Bundling and Unbundling with Apple

“Gentlemen, there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”

Barksdale

Bundling is the act of adding several individual services or features together in one package. Think of Amazon Prime as the example of bundling. With Prime, you’ll get fast deliver (my experience lately hasn’t exactly matched that), free return, Prime Videos, audiobooks and access to exclusive deals, just to name a few.

Unbundling refers to the act of selling a service/feature separately from an usually bundled service or product. Think of flight tickets as an example. Before low-cost no-frill, flights tickets had many features, but low cost fliers such as Ryan Air were the pioneers of selling only flight tickets and making the other features such as luggage, priority check-ins as add-ons and additional revenue.

With Apple, an example of their bundling is Apple Card/Pay. I have seen quite a bit of criticisms online about the features of the service aren’t anything new. To some extent, yes, that may be true. The thing is that Apple managed to bundle all the following features together to make an attractive product that is yet to be seen elsewhere.

  • Beautifully and elegantly designed titanium card
  • No fees
  • Rewards and immediate cashback
  • Acceptance everywhere (Apple claimed) for Apple Card and 40+ countries for Apple Pay
  • In-app management
  • Security as in that biometric validation is required for payments with both Apple Card and Apple Pay
  • Privacy as in that consumer data won’t be used or shared with advertisers
  • Application process is fairly easy, reportedly, through Apple Wallet, which is loaded on your phone by default
  • Integration between Apple Card and Apple Pay

With regard to unbundling, I think that’s what Apple is doing with their hardware and services. Most services can only be enjoyed on Apple devices, yet such services lure consumers to the luxury devices which have been highly profitable to Apple. On the top of my head, there are three subscription services from Apple that an average consumer may likely use: Apple News+, Apple Music and iCloud. Soon there will be Apple Arcade too. Selling services separately and services from hardware gives users freedom to choose. If Apple bundled everything into, let’s say, $100/month for 1.5 years for the use of a new iPhone and all services, that would make some customers pay for what they didn’t use. Nonetheless, if the usage of paid services is high and consistent, I wonder if Apple will have an optional bundle for services alone for power users.

Thoughts on Apple Card

On Monday, Apple introduced its in-house credit card called Apple Card. Since it’s not available yet and the details are quite numerous, you can read more in these two articles on TechCrunch and The Verge or watch the presentation yourself here. I’ll just lay out my thoughts on the card below

I am convinced that Apple Card will attract a lot of sign-ups. After all, it’s Apple. The application process is reportedly straightforward and easy (we’ll see soon in the upcoming months). You can apply for the card from your Wallet app and the card will be shipped to you. If you use an iPhone 6 or later and are a fan of Apple, you will likely want to try your hands on the beautiful-looking titanium card for free, as long as you qualify for one. Plus, there are millions of installed iPhone 6 or later out there. So getting folks to sign up won’t be an issue. What about the usage for Apple Card? For consumers to use the Card, Apple has to give them a reason to, an incentive.

Security & Privacy

Security & Privacy is a big sell from Apple and it’s no different in this case. Apple Card comes without the stuff that makes credit card fraud possible from the physical card perspective. Plus, the way Apple sets it up makes credit card fraud significantly more difficult

Because of the way it is set up, every purchase with Apple Card requires biometric identification aside from purchases with the physical card. In the case of a non-Apple Pay transaction online — you must get your card number from the app and that is unlocked via Touch ID or Face ID, so biometrics are still in the path. And, for Apple Pay transactions, they are authenticated at the time of transaction. I personally think it would be cool to optionally require a confirmation from your phone to let a charge go through as well, but that is likely a v2 situation.

From TechCrunch

In other words, somebody needs to steal your card, your phone and either your thumb(s) or your face to make an unauthorized purchase.

Apple claimed that it wouldn’t know anything about consumer purchases using Apple Card. Plus, Goldman Sachs won’t sell data to marketers. If you care about privacy, it is attractive. Now that I work in the credit card industry, I can tell you that the level of privacy intrusion by banks is crazy. It is entirely possible to track the location of a cardholder to a store, know whether a purchase is made and if a purchase is not made, use the user data to run ads offline and online to motivate spending. If Apple and Goldman Sachs can do what they claim, this is an appealing feature, but I doubt it will be the dominant one.

No fees

According to Apple, you won’t be charged with late fees or penalty fees. You will just incur interest on your late payments. A nice feature, but from my perspective, it is not a hugely attractive one, especially if you are like me who isn’t late on credit card payments. After all, late payments will affect your credit score and consequently future APRs.

APRs

Pretty in line with the industry standard. Nothing special about this as far as I am concerned

Visibility into purchase details

Apple claimed that users could see more details on what a purchase was and where it happened from the Wallet app, instead of the user-unfriendly lines you see from your balance statement or mobile app. Once again, a nice feature that won’t be a dominant one.

Cash back

Above is the cash back policy for Apple Card and Apple Pay. 3% on Apple-related purchases is nice, but it is not a daily event, given how expensive Apple items are. 1% cash back with the physical card is nothing special. It’s even less attractive than many credit cards out there on the market. The interesting one is Apple Pay

From Creditcards.com

Because other credit cards offer two percent cash back or more on certain categories only, two percent cash back on every category by Apple Pay is more beneficial to users. According to Apple, Apple Pay will be available in 40+ countries at the end of this year. The number of merchants that accept Apple Pay is impressively high in some countries. Here is what Apple reported on the presentation

There are cases in which Apple Pay will not be competitive. For instance, if you have a card that gives back 4% cash back on dining, it sure is a better alternative than Apple Pay, even if Apple Pay is an available option. Or if you have a co-branded credit card such as a hotel or airline co-branded credit card, there is a switching cost as you want to increase your rewards points.

But using a physical credit card isn’t as convenient as a contactless option such as Apple Pay, nor is it as secure. So which payment option works in a situation depends on what situation that is and what kind of credit card user you are. If you care a lot about rewards and cash back, as well as have the time and mental fortitude to remember all the details, using multiple cards is the way to go. Nonetheless, if you are like me, a “one guy, one card” type, I would prefer something simple and easy to use/remember. Then I can see the appeal of Apple Pay. Contactless, fast, secure and decent cash back.

A push for Apple Pay

I believe that Apple Card is another push for Apple Pay to make it the “iPhone” equivalent of payment methods. Since Apple Pay is not ubiquitously available, the Card offers the connection between Apple Pay and merchants who don’t accept the service yet. If you use the Card, you’ll earn cash back that can be, in turn, used for Apple Pay. As explained above, Apple Pay can seem to be an attractive payment method to a certain type of users. According to Apple, they are on their track to meet the goal of 10 billion transactions on Apple Pay this year. If you are already satisfied with Apple Pay, I suspect that you will get more hooked when Apple Card is launched.

It makes sense to push for Apple Pay as I think Apple will earn more revenue from the service than the Card. After all, whatever revenue from the Card will have to be split with Goldman Sachs as well.

To recap, I think that this is a push for Apple Pay from Apple, an attempt to thread a delicate line between getting into the financial world and not suffering from the regulatory headaches that come with actually getting in there. Personally, I don’t think it is a “winner takes all” situation. I suspect that users will carry multiple options around and that each type of credit card user will display different levels of love towards Apple Pay and Card. I am excited about the future updates from Apple for the Card, regarding features and benefits. After all, this is just their first iteration.

Thoughts on Apple News +

What is Apple News +?

On Monday, Apple announced their “Netflix for news” or “Netflix for magazines” at the moment. They call it Apple News +. With $9.99/month, you have unlimited access to hundreds of magazines and several participating news outlets such as LA Times, Wall Street Journals, The Skimm or TechCrunch. Notable absences from Apple News+ are The Washington Post and NewYork Times

As common practice in the subscription world, the 1st month of Apple News+ is free. Once a user subscribes, the subscription is free for all family members. I never share any Apple services with my family members, so I am interested in how all that sharing with family members works and how they can avoid heavy scammers.

Apple claimed that they used “on-device intelligence” to suggest articles based on readers’ behavior. That way, Apple doesn’t know what users read. Additionally, advertisers won’t know what users read either, or at least that’s what Apple claimed.

From the demo, content on Apple News+ follows a specific format that is easy on the eyes and visually attractive. According to Macstories, out of 251 participating magazines, 125 are using Apple News Format, compared to 126 are still sticking to the old PDF format. Here are a couple of looks

Though the app allows browsing by alphabet and categories, some choices are not easy to find.

In fact, I needed to go to “Following” tab at the bottom, searched for Los Angeles Times to find the outlet. Then, I had to “follow” the LA Times to have it featured on my feed. If you want to look for TechCrunch or The Skimm, the search function in the following is probably the fastest way.

Does it make sense for popular news outlets to work with Apple?

With regard to revenue sharing, Apple reportedly seeks to keep 50% of the revenue from Apple News+ subscriptions while the other half is shared between the partners based on how much time is spent on each partner’s content. Partnering with Apple will potentially give publishers exposure to at least millions of Apple device owners, for now before Apple may decide to make the service available on Android. Publishers hope that their quality content and free marketing boost by being presented at an Apple event will catapult their digital business. On the other hand, there is also a “I already subscribed to Apple News+” risk from existing subscribers. In other words, if a user can access the same content while paying $9.99/month, why would he or she pay $39/month for WSJ, as an example?

Reportedly, even though publishers can’t have customer data, they will know what content is being read and can offer specific deals like newsletter. Plus, adhering to the new format championed by Apple requires an investment of time and effort. WSJ hires 50 more staff just for the partnership with Apple.

For the LA Times, it is understandable why they accepted the risk. The paper has 150,000 digital subscribers as of 15th March 2019. Compared to the 3 million digital-only subscribers and 4 million in total boasted by New York Times, or 1.71 million by the WSJ, the number is meagre. Hence, I can see the upside can justify the cannibalization risk. The same sentiment can be argued for the magazines. I don’t have the numbers for magazines, but I can’t imagine that their digital business is as big as LA Times or WSJ.

As for the WSJ, the math is more interesting. The WSJ has more to lose than the LA Times, but it is reported that users on Apple News + have access to only 3 days worth of archive. As an avid reader of the WSJ myself, it can be a challenge. I usually have to go back to articles even several weeks old for information. I guess that the management at the WSJ is betting that the avid readers will keep subscribing and the new revenue will flow in from extra consumption and new users.

It would be so interesting to see 6 months or a year from now whether partnership with Apple truly brings net benefits to the currently participating publishers. If it does, it will put the publishers that opt out right now, in an awkward position. Continue to stay out and risk losing more digital business or opt in?

What about readers?

I think the obvious winners here are the users. If you are an avid reader of even just a couple of magazines and news outlets, the deal is financially attractive. Some may argue that a normal user would never subscribe to that many publishers. Well, a normal Netflix user would never be able to consume all of their content library either. We are in the world of instant gratification and endless choice. I don’t see the difference here. Plus, you don’t have to worry about your data being collected by publishers as it would when you consume content on the web. Additionally, reading content in the new Apple News Format is a pleasant experience. I have an iPhone 5S and I liked what I saw. I can imagine the experience would be better on a bigger screen like newer iPhones and iPads. Finally, family members can use your subscriptions for free! At least for now!

In short, I find the launch of Apple News exciting. If there is one company that can pull this off, I can’t think of another one, except Apple. It has 900 million installed iPhones and 1.4 billion devices, a dedicated fan base, a household name and control over the iOS. The upcoming months will be interesting as I can’t wait to see the impact the new service has on the partnering publishers and how the result will change the dynamic between Apple and the opted out publishers. How would a competing service on Android look? Hope we can have some more color on the service at the upcoming earning call by Apple.

Elizabeth Warren’s call to break up Apple

I wrote yesterday on Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up yesterday. I thought that was that, but apparently she followed up with a call to break up Apple as she laid out in an interview with The Verge.

You were very specific in how you’d break up Google and the rest. How would you break up Apple?

Apple, you’ve got to break it apart from their App Store. It’s got to be one or the other. Either they run the platform or they play in the store. They don’t get to do both at the same time. So it’s the same notion.

Pulling that apart, the App Store is the method by which Apple keeps the iPhone secure. It’s integrated into the platform. How would you propose that Apple and Google distribute apps if they don’t run the store?

Well, are they in competition with others who are developing the products? That’s the problem all the way through this, and it’s it’s what you have to keep looking for.

If you run a platform where others come to sell, then you don’t get to sell your own items on the platform because you have two comparative advantages. One, you’ve sucked up information about every buyer and every seller before you’ve made a decision about what you’re going to to sell. And second, you have the capacity — because you run the platform — to prefer your product over anyone else’s product. It gives an enormous comparative advantage to the platform.

Users love Apple products because of the combination of hardware and their exclusive software. What good is a phone without functioning and useful apps? Apple distributes apps on their devices through App Store and that’s why I don’t understand what she meant by “breaking it apart from App Store”. From a consumer standpoint, Apple leads all manufacturers in terms of customer satisfaction. If any of her plans were about protecting consumer interests, this one didn’t seem to fit the bill.

Source: American Customer Satisfaction Index

Here is what Tim Cook reported in the latest earning call:

The latest survey of U.S. consumers from 451 Research indicates customer satisfaction of 99% for iPhone XR, XS and XS Max combined. And among business buyers who plan to purchase smartphones in the March quarter 81% plan to purchase iPhones. Based on the latest information from Kantar, iPhone experienced a 90% customer loyalty rating for iPhone customers in the U.S. 23 points above the next highest brand measured.

The most recent consumer survey from 451 Research measured a 94% customer satisfaction rating for iPad overall, with iPad Pro models scoring as high as 100%.
Among business customers who plan to purchase tablets in the March quarter, 68% plan to purchase iPads. 

Source: Seeking Alpha

From a developer perspective, I wrote about how much Apple paid out to developers over years:

As of June 2017, developers earned $70 billion from App store since its launch in 2008. As of January 2019, the figure went up to $120 billion. Moreover, we are about to see their investment in original content as their streaming service is reportedly going to be live this April.

I can understand why folks complain about the hefty 30% Apple tax on App Store, but thanks to Apple and AppStore, developers and businesses have generated a tremendous amount of revenue, to the tune of $120 billion over the years. Techcrunch reported a comparison between Google Play and AppStore about 5 months ago

According to SensorTower, an average iPhone user spent more on apps in 2018 than they did in 2017.

iPhone Per Active Device Average Revenue U.S. 2015 to 2018
Source: SensorTower

If Apple and AppStore are making consumers happy and bringing developers/app makers money, what exactly is the reason for breaking Apple apart from the AppStore, undermining the control over the ecosystem?

Also, there is a difference between making money off user data and making money off products/services improved by the use of data analysis. If you can mine data to improve services and products, you must be a fool not to. Website administrators use Google Analytics to improve website performance. Netflix uses data to see what shows you may be interested in. Google uses your data to improve the search algorithm to make it more relevant and fast. What is wrong with all of that? I also fail to recall an instance where Apple released a certain product/service and abused its power to favor the product/service.

In short, the interview with The Verge made me even more disappointed in her after yesterday, something I didn’t imagine would happen so fast. A friend of mine mentioned that she represented the left. I don’t think this has anything to do with the political ideologies. Understanding how these technology companies work has nothing to do with one’s political view. It’s concerning to have a Presidential candidate with that ill-informed hostility to the growth engine of the US economy.

Apple’s strategic switch

Disclaimer: I do own a few Apple stocks, but it’s nothing major and this post is just to share my observation of Apple. As a fan of business strategy, I have been a fan of the company and interested in how it performs amid the concerns after the letter to shareholders on 2nd January 2019.

Yesterday, Apple announced their Q1 earnings. A few notable points from their announcement and earning call:

  • Apple no longer reports units sold across their business segments
  • Overall, Apple recorded $84.3 billion, down 5% year over year
  • Products gross margin was 34.3% and Services gross margin was 62.8%.
  • iPhone revenue dropped by 15% year over year
  • Services revenue in Q1 was $10.9 billion, a 19% YoY increase. Service revenue grew from $8 billion in calendar 2010 to $41 billion in calendar 2018, allegedly on pace to reach $50 billion in 2020
  • Mac revenue was up 9% while iPad revenue was up 17%
  • Wearables, home and accessories revenue grew by 33% to $1.8 billion
  • There are 50 million paid Apple Music subscribers, up from 40 million reported in June 2018
  • Apple reported a base of 900 million installed iPhones, out of 1.4 billion active devices in total from Apple
  • There are 360 million paid subscriptions across Services portfolio, an increase of 120 million versus a year ago.
  • This quarter saw 1.8 billion transactions through Apple Pay, twice the volume recorded in the same quarter a year ago
  • In Germany, there are more Apple Pay activations in one week than for Android in one year
  • “Revenue from cloud services continues to grow rapidly with year-over-year revenue up over 40% in the December quarter. And readership of Apple News set a new record with over 85 million monthly active users in the three countries where we’ve launched the United States, the U.K., and Australia”.
  • Ending Q1 2019, Apple cash stands at $244 billion while net cash is at $130 billion

I am a big believer in the notion that business models need to be adapted to the changes in the business environment. No business model could be effective while staying still over the years, especially in the fast-changing world that we live in today. Apple should be no exception and from the numbers reported, it seems to me that they are making changes.  

For years, the bulk of Apple’s business has come from hardware which is differentiated by its exclusive software, especially in the case of iPhone. iPhone revenue has made up approximately 60% of Apple’s turnover. However, the luxury smartphone market has reached the maturation point. iPhone unit sale growth has been either minimal or flat for quarters. Greater China market, which makes up 20% of their iPhone revenue, has boasted challenges to Apple, particularly in 2018. Their iOS isn’t as appealing to Chinese users as it is to users in other parts of the world while competitors such as Huawei and Xiaomi offer alternatives with more or less same features at a lower price. The macroeconomic conditions in China and the trade war aren’t helpful either.

The growth in iPhone revenue has come largely from the price hike which lengthens the upgrade cycle and puts a limit on how much Apple can reach out to potential users. Not everyone can afford those pricey phones. Lowering the prices isn’t the solution. Firstly, Apple is a luxury brand. Lowering prices may leave significant damages to its brand power. Secondly, cheaper phones will require substantial changes to its operations, including supply chain, distribution and Sales & Marketing.

All the signs point to the fact that too much dependence on iPhone is no longer sustainable for Apple moving forward. Enter Services.

Services has been a bright spot amid concerns over iPhone revenue for the past 2 or 3 years, growing at a 20% annual clip. Put that in perspective, their Services revenue this quarter alone is $10.9 billion, almost equal to Netflix’s revenue in 3 quarters in 2018 while Facebook Q3 revenue was about $13 billion. Instead of making money from devices, Apple is betting on users keeping devices longer and paying consistently and more for services. And why not? If the users tend to hold on to devices longer, it makes sense to generate more money from their activities. Plus, margin from Services is substantially higher than that of Products.

And they have been doing a good job. Apple Pay transactions reached 1.8 billion this quarter, 100% YoY increase. Revenue from cloud went up by 40%. The number of paid subscriptions grew by 50% year over year and Apple Music has added 10 million users, reaching the 50 million mark and achieving a 25% growth, since June 2018.

As of June 2017, developers earned $70 billion from App store since its launch in 2008. As of January 2019, the figure went up to $120 billion. Moreover, we are about to see their investment in original content as their streaming service is reportedly going to be live this April.

In summary, Apple seems to be heading to the right direction strategically in my opinion, given the changes in the environment they are operating in. I think the following guidance in the next few quarters will continuously be lower than analyst expectations as the reduction in iPhone revenue may not be sufficiently offset by the growth in Services yet. There is a chance that Apple won’t have the same revenue level as they had at the peak of iPhone-dominated era.

Nonetheless, I think the company is far from the demise alleged by some after a letter to shareholders on 2nd January 2019. They generated $84 billion in revenue and almost $20 billion in net income in 90 days! Instead, the change to be a Services company may be better for the company’s health.

iOS12 and Time Management

I have been on iOS12 since it was first released and much satisfied with this new version even though my phone is just an iPhone 5S. In addition to the speed and the UI, one feature that I am very happy with is Screen Time.

Only does it allow users to keep track of how much time is spent every day on their phones, but it can break the time down into app categories such as productivity (emails) or social networking (Twitter, Facebook, Slack…). Moreover, users can put a time limit on each category and application’s usage. Once a limit is applied and reached, the categories or apps in questions are temporarily unavailable. It means that users have to manually remove the limits first in order to activate the apps again.

One feature I really like is Downtime. Applied to a specific time span in a day, the feature locks down the phone applications, barring some that are specifically spared by the user (see below)

IMG_8251

I tend to apply Downtime from 7-10am to avoid distraction and maximize productivity (I let YouTube through to listen to work/focus music videos that are usually hours long on the app). In this Internet era, focus is a luxury. Everybody’s attention span is destroyed and distractions are everywhere. This feature, though reversible, helps us avoid that reliance on our phones and regain some productivity.

 

 

Apple Event

I have always been a fan of Apple, but the admiration for the company grows every year.

The company often draws criticisms such as lack of innovation, predatory practices and pricey products. While some of their practices such as expensive accessories or making features obsolete after only 2-3 years are good points (I am on my 3rd Mac charger that costs $85 more or less each), I wouldn’t do it any differently if I were in Apple’s management team. The same goes for high prices. If my company had such a degree of inelasticity (demand isn’t much affected despite higher prices), I’d do the same. Plus, Samsung increased the price of its flagship phone to $1,000 too but it hasn’t sold as well as its Apple counterpart. Granted, Apple is rarely the first to introduce stuff. They prioritize in doing it right and I like that approach. What’s the point of introducing new stuff if it doesn’t work well? Ask Samsung 7.

Instead, innovation from Apple is the ability to deliver more performance and add more features to a small device year after year. Imagine the yearly tasks of coming up with the design of the hardware, getting it right so that customers are so happy, deciding on what features to add, manufacturing the chips, rewriting the software, integrating the hardware and software, planning the distribution, strategizing the line-up to avoid cannibalization…It sounds exceedingly complex and difficult to me. The result? They are the first American company to reach a trillion dollar market cap. Their average selling price for phones increased after the introduction of iPhone X. Revenue and profit keep rising. And customers are happy. I have a mid-2012 Mac and an iPhone 5S. They are still working well and I don’t imagine I’ll come back to Windows or Android any time soon.

This morning, Apple did it again with a plethora of updates to their Watch and iPhone. A lot of new features and performance are added to small devices. Some enhanced products come at more or less the same price as last year’s new-then arrivals. I was impressed by the Apple Watch. It is now FDA-approved and can detect irregular heartbeats, ECG as well as falls. At this rate, I’d not be surprised in a 3-4 year time that their Watches will be instrumental to people’s health tracking and safety.

I think Apple is a brilliant example of focus, product-centric design, strategy and execution.