Explaining Southern California's economy

Smartphones: Can they catch on in the developing world?

Jerome Favre/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A member of the media examines the Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Nexus smartphone, running Google Inc.'s Ice Cream Sandwich Android operating, system in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. Samsung will begin selling the first mobile phone run on Google's new operating system next month, counting on facial-recognition security to help challenge Apple Inc.'s iPhone.

At Slate, Matt Yglesias rolls out a chart that shows the astonishing adoption rates of both Apple's iOS and Google's Android. So yes, both mobile operating systems have done more than caught on — they've taken over the world.

The developed world, that is. And this is where I think Yglesias overreaches:

In terms of adoption rates, iOS blew the previous entrants out of the water and now Android is setting a new even more amazing record-breaking pace. This is going to be an especially important development in relatively poor countries while mobile connectivity is generally better than wireline, so the availability of relatively cheap relatively powerful mobile devices is a total gamechanger. 

He's making the healthy assumption that these operating systems are going to be adopted in the developing world. iOS runs on only Apple devices — and Apple devices are very expensive, even by developed-world standards. 

Read More...

Why Apple won't become a $1,000-per-share company

Apple's New iPhone 4s Goes On Sale

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple Store customers look at the new Apple iPhone 4Gs on October 14, 2011 in San Francisco, United States. The new iPhone 4Gs features a faster dual-core A5 chip, an 8MP camera that shoots 1080p HD video, and a voice assistant program.

Apple finished up the day at $545 a share. So it's almost halfway to being a $600-a-share company. Which would put it $400 from being a $1,000-a-share company. And there's a raging debate right now in the financial world about whether Apple can make it across that finish line and become the first-ever $1 trillion market cap company. 

For perspective, no one has even even gotten close. And $1 trillion is about as much money as has been made on the Internet in its entire history so far. Big number. Very, very, very big.

At Business Insider, former tech stock analyst (and BI CEO) Henry Blodget makes what I think is the best case against Apple getting to $1,000 a share:

The most extraordinary aspect of Apple's business right now is not its revenue growth, which is plenty extraordinary. It's its profit margin.

In fiscal 2011, Apple had a mind-blowing 24 percent net profit margin.

Why is that mind-blowing?

It's mind-blowing because hardware companies just don't have profit margins like that. Even software companies don't usually have profit margins like that.

The hardware business is generally a cut-throat commodity business with razor-thin profit margins.

Dell, for example, which used to be considered a talented hardware manufacturer, has a 4 percent profit margin. HP, which sells hardware and software, has a 6 percent margin. IBM, which sells hardware, software, and services, has a 15 percent margin.

So you can understand why Apple's profit margin is mind-blowing.

And—here's the important point—Apple's mind-blowing profit margin may well be a temporary aberration.

Read More...

Raspberry Pi and the advent of the $100 tablet

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Apple's new iBooks 2 app is demonstrated for the media on an iPad at an event in the Guggenheim Museum January 19, 2012 in New York City.

Over at Fred Wilson's AVC blog, he writes about the gangbusters success of the Raspberry Pi, a very rudimentary Linux-based $35 computer that has no display or keyboard but can be plugged into a TV. And he comes to two striking conclusions, in as few words as possible:

When the cost of tablet displays comes down, which they will, I think we'll see sub $100 tablets. And I suspect that will happen in the next 3-5 years.

For markets that can be end to end digital, like education, this is a game changer.

Let's tackle his first point: a sub-$100 tablet. This is a disaster for Apple (keep an eye out for my post later today about how Apple can and can't get to $1,000 a share). Cupertino needs to defend its pricing model at all costs. As I've written before, price is the most important thing for Apple — not innovation or design. In fact, I'd argue that pricing, specifically pricing for a 30-percent profit margin, is Apple biggest innovation. At least of the Steve Jobs Second Act Apple.

Read More...

Hewlett-Packard tablet reload still won't move the needle

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was chosen to take over at Hewlett-Packard.

As you may recall, Hewlett-Packard distinguished itself in the tablet market by bringing out the TouchPad at $500 and then having to slash the price to $99 (well, BestBuy slashed the price) a little over the month later. Debacle! And this was with a reasonably nice device that ran WebOS, the superb operating system that HP picked up when it took over Palm.

Now Meg Whitman — she of the ill-fated bid for governor of California, now HP's CEO — has said that HP will introduce another tablet "before the end of this year" (Bloomberg) and that it will run Microsoft's Windows 8 OS...eventually.

Oh, also, there will be Intel chips.

It will be an HP Wintel tablet.

Hooray! What a wonderful plan! But... 

As I've written before, there is no tablet market — there's an iPad market. And the only company that's been able to take a bite out of Apple's dominance is Amazon, which with its Kindle Fire isn't selling a tablet but a tricked-out Kindle (a Kindroid) to use as leverage to get more people to purchase Amazon content.

Read More...

This is where Apple pays Chinese workers $2 an hour to make iPhones

 

It's actually starting to build: the Apple backlash. A decade ago, the company was almost bankrupt. Today, it has a market cap of $481 billion, almost $100 billion cash in the bank, and a share price that some analyst think could go to $1000 by 2015, if not sooner.

Those numbers come from Apple's astonishing growth — around 40 percent since January of last year — and its equally astonishing operating profit margins: 30-plus percent. But what enables that growth and those margins is two things: cheap Chinese labor; and customers who are willing to pay a premium.

The video above is from a February 22 broadcast of ABC's "Nightline." The news program got an inside look at Foxconn, the "iFactory" in China where workers are paid less than $2 an hour for a 12-hour shift. More than a dozen of these workers have committed suicide, although it's unclear whether the working conditions drove them to it or whether Foxconn's facilities employ so many Chinese that suicides are going to be inevitable, as a percentage of the employed population.

Read More...