In our previous Blog entries, on the smartphone and tablet market, we referred to the market as a game, G. In G a new phenomenon has occurred, created by a convergence of technology coupled with rational consumers asking: is the iPhone5 = a mini iPad or is the new iPad mini = iPhone6? This line of questioning, we believe, translates the Apple products into a scalar (spin-0) with no strategic direction. A scalar product, if you recall from physics, only needs a numerical value, and is not attached to a direction. Where is Apple going? Earlier this year, IDC Research reported that Apple’s share of the global market for tablets fell sharply in 2012 from 65% to 50%.
Strategists therefore need to ask the entropy question: do gains necessarily accrue to Samsung, Amazon and Asus or are rational consumers simply waiting or delaying buying Apple devices? To find an answer, we posit that Apple products and non-Apple products may share common features and functionalities but they do not overlap, thus creating lines of adjacent vertices in an evolving market share game. Furthermore, Apple may have the greatest App store in the game but as it continues to rotate through iPod, iPhone and iPad to iNext, spherical competitors from anywhere at any time to will enter the game and win. Rational consumers delaying a purchase and the convergence in rival technologies facilitate competition, and by Q4 2011 Google powered devices began to close in on Apple’s dominance. More recently, Microsoft’s Surface, the Google-Samsung Nexus 10 running on the latest Jelly Bean software, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and the Asus-Google Nexus 7 have emerged as formidable competitors in the game.
What if the XBox music internet service has the potential to impact on iTunes? Investors are not clueless about the technology convergence nor are they aloof to the need for an optimal strategic response from Apple. With a cash balance that is equivalent to a quarter of its CAPM, investors will want more investment. They may ask: why not acquire a telco? The iPhone5 can indeed promise 4G technology, albeit not everyone, who has an iPhone 5, nor anyone anywhere in the world, who is thinking about buying an iPhone 5, will be able to avail of 4G. There is no point really in offering rational consumers a new fountain pen without the ink! As rival competitors continue to enter the game G, the family of competitors grows and new features and functionalities create entropy and adjacent vertices that will limit Apple’s progress unless they join the family. For example, today in November 2012, Apple is not a key player in social media, digital mobile advertising, OLED Smart-TV, nor is it dominant in cloud computing, NFC and mobile e-wallet payments. They could be in time, many investors hope that they will – sometimes this is not how it works.
Apple can fail: who remembers the Newton in the 1990s? Or the more recent befuddled roll-out its mapping service? The more we observe G the more convinced we are than it mirrors a game of chess. But is it a game of French defence where it will be challenging for Apple (White) to hold on to the centre as opponent’s attack its Queen (iOS) quickly and swiftly, faster than any counterattack from Apple. Maybe Apple should stop defending its pawn line of iPod-iPhone-iPad? Acquire a telco. In chess language, Black is out to attack the pawn line. What is Apple’s optimal sequence of moves? Is the ecosystem a sub-game of Alekhine defence by Google (Black) or Android alliance (Black), allowing its King’s Knight (Android) to be positioned across the board so as to weaken White’s centre pawns? We will take up these issues in next Blog entry – our continued recommendation for Apple is to play not to lose rather than play to win.