BayStreet Research financial analysts say that Sprint has sold just 5,000 Essential smartphones since its launch earlier this month, as reported here by FierceWireless. My guess is that the figure is based on channel checks, in which analysts call around random stores and ask how many units they’ve sold, and then add those up to create an estimate. Given the number is so low, I’m guessing the analysts found an average of just one sale per store. None of this should surprise anyone – I’ve been skeptical about Essential right from the start, and though I’d guess it’s sold quite a few more devices through its own online store than Sprint has, the numbers are likely still very small. Given the massive financial backing Essential has received, it’s got plenty of runway to go to figure all this out, possibly including a broader carrier distribution once its exclusivity arrangement with Sprint is over. But it’s increasingly clear that even a well-reviewed phone from a name with a history in the industry can’t break through the oligopoly that is the US smartphone market.
Twitter Sells Enough Ads to Launch All Planned Live TV Shows (Sep 25, 2017)
It certainly wasn’t clear at the time Twitter made its big blitz of announcements around its live TV plans that some of the shows weren’t guaranteed to air if they didn’t get sufficient ad backing, but now that they have that backing, Twitter is apparently trumpeting that fact. Since many of the shows Twitter is hosting are existing properties which will come with ads from the original sources, Twitter likely didn’t have to sell that many ad slots itself in many cases. There certainly are some unique-to-Twitter shows, so it’s impressive that it’s sold enough ads on those too, but in many cases I’m guessing that spend is experimental – no-one really knows what kind of audiences most of these shows will attract, and the level of spending involved is likely small enough to fit into niche budgets (as Snapchat long did). The big question is whether, following the first few months of this experiment, those advertisers want to re-up and commit to additional shows and seasons. That will depend largely on a combination of viewership and engagement with the ads viewers see. We don’t have many figures for individual Twitter shows to go by, but we do know that just 55 million or 17% of monthly active users spent any time watching any live video on Twitter in Q2 of this year, so Twitter and its advertisers are clearly hoping that that translates into more committed audiences for specific shows in order to justify continued investment.
This Financial Times piece seems like as good a hook as any to round up the week’s Apple news and to talk about perceptions of weak demand for the iPhone 8. The FT points out that Apple’s stock has had its worst week in 17 months, falling over 5%, as a result of some mixed reviews of its new products and perceived weak demand for new iPhones. As I said earlier in the week, the Apple Watch LTE reviews were particularly problematic, but I think much of the rest of the worry this week is overblown. It has been clear that overall demand for the iPhone 8 during the preorder period and in today’s first day on sale has been a little weak, but it’s also been clear that Apple has still sold out its first week or two of preorder inventory and that there were still lines in major stores despite the years-long decline in retail sales on the first day given the success of online pre-sales. From a financial perspective, all that really matters is that Apple sells a few more iPhones in the first ten days or so than it did last year, and that it has a strong December quarter, which will combine ongoing sales of the iPhone 8 line and the iPhone X line from about a month into the quarter onwards. It certainly seems to be the case that iPhone X interest has dampened early iPhone 8 sales somewhat, but as long as Apple has the X in decent supply in November and December, that needn’t be a problem, and it’s certainly not the case that the iPhone 8 isn’t selling at all. As such, I think Apple will be fine even if overall demand for the 8 line isn’t as strong as for the 7 line last year, but the big wrinkle will be supply of iPhone X models. If those are very constrained throughout the December quarter, that will be a bit more problematic.
via Financial Times
iPhone Pre-Order Wait Times Remain Short After First Weekend (Sep 18, 2017)
Like others, I was up at the local equivalent of midnight on Friday to place preorders for a couple of Apple devices as they went live, and it’s now been four days since that window opened. What was apparent as early as Friday was that most of the devices were still in pretty decent supply for delivery on day 1 – September 22 – or shortly thereafter, and on the following Monday pretty much every device I’ve checked in the US is available within “1-2 weeks” on Apple’s site. There are two ways to interpret this pretty decent supply four days in: either fewer people than usual are ordering devices, or Apple has got better at making enough to fulfill early demand. Given Apple’s guidance for the September quarter, it’s been clear for some time that it certainly believed it would sell plenty of devices in the first week and a half or so, and likely more than last year. With the prices for the iPhone 8 line being slightly higher than last year’s iPhone 7, the amount by which sales need to grow is smaller, but they likely do still need to grow year on year, which means at least part of the explanation for the shorter wait times is more devices being available for shipping in time for the launch.
But I also think it’s almost certainly the case that at least some who might otherwise have ordered an iPhone 8 are waiting for the iPhone X, depressing early demand somewhat. That will all come out in the wash during the December quarter, with the X available for nearly two months, but it does mean we could see some interesting things happen in the September quarter. Despite those higher overall prices, if a disproportionate number of those who might otherwise have ordered an 8 Plus opt instead for an X, then ASPs in the first week and a half or so might actually be down on last year, requiring rather stronger unit sales. There are so many moving parts here, but I come back to Apple’s guidance, which at the very least suggests that it was very confident of having more devices available to sell. The earnings call this coming quarter is going to be a fascinating one when it comes to this topic.
via Business Insider
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.