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Greg’s Bite: The Self-Cannibalism Effect at Apple

By Greg Mills

Apple has a uncanny ability to understate the forecast for the following quarter’s revenue each time they do the quarterly financial report to the analysts who are hanging on every word. Then 90 days later, they wow the very same crowd with unexpected numbers that blow the lid off the highest estimates. It is a game with gigantic money at stake.

This time around, despite a gigantic increase in sales and net revenue, iPhone 4 sales were a bit lower than expected and you would have thought Apple was going under. The stock plunged and headlines were published that “Apple Disappoints” and the entire market took a hit for a while. Cook correctly stated that the problem was simply people waiting for the next iPhone in the que, rather than any weakness in the red hot market for things Apple.

The CEO of Microsoft, while in its prime, stated that: “A company that fails to obsolete its own products is doomed to see the competition do it.” That is a quotation from Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer either wasn’t at work that day, or someone didn’t translate it to him in language he could understand. Apple obsoletes its own products regularly and they have admitted that iPad is cannibalizing some Mac sales, which were still very strong.

Apple stock is bouncing back and consumers were still buying iPhone 4S like hotcakes for every carrier, including the ugly ducking cellphone carrier, Sprint. An analogy would be that “oh my gosh, Apple is walked on water … but they got the bottom of their feet wet!” Go figure, I bet Dvorak sold his Apple shares.

Apple blames, to some extent, the press for raising the stakes so high in expectations regarding upcoming iPhone launch that a lot of people are waiting until the next release, the iPhone 5, instead of buying iPhone 4. The two-year cell phone contract cycle and the timing of the release of new iPhones is certainly an issue. Car companies face the same issue as people wait for the next year’s model to buy a car.

I am one of those iPhone 3GS users with a few more months left to go on my contract, and I figure I might as well wait those few months and go with the iPhone 5, expected late next spring. Electronics hardware has an obsoleteness factor based upon new and compelling features that require the latest technology. Buying things mid-cycle tends to cause your hardware to get “long on the tooth” before you are ready to replace it.

Apple chose to push Siri as the killer feature that requires iPhone 4S to use. The reason stated is that the faster dual A5 chipset is required to operate the sophisticated voice recognition software that allows Apple’s servers to respond to inquiries with the slightly sarcastic but accurate responses that are delighting the market.

Within hours of iOS 5 being launched and iPhone 4S being sold, iOS 5 was hacked to allow Siri to run on iPhone 4 and possibly, even my ancient iPhone 3GS. There are ways Apple intends to keep Siri running only on iPhone 4S to preserve the exclusivity of the feature for the new iPhone. Namely, the Apple servers know to whom they are connected to and which device you are using. Part of the hack is to confuse the servers into thinking you are using an iPhone 4S when you are actually using an older model.

Reportedly, the hack does not require jail-breaking your iPhone but does require some third party software to add an App that is not approved by Apple. That Siri work-around app is likely to be sold rather than being given away, and you know Apple will crush it any way they can.

That Siri will work, even slowly, on an iPhone 4 is evidence that Apple is making Siri exclusive for the iPhone 4S largely for marketing reasons, but things not working 100% right isn’t the Job approved way of doing business. If the hack can get Siri running at full speed on previous hardware, that would make the issue 100% a marketing decision and a lot of pressure would come down on Apple to open Siri up “to the rest of us”.

As i mentioned the other day, Siri is certainly coming to the Mac OS and iPad 3, sooner than later. I am also an iPad 1 owner keen to upgrade to an iPad 3. Rumors of a retinal iPad display and Siri will certainly push the already hot iPad market along, crushing every tablet competitors launch. I don’t consider the Amazon Flame tablet a direct competitor to iPad, but I do see the potential for a bottom rung iPad with a smaller screen at a cheap price for putting out the Amazon Flame, before it reaches critical mass.

Will Apple match the loss leader US$200 price point Amazon set? Ask John C. Dvorak, he knows everything, (just a bit of sarcasm), but that is just Greg’s Bite.

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