Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Apple: Handheld Hegemon?

Apple seems set to overtake RIM for first place in smartphone unit sales. Rising iPhone share (now 35%) and dwindling share for RIM's combined product lines, together with strong iPhone intent-to-buy, are trends that suggest Apple's Unix handhelds will top the smartphone rankings in the not-distant future. PALM's share holds steady at 7%. (Demand for iPhones may be related to increasing user expectation that non-phone features be practically usable; iPhone apparently leads this, if iPhone's share of web traffic is any indicator of real-world non-phone use.)

Applications for Apple's handhelds continue to be developed and listed on Apple's one-store-for-all-iPhones electronic software marketplace; the tally of submitted and Apple-approved products now exceeds one hundred thousand native iPhone applications (UPDATE: available apps exceed 100k now, too). To the extent that Apple's development environment makes application development easier than on other platforms, porting some of this content to other platform could be not only a nuisance but logistically infeasible. A significant installed base of iPhone users may guarantee loyalty to developing for the platform. If the best apps are there, and the apps that do what the users want, what will smartphone users choose to buy?

In other news, mobile navigation vendor TomTom is selling a car navigation kit for the iPhone. The application that makes it sing is compatible with the models of iPhone that include (no surprise) GPS hardware. Whining third parties ask whether prior models will be supported, and get a typical "no announcement at this time" response. Let's face it: you need GPS hardware to make turn-by-turn navigation software useful. Get a grip, people. But that's the real news in this item -- these people don't have a grip at all: they expect magic.

The expectation that Apple's handhelds will solve every concern, regardless their actual technical specifications, raises an interesting point about what Apple must deliver in order to satisfy customers. The fact Apple maintains its satisfaction ratings in the face of this kind of expectation is frankly amazing.

Apple is making outsized profits in the mobile space on the handsets, and is set to make quite a bit from follow-up transactions after each hardware sale.

On the opposite end of the hardware/software spectrum, Oracle issued an update on Sept. 30, 2009 to its announcements on support for MacOS X, and describes Oracle Database 10g Rel 2, Oracle SQL Server, and Oracle JDeveloper as "fully certified" on MacOS X, with support for 64-bit Intel chips. Anyone know how many MacOS X installations of commercial Oracle products exist?

Even without news on substantial enterprise use, Apple's PC sales are up 11.8% in the third quarter compared to the prior year, taking 9.4% of the PC market. Given that 0% of Apple's PC sales are into low-margin segments like netbooks and three-generations-old-CPU commodity boxes, that 9.4% of the whole PC market may not be the right metric for measuring Apple's success in the segments in which it competes. In the segment of the PC market with a retail price exceeding $1,000, Apple is not the number four vendor by any means. Share gains in this segment -- and movement of customers from cheap machines into this segment -- represent significant profit for Apple, more valuable than the marginal customer of a vendor with an average sales price of $700 or less (considering how much of the market above $1,000 is held by Apple, maybe much less than $700 on average). Apple's outsized profits mean that despite Dell's position as the #1 vendor by volume, Apple could at current share prices buy Dell with cash on hand. Not that I see Dell as a good buy.

Apple's position is strong and strengthening, both in the traditional CPU space and in smartphones. Unlike the PC space, however, where competitive platforms mean rough competition due to customers' significant software installed base, the mobile space is new and offers Apple the power to become the dominant platform.

No comments: