Summary: Our analysis of how Apple's iCloud, iOS5, and MacOS developments build value and control for Apple's digital platform, and their consequences on other parts of the digital ecosystem, including the impact of iMessage on text messaging. (June 2011, Executive Briefing Service)
Below is an extract from this 32 page Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing that can be downloaded in full in PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service here. Non-members can buy a Single User license for this report online here for £995 (+VAT) or subscribe here. For multiple user licenses or other enquiries please email email@example.com or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.
Creating effective commercial strategies in the digital ecosystem, including learning from and dealing with major players like Apple and Google, is a key theme of Telco 2.0's 'Best Practice Live!, a free global online event on 28-29 June 2011, as well as of other Telco 2.0 research and analysis.
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Apple provided a glimpse into some of the upcoming new features of its key software platforms iOS and MacOS at its WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June 2011. It also announced its much anticipated move into providing cloud based services and away from using the PC as the controlling hub.
iOS and MacOS are Apple's key software assets - the assets which add soul to Apple's key money spinning devices (iPhone, iPad and Mac). iCloud is the first iteration of the missing third leg - the software that ties all the devices together seamlessly. Together iOS, MacOS and iCloud are both the differentiator for the consumer and the barrier-to-entry for competitors. They are the soul of the Apple overall platform.
The Apple platform is evolving, and its new features will impact on many players in the value chain: namely the various distributors including mobile operators, aggregators, content creators and of course end consumers.
Nearly every main feature launched seems to support our general theory that Apple is squeezing value from the aggregators and distributors and pushing that value into the device manufacturers (i.e. them).
iMessage, which is the primary mechanism for SMS and MMS features, has been radically reengineered with messages between Apple platform consumers no longer being carried on the mobile network SMS and MMS infrastructure. All of this happens transparently to the consumer and they don't need to know if their recipients are also using Apple devices - the message routing is determined by the Apple platform.
iMessage is great for consumers as these onnet messages are free, but dreadful for MNOs as they all will probably take a hit on messaging revenues. Apple is competing with the MNO's core services, and they have even made it easier for consumers to see the value proposition by colouring the bubbles for onnet and offnet messages differently.
Apple has been quite clever in the timing of the release of this feature. Applications such as WhatsApp have already been blamed by some MNOs for declining messaging revenues - in particular KPN that has recently experienced a very significant impact on revenues. Apple effectively is doing nothing differently to them, just improving the consumer experience by making it easier to send and receive offnet messages.
In terms of platform economics, Apple is adding value to the consumer via the device and squeezing value from the mobile network distributors. We believe it is only a matter of time before Apple start offering voice features. This, together with their video conferencing application Facetime, leaves mobile operators staring into the future where they will only be selling data access services.
[NB There's further analysis of these impacts and defences against them in the full Briefing.]
The key value proposition of "iTunes in the Cloud" is that all songs historically purchased through iTunes are available for download to any Apple device at no extra cost wirelessly either through a WiFi or 3G connection as long as the consumer remains within their data tier. The user has control over which songs he wants to download to what devices thus avoiding a situation where all storage on an iPhone or iPad is consumed by a vast collection.
The level of consumer control is such that a consumer can even download a previously purchased album for a specific journey and then remove it after listening to save space. New purchases can immediately downloaded to all devices or selectively as with the case of historical purchases. This feature definitely improves the Apple platform, and especially compared to alternate music retailers such as Amazon.
Currently, Apple users can purchase songs or albums from Amazon and they will be automatically added to iTunes on the laptop, then on synchronization the songs transfer to the iPhone or iPad. Previously, buying songs through the Amazon store on the PC was as simple as buying through the Apple iTunes store, and Amazon has been slowly gaining market share in music downloads, because it competes on price and often offers songs cheaper than in the Apple iTunes store. Now, with "iTunes in the Cloud", Amazon may still be able to beat Apple iTunes Store on price, but the user experience is now deficient.
We seriously doubt that Apple will allow 3rd party retailers access to their iTunes in the Cloud service, and argue that Apple is using their platform to improve the position of their retail arm compared to 3rd parties.
The other service offered, iTunes Match, also adds incredible value to the platform. Apple has negotiated a deal with the major record labels to offer the opportunity to consumers to add tracks from their collections not purchased via the Apple store to the iTunes in the Cloud service for a cost of $25/year. Reputedly, Apple is sharing this revenue 70:30 with the record labels and as a paid a huge advance of US$100m-US$150m for the USA rights alone. Apple has set the benchmark price for cloud music licensing and has set the bar so high that it is hard to see new entrants having sufficient funding to gain similar licenses. Even Amazon or Google will be questioning whether they can generate enough money from music to justify the price of the licenses.
At the launch event, Steve Jobs presented the use-case of customers who had ripped their physical CDs. The more discussed use-case in the media is those people who have obtained their songs from illegal means, either via P2P networks or friend sharing, who effectively now have a US$25/annum service which legitimizes not only their past behaviour, but potentially also their future behaviour. The third use-case is people who buy cheaper digital music from other digital retailers, e.g. Amazon, and now have an option to pay an ongoing fee to add the simplicity of the iTunes in the Cloud service. Effectively, the usability advantage of the Apple platform is priced at US$25/annum which means this use-case only makes sense to heavy ongoing purchasers of music.
Apple didn't face the same licensing issue from the publishers and has added a very similar service for all Books bought from the iBookstore with the added feature of bookmarks are synchronized and shared across devices. Overall, Apple has built very compelling cloud services for music, books and magazines and erected larger barriers for its competitors. If iMessage show Apple leveraging interconnected with other networks when it suits them, iTunes and iBookstore show Apple adding features which not only make interconnect more difficult for other companies, but firmly closing previously open doors.
A notification is the mechanism that consumers are alerted to events - for instance, an incoming email or sms. It is the key mechanism that 3rd party developers communicate with their users - for instance, in a sports application a notification can alert the user that their football team has scored a goal. Apple has completely revamped their notifications user experience with the addition of a notifications centre.
Apple have pushed over 100 billion notifications to iPhone and iPad which presumably partly accounts for the high consumption of signaling capacity which many mobile operators have been complaining about.
It also shows that Apple is quick to address deficiencies in their platform compared to others. This is a key feature of platform economics; you have to invest sometimes to play catch-up. It also highlights the risks for developers of building solutions which address platform weaknesses - yesterday's successful application is tomorrow inbuilt into the platform.
Interestingly, an alternate notification application was never approved by Apple in their AppStore and instead went into the wilds of only being available on jailbroken iPhones. Apple new notification centre bears a striking resemblance to the non-approved one. Another example of this approach is with the feature for reminders, where a plethora of applications were already being sold in the Application store. Apple added a feature called Reminders which is part of the initial application load, and which effectively destroys the market for 3rd party applications. This in some ways looks like a repeat of the Microsoft strategy with Windows and Internet Explorer which got them in such trouble with regulators across the globe.
To read the full Briefing, members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Subscription Service can download the full 32 page report in PDF format here. Non-Members, please see here for how to subscribe, here to buy a single user license for for £995, or for multi-user licenses and any other enquiries please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.
Organisations, company types, areas, people and industry models referenced: Apple, platform, Amazon, Cloud, Google, strategy, Vodafone, WhatsApp, O2, Orange, publishers, Steve Jobs, WWDC, ARPU, Blackberry, Carphone Warehouse, Everything Everywhere, MNO, Prepay, record labels, Telefonica, T-Mobile, Viber.
Technologies and products referenced: iPad, iPhone, PC, Windows, iCloud, iTunes, iMessage, Android, iOS, messaging, MMS, MobileMe, SMS, voice, WiFi, Windows Phone, 3G, Activation, AppStore, Data Centre, NewsStand, Notifications, Photo Stream, Video, BlackBerry Messenger, Facetime, Freebee, Gmail, GSM, HTML5, iBookstore, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Live, P2P, Photostream, RCS-e, Snow Leopard, UltraViolet, VoIP, Windows7.