Sony Announces 1 million Playstation VR Sales (Jun 7, 2017)
Google’s Education Strategy Profiled in New York Times (May 15, 2017)
Nintendo Sells 2.74m Switch Units in First Month (Apr 27, 2017)
In case there was any doubt, Nintendo has a hit on its hands with the Switch, its hybrid console/portable gaming system. It sold 2.74m units in the first month after launch, which is apparently roughly the same number that the earlier Wii U sold in its first year, and 20% of total sales to date of the Wii U. That’s not hugely surprising – reviews were mostly decent, the device has been out of stock off and on since it debuted, and the company had already upped its production. That was enough to generate almost exactly a billion dollars in revenue, or a little over 20% of the company’s entire revenue for the fiscal year which ended last month. The company’s forecast for the new financial year, which ends next March, is 10 million unit sales. Remarkably, Nintendo has sold ever so slightly more copies of the Zelda game that’s the standout title for the device at launch than of the console itself, which might just be a reflection of those supply constraints. In total, Nintendo appears to have sold around twice as many software units as hardware units in the Switch category, suggesting that people have bought an average of two games from Nintendo for every console. Together with Nintendo’s belated push into mobile gaming, it’s doing pretty well at the moment, though that mobile push is still generating much less revenue – the category which includes smartphone gaming only generated around $200 million in revenue for the year.
Nintendo to Double Production of Switch Console – WSJ (Mar 17, 2017)
Another sign that the Switch is a hit, despite some fairly mixed initial reviews: Nintendo is reportedly doubling its production run for the console from eight to sixteen million, which would put it on pace to match the initial sales of the Wii, and well ahead of Wii U sales. It should also help prompt more game makers to produce titles for the console, which is a good thing since lack of games was one of the big criticisms at launch. That will, of course, take time, so it’s not an instant fix by any means, but it looks like Nintendo finally has another hardware hit on its hands after a tough few years. Alongside a long-awaited push into mobile gaming, that could mean a good period of growth for Nintendo is coming, assuming they learn the lessons from their Super Mario Run launch.
I always figured Snap would put Spectacles on sale online eventually – its bot-based model was great for creating intrigue and interest early on, but clearly wasn’t great for making the glasses available to everyone who wanted them. Now that the initial excitement has long since worn off, selling whatever remaining inventory online makes sense, though I’d argue they should have started this new phase much earlier, towards the end of last year. The initial hype didn’t seem to last that long, and the New York City store had long since stopped having a regular stream of customers.
Facebook closing 200 Oculus VR Best Buy pop-ups due to poor store performance – Business Insider (Feb 8, 2017)
One of the biggest challenges VR faces at this point is suggestions that it’s somehow failing to take off despite a big push into the mainstream, and that’s a narrative Business Insider has pushed before. This is where narratives are dangerous – the fact here is that VR is that VR is still in its infancy as a mainstream technology – other than the mobile flavors, it’s expensive, requires other expensive hardware, and there’s not a ton of content there beyond gaming. But if the narrative instead becomes that it’s fizzling as it attempts to break into the mainstream, that is a lot more damaging than merely talking about a technology that has small but growing adoption. VR can, however, already be fairly compelling as a demo, which is why it’s a blow that Facebook is closing these Oculus demo stations, because VR is really impossible to grok without trying it in person. But those trying to sell VR have to be very careful not to oversell it to mainstream users – it still has quite a long way to go before it crosses the chasm, and making it seem bigger than it is feeds this dangerous narrative.
via Business Insider
Apple exec for business sales departs – Reuters (Feb 7, 2017)
John Solomon certainly isn’t a high profile figure outside of Apple, but he’s been managing an important aspect of Apple’s overall business: enterprise sales, which make up around 10% of total revenues. His appointment was met with some raised eyebrows among the Apple faithful – a printer salesman as Apple employee? – but the key here isn’t product expertise but knowing how to navigate the enterprise procurement world, which Solomon no doubt understood well. The point is, there are lots of people that understand that world, so he shouldn’t be too hard to replace, and Apple could probably use some fresh help here in supporting their recent partnerships with IBM, Cisco, Deloitte and others with a really solid sales approach.
Apple Tops Samsung in the Fourth Quarter to Close Out a Roller Coaster Year for the Smartphone Market, According to IDC (Feb 2, 2017)
Pick your poison here – most of the big names have put out similar releases this week crowning Apple the victor in the December quarter for smartphone sales, narrowly pipping Samsung. This is an entirely symbolic victory, but it’s the kind of thing that often causes the more negatives around Apple to die down temporarily (which isn’t to say there haven’t still been various articles this week warning that Apple’s next phone had better be be a big deal or else). Two other things worth noting here: Apple only ever comes in at number 1 in the December quarter, when it sells massively more iPhones than in any other quarter, and so for the year as a whole Apple will always be behind Samsung. Secondly, the IDC figures and others I’ve seen seem to have used Apple’s official iPhone sell-in figure for its first fiscal quarter – there are issues with using sell-in as opposed to sell through in these contexts, but I see the logic in using an official figure rather than an estimated one. However, there’s a problem with this approach of taking Apple’s number this quarter, because Apple’s quarter actually started in the last week of September this year, giving an extra week of sales very early in the iPhone 7 cycle. Without that extra week of sales, it’s very likely Apple wouldn’t have been ahead of Samsung, but I’ve seen none of these market share numbers acknowledge that fact or adjust Apple’s number downward to account for it.
Cheaper Rivals Eat Away at Apple Sales in China – WSJ (Feb 1, 2017)
This is a story that’s been going for a while now – China’s sales in China have been down, but ironically the quarter just reported was the first in quite a while in which its revenues in China itself were actually flat, per Tim Cook’s remarks on the earnings call yesterday. In other words, in China (as opposed to the Greater China region) Apple grew in constant currency by 6% year on year, its best performance in a year. However, as with other smartphone markets around the world, as the Chinese market continues to grow, more new users will choose cheaper Android phones than iPhones as their first phones, and those who prioritize price will always choose something other than an iPhone. The reason Tim Cook always emphasizes switchers and new users is that this is where future growth will come from, even as Apple’s market share falls – new users become upgraders in the next cycle, and as the market saturates, Apple’s share tends to rise. It’s too early to know yet whether that will happen in China, but that’s what Cook is banking on, not steadily increasing market share in a market that’s far from maturity.
For Apple’s iPhone Sales, Size Matters – WSJ (Jan 28, 2017)
This article is a good counterpoint to another I commented on recently, which suggested a shift to older devices and therefore lower average selling prices for the iPhone last quarter. As I said with regard to that piece, I’m seeing little evidence of the trend mentioned, and in fact I’d expect a shift to larger devices to push ASPs up, if anything, This WSJ piece quotes some data to that effect, and has some good numbers around the mix between the base and Plus models and how it’s shifted over time. Apple clearly does sell older devices too, so this mix shift among the 7 variants isn’t the only factor, but I still think ASPs should be pretty healthy when Apple reports its results for last quarter.
This piece suggests falling ASPs due to iPhone buyers plumping for older models like the 6S rather than the new iPhone 7 models, but only quotes one analyst at Barclays to back up the claim. We’ll know soon enough what the ASP numbers for the December quarter look like, but they did fall this past year relative to the year earlier, in part because of the iPhone SE launch. It’s certainly also true that people are hanging onto phones longer, because they’re more capable, and that new installment plans from US carriers make the price of phones more transparent than the old subsidy model, and reduce the monthly cost once a phone is paid off. For all these reasons, I’m definitely seeing longer upgrade cycles for smartphones, but I see very little evidence that people are buying older phones new – in fact, all my conversations with carriers suggest the opposite – moving from an upfront cost to a monthly cost is driving people to higher-priced phones. In addition, the mix between the 7 and 7 Plus looks to have moved in favor of the larger device relative to earlier models, and that and interest in the jet black finish will also drive up ASPs. Color me skeptical at this point.
Can Huawei Catch Apple and Samsung? – Fortune (Jan 25, 2017)
This piece somewhat acts as if Huawei came out of nowhere into the number 3 spot behind Samsung and Apple in the global smartphone market, and while it’s risen rapidly to the top in individual markets, its global rise has been happening for much longer. It’s been the number three for the last six quarters (likely seven once Q4 2016 is reported on), and has been in the top ten since at least 2011. It may well have crept up on US observers, many of whom don’t tend to focus on emerging markets as much as the US and Western Europe, but this story has been underway for quite some time. Huawei is the big global success story among the ranks of Chinese smartphone vendors, most of whom have done well in China and some emerging markets but less well elsewhere. But Huawei still hasn’t cracked the US, where the carriers I’ve spoken to seem to be reluctant to put a relatively unknown Chinese brand on shelves next to premium products from Apple and Samsung. I don’t think Huawei needs to succeed in the US to be successful, and perhaps not even to catch Apple in raw market share terms, but it’s obviously never going to match Apple in terms of profits.
Counterpoint Research has good data on the global smartphone market, and especially in emerging markets like India, so the numbers here are broadly reliable. India is a fascinating market – Apple and others have often compared it to China, but though the size is similar the demographics and wealth are very different, even if you compare India today to China a few years back. I’m not yet convinced that India is going to look like China does today anytime soon from a smartphone perspective, and that makes life very tough for a brand like Apple, which was tenth in the overall market share rankings. It did capture 62% of the premium market in Q4, but the premium segment is only a tiny fraction of the overall Indian market, which continues to be dominated by cheaper handsets, increasingly coming from Chinese vendors. You might be interested in this piece I wrote a few months ago about Apple’s prospects in India.
What happened to virtual reality? – Business Insider (Jan 21, 2017)
This piece argues that VR is currently underperforming expectations, and hasn’t panned out the way many of its proponents hoped. In reality (no pun intended), I think most of the companies have been pretty realistic about the prospects for the current generation of VR technology – Facebook in particular has said it doesn’t expect Oculus sales to be material to its overall financial picture, for example. So this is as much about inflated expectations around VR that came from others – observers, proponents, fans – than from the companies themselves. But in some ways that doesn’t matter – the narrative was that VR was finally here and going mainstream, and now it’s becoming that VR is falling short of expectations. The first was misguided, and now the second flows from those misguided expectations rather than from actual performance in the market. VR is still at a very early stage, and though Samsung has sold 5 million mobile VR headsets, it’s mostly still a niche proposition today, limited largely to the hardcore gaming market. It’ll take both technological advances and much more compelling content to appeal to non-gamers.
This piece is an interesting counterpart to a couple of others I’ve recently linked to – another quoting Wave7 estimates for Pixel sales, and this WSJ analysis from earlier today on how hard Alphabet has been pushing sales of its hardware on Google search, given what this piece says about heavy TV advertising by both Google and Verizon around the Pixel. It’s also worth reading this Verge piece, which takes a much harsher stance on what these sales numbers and the supply shortages mean, though it focuses almost exclusively on the 128GB model. The point is, Pixels are in short supply, and there’s an estimate in this Bloomberg piece of around half a million sales, so this is a very different supply shortage from Apple struggling to meet demand for over 70 million phones per quarter – in other words, this isn’t about hitting up against theoretical maximum capacity for building phones, but about very conservative planning on Google’s part. Half a million isn’t bad, but it’s fairly clear sales could have been a lot higher with better supply. Presumably Google will learn from this experience as it looks to update the Pixel, possibly later this year.
I’ve spoken to Jeff Moore, the head of Wave7 Research, multiple times, and he’s very good at what he does, so I trust these numbers in general terms. As usual with supply shortages, there’s the question of whether the crunch is coming on the demand or supply side – in this case, it seems likely that Google was simply very cautious in its planning here and has an unexpected hit on its hands with demand it now can’t quickly fulfill. I like Google’s new hardware – both the Pixel and Home are good devices that do their jobs well, and the Daydream is also a much more user friendly version of the mobile VR concept than the Samsung Gear VR, so I expect these products to do well, though the Pixel in particular will be hamstrung by not just these supply shortages but its lack of carrier distribution beyond Verizon. Look for signs of strong sales in Alphabet’s earnings soon too.
Slice is one of those data sources you can’t completely trust – because the data is about online purchases only, it’s partial, and it’s also only ever directional. But this data suggests decent growth year over year for the Watch, which is in line with Tim Cook’s fairly vague but positive remarks on sales recently. The Watch should have sold well over the holidays – the second generation launched shortly before with some new hardware features (and better software), the base price is now cheaper, and there were deals on several models over the holiday shopping period. We won’t, of course, get hard numbers from Apple, but there should be enough in the reported results of the Other Products category to check if this is true come the end of the month.