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The iPhone and Apple’s Services Strategy – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Apple Event Invitation:

Editor’s Word: Stratechery was referenced in yesterday’s keynote. I had no information of or consciousness of this reference, and haven’t any relationship with Apple, up-to-and-including not proudly owning their inventory individually, as defined in my ethics policy.

It’s the normal course for Apple occasions to return and go and other people to complain about how boring all of it was, notably when the corporate pronounces stated event like this:

Apple reporter extraordinaire Mark Gurman was not impressed:

Nothing shown at this time really qualifies as meeting excessive “innovation only” expectations: Apple delivered the smallest Watch replace ever, an iPad with a slightly greater display and nothing more, and iPhones with cameras equal to or less than many other units. Apple needs an enormous 2020.

— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) September 11, 2019

Gurman isn’t necessarily incorrect concerning the highly iterative nature of the hardware announcements (although I feel that an always-on Apple Watch is an enormous deal), however that doesn’t necessarily mean he is proper concerning the innovation query. To determine that out we have to first outline what precisely innovation is.

Beyond the iPhone, Revisited

Another Apple keynote that was greeted with an analogous collective yawn was in 2016, when the corporate introduced the iPhone 7 and Collection 2 Apple Watch. Farhad Manjoo wrote on the time within the New York Occasions:

Apple has squandered its once-commanding lead in hardware and software design. Though the brand new iPhones embrace a number of new options, together with water resistance and upgraded cameras, they appear just about the identical as the previous ones. The brand new Apple Watch does too. And as rivals have borrowed and even begun to surpass Apple’s greatest designs, what was iconic concerning the firm’s telephones, computer systems, tablets and different products has come to look generic…

I quoted Manjoo’s piece on the time and went on to elucidate why I assumed that yr’s keynote was more meaningful than it appeared, notably because of the AirPods introduction:

What’s most intriguing, though, is that “really wi-fi future” Ive talked about. What occurs if we presume that the identical kind of development that led from Touch ID to Apple Pay will apply to the AirPods? Keep in mind, one of the units that pairs with AirPods is the Apple Watch, which acquired its own update, together with GPS. The GPS addition was a part of a heavy concentrate on health-and-fitness, however it’s also another step down the street in the direction of a Watch that has its personal cellular connection, and when that future arrives the iPhone will fairly all of the sudden shift from indispensable to non-compulsory. Simply strap on your Watch, put in your AirPods, and, because of Siri, you’ve gotten every thing you need.

That future is right here, although the sides are nonetheless rough (notably Siri, which was a serious focus of that article); Apple’s monetary outcomes have definitely benefited. During the last three years the corporate’s “Wearables, House and Accessories” class, which is dominated by the Apple Watch and AirPods, has almost doubled from $11.eight billion on a trailing twelve-month (TTM) basis to $22.2 billion during the last twelve months. In different phrases, in response to the metric that each one businesses are finally measured on, that 2016 keynote and the longer term it pointed to was very revolutionary indeed.

Apple’s Providers Narrative

Wearables haven’t been Apple’s only progress space: over the same three-year span Providers income has elevated by virtually the exact same fee — 89% versus 88% — from $23.1 billion TTM to $43.8 billion TTM. At the similar time, it feels a bit icky to call that innovation, notably given the anticompetitive nature of the App Retailer.

That’s not completely truthful in fact: the App Store was one of the revolutionary issues that Apple ever created from a product perspective; that the corporate has positioned itself to revenue from that innovation indefinitely is revolutionary in its personal right, a minimum of in the event you go back to measuring by way of revenue and income.

Still, the thought of Apple being a Providers firm is one that has long been arduous to grok. When the company first started pushing the “Providers Narrative” I declared that Apple just isn’t a Providers Company:

Providers (horizontal) and hardware (vertical) corporations have very totally different strategic priorities: the former ought to maximize their addressable market (by, say, making a cheaper iPhone), whereas the latter ought to maximize their differentiation. And, Prepare dinner’s reply made clear what Apple’s focus stays.

That answer was about continuing Apple’s pricing strategy, which at that time was $649+ for brand spanking new iPhones, with previous iPhones discounted by $100 for every year they have been available on the market, and Prepare dinner’s particular words have been “I don’t see us deviating from that strategy.”

Actually, Apple did deviate, but in the other way: in 2017 the corporate launched the $999+ iPhone X on the high end and bumped the worth of the now mid-tier iPhone 8 to $699+. I wrote on the time:

The iPhone X sells to two of the markets I identified above:

  • Clients who need the absolute best telephone
  • Clients who need the status of owning the highest-status telephone available on the market

Notice that both of those markets are comparatively price-insensitive; to that end, $999 (or, extra realistically, $1149 for the 256 GB model), isn’t really an obstacle. For the latter market, it’s arguably a constructive.

What this technique was absolutely not about was increasing the addressable marketplace for Providers. Apple was undoubtedly not a Providers firm when it came to their strategic course (even if, as I conceded in 2017, it was more and more truthful to guage the financial leads to that method).

The iPhone’s Worth Minimize

This leads to what’s in my thoughts the most important news from yesterday’s occasion: Apple reduce prices.

It was straightforward to overlook, provided that the iPhone 11 Professional, the successor to the iPhone X and then XS, hasn’t modified in worth: it still starts at $999 ($1,zero99 for the bigger mannequin), and tops out at $1,449; if you need the most effective you will pay for it.

Maybe probably the most fascinating apart within the keynote, though, is that for the primary time a majority of Apple’s clients weren’t prepared to pay for the perfect. Tim Prepare dinner stated:

Last yr we launched three unimaginable iPhones. The iPhone XR turned the preferred iPhone and the preferred smartphone on the planet. We additionally launched the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, probably the most advanced iPhones we’ve got ever created.

In a vacuum there’s nothing shocking about this. The iPhone XR was a particularly capable telephone, with the identical industrial design, the same Face ID, and the same processor as the iPhone XS; the first differences have been an in-between measurement, one much less digital camera, and an LCD display as an alternative of OLED. That doesn’t appear to be a lot of a sacrifice for a savings of $250.

And but, even while I stated Apple’s technique “bordered on over-confidence”, I nonetheless absolutely anticipated the iPhone XS to be the best-selling telephone just like the iPhone X before it; that’s how committed Apple’s clients have been to buying the flagship iPhone. Even Apple, though, can’t escape the gravitational pull of “ok” — which is why the worth cuts, which happened additional down the road — have been so essential.

There are two ways to see Apple’s worth cuts. First, by iPhone model:

Launch 1 yr previous 2 years previous
iPhone 7 $649 $549 $449
iPhone eight $699 $599 $449
iPhone XR $749 $599
iPhone 11 $699

Secondly by yr:

Flagship Mid-tier 1 yr previous 2 years previous
2016 $649 $549 $449
2017 $999 $699 $549 $449
2018 $999 $749 $599 $449
2019 $999 $699 $599 $449

Within the second chart you’ll be able to see how Apple in 2017 not solely raised costs dramatically on its flagship fashions, but in addition on the mid-tier model relative to earlier flagships. This was essential as a result of it was these mid-tier fashions that changed earlier flagships in Apple’s typical “sell the previous flagship for $100 much less per yr” strategy. That meant that 2017’s worth hike filtered by way of to 2018’s 1-year-old mannequin, which elevated from $549 to $599.

That signifies that this yr truly noticed three worth cuts:

  • First, the iPhone 11 — this yr’s mid-tier model — prices $50 lower than the iPhone XR it is changing.
  • Second, the iPhone XR’s worth is being minimize by $150 a yr after launch, not $100 as Apple has previously finished.
  • Third, the iPhone 8’s worth can also be being minimize by $150 two years after launch, not $100 as Apple has beforehand accomplished.

To be truthful, this doesn’t necessarily mean the line appears much totally different right now than it did yesterday: the one worth point that’s totally different is the iPhone 11 relative to the XR. That, although, is because it’s going to take time for these previous worth hikes to work their approach out of the system, presuming Apple needs to remain on this path in the future.

They need to. The success of the iPhone XR strongly suggests that there is extra elasticity within the iPhone market than ever before. Apple also minimize costs in China earlier this yr with nice success; I wrote after Apple’s FY2019 Q2 earnings:

The out there evidence strongly means that iPhone demand in China could be very elastic: if the iPhone is cheaper, Apple sells more; if it is costlier, Apple sells less. That is, in fact, unsurprising, at the very least for a commodity, and right there’s Apple’s problem in China: the iPhone is just less differentiated in China than it is elsewhere, leaving it more delicate to elements like new designs and worth than it’s elsewhere.

As I notice in that excerpt, China is unique, however the commodity argument is a variant of the “good-enough” argument I made above: while Apple doesn’t necessarily need to fret about iPhone clients outdoors of China switching to Android, they’re very much competing with the iPhones individuals already have, and, as the XR demonstrated, their very own new, cheaper phones.

That’s okay, though, and the final step in Apple really turning into a Providers firm, not just in its financial outcomes but in addition in its strategic considering. Extra telephones bought, regardless of their worth point, means more Providers income in the long run (and Wearables income too).

Apple’s Providers Announcement

Apple’s two service-related bulletins are additionally good reasons to pursue this technique. Perhaps probably the most compelling from a monetary perspective is Apple Arcade. For $four.99/month a household will get entry to a set of games featured on their own tab within the App Store:

What makes this compelling from Apple’s perspective is that the corporate is paying a hard and fast amount for these games general, which signifies that once the company covers the prices of those video games, every incremental subscription is pure revenue. Contrast this to one thing like Apple Music, where costs scale inline with income; no marvel the service is getting such prime real estate — and no marvel Apple all of the sudden appears concerned with selling more iPhones, even if they earn much less income up-front.

Comparable dynamics apply to Apple TV+: once content material costs are coated, incremental clients are pure profit. That noted, I’m not convinced that Apple TV+’s final function is to be a profit driver by itself; I defined after Apple’s providers event earlier this yr:

To be very clear about my analysis of Apple TV+, I don’t assume it’s a Netflix competitor. I see it as a customer acquisition value for the Apple TV app; it’s Apple TV Channels that may make the actual money, and this is not an unreasonable expectation. Roku’s whole business is based on the same mannequin; the hardware is principally bought at value, whereas the “platform” final yr had $417 million in income and $296 million in profit, which equates to a tidy 71% gross margin.

Apple TV Channels is a way to purchase subscriptions to other streaming providers, which makes a lot of money for Roku and Amazon particularly; Apple TV+ content material is a cause to make Apple TV the default interface for video leading to more subscriptions by way of Apple TV Channels. This view additionally explains why Apple goes to bundle a yr of Apple TV+ with all new Apple gadget purchases (which can also be very much according to the thought of Apple giving up short-term revenue on its merchandise — or incurring contra-revenue on this case — for long-term subscription income).

iPhone as a Service

It does really feel like there’s another shoe but to drop with regards to Apple’s strategic shift. The fact that Apple is bundling a for-pay service (Apple TV+) with a product purchase is fascinating, however what if Apple started included products with paid subscriptions?

That could be nearer than it appears. It seemed strange yesterday’s keynote included an Apple Retail replace at the very end of the keynote, however I feel this slide explained why:

iPhone monthly pricing

Not only are you able to get a brand new iPhone for less for those who trade in your previous one, you can even pay for it on a monthly foundation (this applies to phones with no trade-in as nicely). So, in the case of this slide, you will get an iPhone 11 and Apple TV+ for $17/month.

Apple also adjusted their AppleCare+ terms yesterday: now you’ll be able to subscribe month-to-month and AppleCare+ will keep on until you cancel, just as different Apple providers like Apple Music or Apple Arcade do. The corporate already has the iPhone Improve Program, that bundles a yearly iPhone and AppleCare+, but this shift for AppleCare+ purchased by itself is another step in the direction of assuming that Apple’s relationship with its clients will probably be a subscription-based one.

To that finish, how long till there’s a variant of the iPhone Improve Program that’s merely an all-up Apple subscription? Pay one month-to-month payment, and get the whole lot Apple has to supply. Indeed, nothing would show that Apple is a Providers firm greater than making the iPhone itself a service, a minimum of as far as the client relationship goes. You may even say it’s revolutionary.