gained 0.44 million. Symbian gained 0.41 million. WinMo gained 0.3 million.

With a 1.4 multiplier for iPod Touch, the platform would have 12.5 million users, pretty near RIM’s base. We might see that tipping over next quarter.

On Units and Platforms

When thinking about the number of devices shipping out of Apple, and the relative value of those units compared to the competition you have to always think of the platform.

The market leader Nokia claimed to have sold 16+ million smartphones in the quarter. When comparing platforms, to whatever Apple ships in iPhones you have to add the iPod touch units. I see that number being about half of the iPhone numbers or about 4 million. Let’s say 10 to 12 million as a range for the platform. Already this is within striking range of Nokia.

It may sound that Apple has some catching up to do, however the important thing is that most of the Nokia devices are not uniformly addressable by developers because they are different platforms and the Symbian platform itself will be broken next year as it has been broken many times before. This is also true for Blackberry and Windows Mobile and will become true for Android as vendors fork and splinter the code to differentiate.

This already puts Apple in the pole position today in terms of contiguous addressable units volumes.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this platform effect. It’s what made Windows dominant and it should be the most important issue in the planning of new mobile products, but it clearly isn’t for Apple’s competitors. Either product planners are ignorant of history or completely hamstrung by other constraints on their businesses (I expect the latter).

As a result it’s inevitable that Apple will have a dominant platform. The numbers in apps and consumption of apps already are telling this story, and devs are voting with their code in a landslide. But going into 2010, this will become evident in the units and Apple share numbers will accelerate toward lead position.

The bogie therefore is to look for contiguously addressable installed base. On this basis of competition, I expect at least 100 million for Apple at the end of next year and less than 10 million for any competitor. At that point the game will be officially over.