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.