Apple CEO Tim Cook Is Blowing Smoke When He Dismisses Rival 7-Inch Tablets

Apple Introduces iPad Mini... and some new com...

Apple’s iPad mini

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

As a company that way more often than not comes out with superior products, Apple rarely appears defensive. Today was an exception.

On Apple’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Tim Cook took repeated potshots at small tablets of the kind that–yes–Apple itself just debuted. The iPad mini is clearly aimed at blunting the appeal of seven-inch tablets such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire.

While I think Cook is probably right that the iPad will continue to dominate tablets, and even that it continues to make the best ones, his overenthusiastic criticism of seven-inch tablets struck me as surprisingly defensive. Saying Apple didn’t set out to build a “small, cheap tablet,” he called the competitors “compromised” products. “We would never make a seven-inch tablet,” he sniffed.

Why not? Because they’re too small, he said. The iPad mini is almost an inch larger, which means a 30% larger screen and 50% larger viewing area. I’ll grant that that is noticeable, and appealing.

But c’mon. These are all tablets you can hold in one hand, and acting as if the iPad mini is something utterly unique–”in a whole different league,” as he put it–comes off more than a bit desperate. Apple is clearly playing catch-up here, and trying to position the iPad mini as nothing like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire only serves to make us realize that Apple actually does feel threatened by these devices that beat it to what has turned out to be a real market. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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Why Didn’t Apple Sell More iPads In Q4?

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

In a fiscal fourth quarter that slightly missed profit expectations, Apple reported one figure that looks especially worrisome: It sold only 14 million iPads.

You’re thinking, of course, are you crazy? Fourteen million, up 26% from a year ago ($7.5 billion worth of them), is a problem? Yes–because it’s at least 1 million below expectations already reduced by analysts who figured that if 100 million iPads were sold so far, as Apple announced at the iPad mini event, their 17.5 million fourth-quarter estimate was too high.

Update: After rising a fraction of 1% in initial after-hours trading, Apple’s shares moved up and down before flattening after the analyst call started. Shares had fallen 1% today, to $609.54.

There are a number of possible reasons iPad sales fell even shorter than expected. Here are some, pending comments on the analyst call currently underway, during which I’ll be updating this post–and there are a lot of questions on iPads:

* Cannibalization: This is the concern raised by some analysts: People who couldn’t quite justify $400 and up for a regular iPad were waiting for the iPad mini, which starts at $329. No one really knows how many people did this, but it seems likely some did. Update: Apple CEO Tim Cook essentially confirmed not cannibalization but delayed purchases thanks to iPad mini rumors.

* Shortages: When the iPad mini came out with a minimum price of $329, analysts wondered why it wasn’t closer to the other seven-inch tablets from Google and Amazon.com, whose base prices range from $159 to $199. It turns out that some components for the device are in short supply, so it didn’t make sense to price them lower and create demand Apple couldn’t fulfill. But perhaps the shortages affected current iPads as well?

* Consumer saturation: Well, I doubt it, since lower price points, the undeniable appeal of tablets to consumers, and the fact that  a lot of people still don’t have them all mean the iPad probably isn’t limited by demand. But it’s something to think about, given that 100 million have been sold already, very quickly.

And the most interesting possibility:

* Competition: Could Google’s Nexus 7, Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire, and other, full-size Android and Windows tablets finally hitting iPad sales? The market research numbers show millions of those devices have sold, so it’s a distinct possibility, especially ahead of the lower-cost iPad mini.

They’re still far below iPad sales. But it doesn’t take an Apple Genius to see that the arrival of at least decent rival tablets could be presenting real competition for the first time. That’s perhaps the most worrisome possibility if only because it seems the most likely–if not in the last quarter, at least in future quarters.

Here’s more from the analyst call: Apple is saying that it exceeded its own expectations for iPad sales. So assuming it’s not blowing smoke, maybe analysts just got ahead of themselves. Also, Apple says it had 3.4 million iPads in channel inventory in the quarter, or its target four weeks of inventory, so that’s potentially a factor in sales numbers. …

Read the complete post, with more from Tim Cook on the analyst call, at The New Persuaders.

Apple Leaves Gaping Price Hole Between iPad Mini And Rival Tablets

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Let’s just get it over with at the outset and concede that Apple’s just-introduced iPad mini will be a holiday hit, selling millions of units to people who know they can’t go wrong giving a gift of a new Apple product.

And at a starting price of $329, that gift-giving isn’t a budget buster for many people. Let’s face it: Apple has yet another great-selling product on its hands, this time in the palm of ours.

And yet, I wonder if Apple just punted a chance to grind its rivals in smaller tablets, chiefly Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire, into the dust. The Nexus 7 starts at $199, the Kindle Fire even lower at $159. But Google also may release a new Nexus 7 model next week at an Android event, potentially dropping the price of the current low-end model to just $99.

OK, so let’s get something else over with. By all early reports so far, the iPad mini is better than either of those two existing devices. It feels better, it looks better, it’s lighter, it’s thinner, it even still has a noticeably larger screen and especially viewing area than the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire. Not least, it has Apple’s App Store, with apps that fit the tablet form factor rather than plastering smartphone apps onto a bigger screen.

So yeah, millions of people will love it.

But millions of other people will be hearing a lot about the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire, too, and Google and Amazon.com have a huge incentive to advertise the heck out of them. Honestly, if you don’t do a side-by-side comparison, which is tough to do, you may pick up a Nexus 7 or a Kindle Fire and say, “Hey, this looks pretty good. Why do I need to spend an extra $130, or even more?”

That’s why it’s surprising that Apple, whose CEO Tim Cook has talked about not leaving a significant price umbrella for Apple products, did just that with the iPad mini.

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

LIVE: Apple Launches iPad Mini Starting At $329

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

We’re about to hear about Apple’s latest must-have product, so far dubbed the iPad Mini.

Whatever it’s called, it’s sure to shake up the already dynamic market for tablets. In particular, the rumored 7.85-inch iPad Mini could, depending on its price, instantly provide potentially crushing competition for Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire tablets.

You can watch the livestream of Apple’s event, which also is rumored to include a new MacBook Pro and a full-sized tablet updated with the latest Lightning connector and other features, on Apple’s site, at least on Safari-equipped PCs and iPhones and iPads. There are plenty of other people, including Forbes’ Connie Guglielmo, tracking every word and movement of Apple execs, so what follows here will be strictly the highlights from the livestream.

Just before the 10 a.m. Pacific start, panning cameras are following the crowd of journalists filing in to the California Theater in San Jose. … And we’re underway as CEO Tim Cook takes the stage, first to provide updates on the iPhone 5.

* There are now 200 million iOS devices out there.

* 300 billion iMessages have been sent, 28,000 per second.

* There are now 700,000 iOS apps, including 275,000 iPad apps.

* 35 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store.

$ 6.5 billion has been paid out to Apple developers.

* Apple announces a new version of iBooks that features continuous scrolling and is better integrated with iCloud. You can also tap on a passage or quote and share it with friends on Facebook or Twitter.

Now on to the Mac. He says it has been outgrowing the PC market by about seven times in the past year, and has outgrown it for the past six years. It’s now the No. 1 desktop and No. 1 notebook in the U.S. “But we are not standing still. And we’ve got some really great stuff to show you  this morning.” Cue Phil Schiller, who notes that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best-selling Mac.

* And so, as expected, he shows the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s three-quarters of an inch thick (or thin), 20% thinner, and weighs only 3.5 pounds, almost a pound lighter than the previous one. And four times the number of pixels in the Retina display–twice as many as a 52-inch HDTV. Flurry of new specs, chip, etc. “PowerNap” updates email, etc. while the computer is asleep.
Oh, the price: $1,699. It starts shipping today. MacBook Air starts at $999, Pro at $1,199, Pro with Retina $1,699.

Next, a new Mac Mini starting at $599. “You knew there would be something named Mini in this presentation, didn’t you?” he coyly asks.

And one more Mac thing: a new IMac. Yup, it’s ridiculously thin–only 5 millimeters, 80% thinner than the last one (though with a bulge in the middle of the back for, well, the computer. Almost looks like a stand for a real computer. “The most beautiful Mac we have ever made,” Schiller coos.

How did Apple make it that thin? “Isn’t it something how something new makes the previous thing instantly look old?” he notes, thus summing up neatly Apple’s business model. No optical drive is one reason it’s thinner. There are 27-inch and 21.5-inch models. They’re also up to 8 pounds lighter than the previous iMacs.

* Another new thing: The Apple Fusion Drive. It has 160 GB of flash storage with a 1-terabyte or 3-TB hard drive, fused into one drive. The point: You can use the flash storage for much faster access and the disk drive storage for stuff like movies you don’t need constantly.

Cook’s back with more news. Apple has sold its 100 millionth iPad, in just two and a half years.

* He also intros the new version of iBooks Author. Feels like a breather for the main event, and indeed, Cook goes back to the iPad.

* And so Schiller comes on to intro the fourth-generation iPad, which has a chip that’s two times faster, for speedier graphics. Also 10-hour battery, better camera, high-speed LTE cellular data connection with “greatly expanded” coverage. It starts at $499 for 16 GB of memory, $629 for the cellular model.

* And finally–the iPad mini! Yes, that’s what it’s called after all.

Why do you need a smaller one? Hold it in one hand–that’s one reason. And really everything else, he says.

* It’s 7.9 inches diagonally, 7.2 mm thick, 25% thinner than the regular iPad. Weighs only 0.68 pounds, 50% lighter. He even compares it to Google’s Nexus 7 (“and Android tablet”), saying that the iPad mini is aluminum and thinner, with a 35% larger display area–50% larger in viewing an actual web page. 

It’s interesting that Apple finds it necessary to compare the iPad mini to a specific rival, even if it’s unnamed. Clearly Apple has viewed it as a threat that it needs to blunt.

* So what’s inside? Apple A5 chip, FaceTime HD camera, 5 megapixel iSight camera, faster WiFi, Lightning connector, 10 hours of battery life.

* Yes, and the price? $329 for the low-end 16 MB WiFi version up to $529 for the 64 GB WiFi version. For the cellular models, $459 to $659.

Methinks that especially if Google comes out with a new $199 Nexus 7 next week and reprices the current low-end to $99–coupled with Amazon’s $159 low-end Kindle Fire–Apple may have left at least a small pricing window for those products. Or, maybe not so small. Will it be enough of a window given Apple’s customary premium (both in price and in product quality)? We’ll find out this holiday season.

Cook wraps up and that is indeed a wrap.

Google CEO Larry Page Speaks! Big Reveal: $8 Billion In Mobile Revenues

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Investors have had a chance to digest Google’s third-quarter earnings longer than they expected, but they still have indigestion over the disappointing results. Can CEO Larry Page (yes, he will speak!) and his executives provide a Maalox moment on their earnings analyst call?

We’ll find out shortly, starting at 1:30 p.m. Pacific. You can watch it here as well. Keep refreshing for updates through about 2:30 p.m.

Update: It looks like Motorola was the chief culprit. Yes, less lucrative mobile ads seem to be a factor, but not one Google seems overly concerned about–it’s at least the third time I’ve heard executives say that mobile eventually could be better than desktop ads. Indeed, I was struck by the mention that one reason for the rise in costs that led to lower profits was sales of the probably near-zero-margin Nexus 7 tablet–which was striking for a single, non-advertising product. For better or worse, Google’s betting big on mobile, from ads to devices, and expects whatever shakes out to be positive. Investors clearly aren’t so sure.

And we’re underway. Page still has a strange froggy voice–seriously, really strange like he inhaled too much helium, so I can understand why he hasn’t spoken much in public. Anyway, he’s keeping his remarks short. You can read the prepared remarks on Google+. We had a strong quarter, he says, and I’m really happy with our business. Revenue was up 45% from a year ago.

Today, we leave in a world of abundance–abundant information and abundant computing. Many of us feel naked without our smartphone. Google is super-well-placed to take advantage of these opportunities. We’re seeing tremendous innovation in mobile advertising. Eventually, he adds, it will work even better than desktop ads.

We took a big bet on Android back in 2005. Most people thought we were nuts. Today, there are over half a billion Android devices, with 1.3 million more being activated every day. He suggests everyone go out and buy a Nexus 7 tablet.

Our run rate a year ago for mobile advertising was $2.5 billion. Along with apps and Google Play, it’s now over $8 billion. That’s quite a business, he says mildly–though based on the new way it’s calculated (see below), it may not be as amazing as it seems.

We had spread ourselves too thin. We sunsetted 17 more products last month. It’s more important than ever we converge our services.

We want to make advertising super-simple for our customers. Today, separate campaigns for desktop and mobile makes it more difficult and mobile opportunities often get missed. Advertisers should be free to think about their audience while we do the hard work optimizing across channels.

That’s the gist of his first widely public remarks (he spoke the other day at Google’s Zeitgeist event to the media elite).

Now CFO Patrick Pichette goes into some detail….

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Mobile Ad Spending Doubles in 2012′s First Half

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Mobile ads drove a 14% rise in online advertising revenues, to $17 billion, in the first half of 2012, according to a report out this morning from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

According to the IAB’s latest half-year report (full pdf here), mobile ad revenue jumped 95%, to $1.2 billion, or or 7% of total online ad revenues. That’s up from 4% a year ago. The reason is fairly obvious, and something every company from Facebook to Google is struggling with: People are increasingly accessing online service through smartphones and tablets, thanks to the popularity of the iPhone, the iPad, and Android devices, and advertisers are following them there.

The 14% rise pales next to a 23% rise a year ago, though the IAB attributes last year’s jump to a recovery from the recession. Online ad spending continues to far outpace overall advertising spending, which rose less than 1%, according to both Nielsen and Kantar Media. Television remains the one relatively bright spot in traditional media, though its growth also remains far behind digital. Cable saw a 4% increase, to $10.9 billion, and broadcast rose 3.3%, to $11.1 billion.

Performance-based ads, those seeking to elicit an immediate purchase or other action, remain dominant, and even gained ground over more brand-oriented ads. Chief among these ads are search ads, which despite their 48% share of overall online ad revenues continued to gain as a category in the first half, rising 19% to reach $8.1 billion. That means search giant Google, which reports its third-quarter earnings a week from today, still reigns supreme in online ads.

Display ads rose only 4%, to $5.6 billion, reducing its share of overall online ads from 36% to 33%. Although the IAB didn’t mention it, no doubt part of the relatively slow growth is due to the rise of more efficient (that is, lower-priced) banner ads placed via real-time bidding through ad exchanges.

“Brand dollars are moving online, but at a slightly slower pace than the last two half-year reports,” Sherrill Mane, the IAB’s senior VP research analytics and measurement, said in a conference call this morning. That’s a problem, indeed perhaps evidence of a problem, for companies such as Facebook that are depending on brand marketers moving television and magazine ads online. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

AWOL From Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet Lineup? That (Mostly) Ad-Supported Model*

* Updated below.

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

A few days ago, it looked like an ad-supported (read: cheap) Kindle Fire might be in the lineup introduced this morning at Amazon.com’s debut of new Kindles in Santa Monica.

Sorry, no dice. The company did introduce a lot of other products, of course, including a faster, cheaper, $159 version of the Kindle Fire with longer battery life, as well as new high-definition “HD” models–including, in something of a surprise, one that has a nearly 9-inch screen. The 7-inch version with 16 GB of memory will be $199, the original price of the first Kindle Fire. It will ship Sept. 14. The 8.9-inch version will be $299, $200 less than Apple’s iPad, and will ship Nov. 20.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also pulled an Apple-like “one more thing” move by introducing a $499 8.9-inch Kindle Fire, also shipping Nov. 20, that has 32 GB of memory and much faster 4G data connections, though that service will cost $50 a year for 250 MB a month. That doesn’t seem like much data, at least for video streaming purposes.

On the more traditional e-book front, Amazon also showed a new Kindle called Paperwhite for $119 for a WiFi version and $179 for a free-3G version, as well as a newly named basic non-touchscreen Kindle now called the $69 Kindle. That one, $10 less than the previous version, is the ad-supported Kindle.

But it’s not the cheaper ad-supported Kindle Fire that some folks apparently had expected. * Update: To make it clear, as Amazon did not at the launch event, all of the new Kindle Fire models will have some advertising, or what Amazon calls “special offers” and “sponsored screensavers” that previously were only on the Kindle with Special Offers. So in a sense, the whole line has at least a small ad component that ultimately may have some impact on the price of the devices. But it still looks fairly minimal compared with the potential for a tablet whose cost could be substantially subsidized by ad revenues in a similar way that carriers subsidize cell phones. Although Engadget reported Amazon would soon allow buyers to pay a fee to avoid ads, CNET now reports Amazon has no immediate plans for that.

Why not a much cheaper, largely ad-supported model, given that it would have provided Amazon an additional way to differentiate itself from Google’s, Apple’s, and other tablets? …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

The Early Bird Gets The Worm: Twitter Beats Facebook In Mobile Ad Sales–For Now

Twitter is stomping Facebook when it comes to selling ads on mobile devices, according to a new study out this morning.

According to eMarketer, Twitter grossed $129.7 million in mobile ad sales in the U.S. vs. Facebook’s $72.7 million. To some extent, that’s not saying much, since Google and even Pandora, each selling mobile ads for at least a couple of years now, beat both of those companies. In particular, Google dominates thanks to its mobile search ads, which constitute more than half of all mobile ads, though for display ads alone, Google is just barely ahead of Pandora.

Overall, according to eMarketer’s crystal ball, mobile ad sales will total $2.61 billion this year, rising to $12 billion by 2016 (though you’d do well not to put too much stock in forecasts that far out). These are net revenues after paying distribution partners. This year’s tally is still only about 1% of overall online ad sales.

eMarketer’s capsule analysis of Facebook’s and Twitter’s mobile results and prospects indicates the latter company won’t keep its lead for long. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Amazon’s Ad-Supported Tablet: What Took So Long?

The current Kindle Fire

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Ever since the first, rather expensive smartphones came out five years ago, I wondered: Why not offer cheaper ones supported by advertising? After all, even if you’d prefer not to see ads, you’re already taking a subsidy from a wireless carrier that often entails (I’m talking to you, Verizon) carrier widgets and interface limitations than are far more onerous than any advertising.

But since then, the only ad-supported portable devices that I can think of, at least that are still around, are Amazon.com’s Kindles with Special Offers. Now, however, the Wall Street Journal says Amazon may debut an ad-supported new 7-inch tablet as a followup to now sold-out Kindle Fires, as a way to offer a lower price in an increasingly competitive tablet market. The tablet could come as part of an expected Amazon launch of new tablets on Sept. 6.

The tablet apparently would display an ad as the device “wakes up.” The story mentioned no specific price break. The Special Offers Kindles offer a $30 to $50 price break, which if applied to the current Kindle Fire price of $199 would come in as low as $149. That would provide a considerable discount from Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, whose key appeal since it debuted in mid-July has been its low price.

Apple also is expected to come out with a similarly sized iPad Mini this fall, that could be priced as low as $249. However, Apple’s brand would still make a higher-priced device appealing to many people.

Assuming the ad-supported Amazon tablet actually launches, what took so long? Well, for one, tablets are still a pretty new category, so perhaps it just took awhile to work out the economics. Also, it’s possible that the ad formats on each tablet have to be so unique that it’s hard to get marketers interested at a more than experimental scale. Not least, a lot of people may figure that if they’re already paying a couple hundred dollars or more for a device, having to watch ads as well is a step too far.

But given that the three key tablet combatants today–Apple, Google, and Amazon–each are already in the ad business to varying degrees, and as it becomes clearer what kinds of ads work best on mobile devices, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more ad-supported models before long.

Consumers Juggle Four Screens Daily–But Marketers Haven’t Yet Followed Them

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Lots of investors are worried that Web companies such as Google and Facebook don’t have a clear way to make money as people increasingly access their services on smartphones and tablets instead of personal computers. Small screen sizes, the intensely personal nature of phones, and other factors mean it’s not readily apparent what kind of advertising will work best on mobile devices.

But new research commissioned by Google indicates the problem is even more complicated: People aren’t just going mobile, they’re using those mobile devices at the same time as, or right before or after, watching television, using their PC, or settling into the couch with a tablet. That means that it’s not enough simply to reach people on smartphones and tablets alone. Marketers must understand how people juggle those four screens for various tasks and types of entertainment throughout the day, so they can target ads that are most likely to appeal to them on each device given the different things they’re doing on each device.

Google’s research (full report here), conducted by branding and design firm Sterling Brands and market researcher Ipsos and summarized in the infographic below, provides some insights into this complex mix of devices and activities. But here are some of the highlights of the report, entitled The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior, that might be most relevant to marketers trying to figure out this whole mobile thing:

* Some 90% of people shuttle between various devices to get a task done, such as seeing a car ad on TV, checking it out further on a smartphone or tablet, then doing more intensive research on their PC.

* People use multiple screens in two ways: sequentially (going from one screen to another) and simultaneously (using more than one screen at once). The former is more for targeted tasks, while the latter is mostly supplementing TV watching with browsing on another device. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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