Apple TV has been with us now for several years. An estimated 30 million Apple TV devices have been sold and also several software updates have occurred. But Apple TV still views the world through an old paradigm of networks or channels. The problem with this presentation is that people do not watch television today like they in the 1970’s. Back then content was limited. Today content is more than abundant — and continues to grow.
Under Apple CEO Tim Cook, the Apple-Costco partnership was re-ignited. Costco CEO W. Craig Jelinek and Cook seemingly let go of past grievances forging new ground for both companies, and the new relationship has delivered positive results for both manufacturer and retailer. However, Costco Wholesale, the world's second largest retailer, is no longer offering Apple TV. Is there a possible rift emerging between the companies, or is Apple TV about to see a major overhaul?
Apple has a prominent 4–pallet island in Costco's "Majors" department, located towards the entrance of each warehouse. On display are Apple's iPod touch, iPads, iTunes gift cards and until recently, Apple TV. Thru mid-March, Apple TV was available at Costco for $89, a $10 discount over non-club retailers, and also included a $15 iTunes gift card. Last month Apple lowered the price of Apple TV to $69. Costco followed suite offering the Apple TV for $67.99, while continuing to offer the $15 iTunes gift card. Unfortunately, this Costco offering only lasted a few short weeks, as Apple TV is no longer available via Costco's warehouses or online store.
If you've ever wondered how Apple stacks up financially in relation to software giant Microsoft, perhaps your perspective should be flipped. It is Microsoft that must be viewed in relation to Apple’s success. During the last quarter Apple amassed an additional $32.7 billion in net income and cash, while Microsoft’s total revenue for the quarter stalled at $21.7 billion, up only 6% YOY. This meager growth barely tracks above inflation, and is not keeping pace with internal cost increases. The downward trend for Microsoft came in their net income, which saw a 5% decline in the face of larger revenues, a seriously dangerous equation. Microsoft blamed the strong US dollar for the fall, but Apple had no need for such excuses during their quarterly report. Apple’s YOY revenues grew 27%, while driving larger gross margins and a 30% rise in net income. The two companies couldn't be on more different paths.
Just in case you were wondering, that slothy software company from Redmond, Washington, is holding their Build 2015 developer’s conference now (April 29-May 1) in San Francisco at the Moscone Center. The results so far? A collective yawn with a smattering of panic.
Microsoft's CEO, Sayta Nadella, is hard at work, focusing everyone on Windows 10. Not to be confused with Windows 9 (which nomenclature was mysteriously skipped), Windows 10 is to be the savior of Microsoft, pulling the Pacific Northwest company out of its 10-year stupor, which was run by former CEO Steve Ballmer (now an NBA basketball owner-super-genius). One of the key products announced, was a conversion package. Developers will be able to “easily” port their Android and iOS apps to Windows 10 platforms — excluding apps written with Apple’s popular Swift code that is.
Apple TV is now $69, and while Apple executives plays coy with its sales, Apple TV continues to consistently sell. It is no longer a product in hobby status as Tim Cook recently stated at Apple’s March special event, “This is only the beginning.” What comes next is not crystal clear, but it is not all that difficult to figure out either. During Apple’s quarterly financial conference call Cook stated he would not speculate on where Apple TV was headed, but also stated that HBO’s success can give others pause for speculation. Beyond a bundled network TV solution, could Apple have a special wrinkle up their sleeve for Apple TV?
Rumors have been floated for years that the next generation Apple TV would incorporate Siri, have an all-new menu solution, contain an App store, and perhaps even ship within an Apple branded TV display. New features are always welcome, but incorporating more abilities comes at a price, and Apple may have tipped their hat with the current Apple TV price of $69.
How does the average Joe, or perhaps even the average Hollywood actor, feel about Brad Pitt and Katie Perry getting Apple Watches, when they aren’t even available to walk in and purchase at Apple retail stores? Will Timothy Robbins let lose some anger because his buddy Morgan Freeman was given an Apple Watch, but he wasn’t? Apple feels terrible they cannot meet demand for the average citizen, but somehow they managed to find enough watches to gift them to high-end fashion designers, rappers and actors. So in consolation you should simply enjoy watching Beyoncé wearing her Apple Watch while can’t you have one.
The problem? This is an elitist mentality. These people are a special class of citizen, they are more important than you or me. And while this is a message Apple is not intending to communicate, after talking with colleagues and friends, it certainly is the message being communicated.
If you are looking to purchase a new MacBook, perhaps it would be best to order it online, but be prepared to wait until June to receive it. According to Apple's online store, MacBook orders are still backlogged by as much as 4-6 weeks, and they are unavailable at any retail location. Apple claims this is due to incredible demand, but is the backlog due to incredible demand or incredibly slow productions times leading to few, if any, available MacBooks?
Apple packed a host of new technologies into the new MacBook. Force Touch trackpad, layered batteries, a new keyboard design, and efficient retina display are all new Apple-led inventions that put the MacBook in a category unto its own and could be weighing heavily on production. But perhaps the biggest problem isn't Apple's new display, keyboard, trackpad or battery. What if the biggest hold-up in MacBook availability is because of Intel.
Crickets chirping may be all we hear in Apple retail store locations after employees hold their traditional “open the doors” count down for the official launch of Apple Watch. This launch is going to be the biggest non-launch in recent Apple history. Online pre-orders all but ensured Apple’s retail locations would be left with no inventory on opening day, as an estimated estimated 2.5 million watches were sold in a few short hours. Why Apple would spend tens of millions of dollars building up the Apple Watch launch for 04.24.15, encouraging millions to enter their retail doors when they would have no inventory to sell is beyond my pay grade. Apple has encouraged consumers to arrive at the stores, demo Apple Watch, and leave empty handed. The goal, now, is to get those would-be customers to purchase the watch online, and hope they are willing to wait until June to get it. Fortunately there was the Macbook launch. Oh wait, that is also a blunder of thunder. If you want a MacBook you can take one home — well, um, you can order one online today and receive it in 4-6 weeks.
This is the kind of experience I’d expect at Best Buy or Fry’s, not with Apple. Are heads rolling on Infinite Loop? Maybe I have just become spoiled, expecting Apple to deliver on their promises. No one is perfect, and understandably creating two brand new products that are unlike anything else in the market is an enormous challenge. But the way the shortages were managed and then communicated to customers took all the wind out of Apple’s sails (and one could argue short-term sales as well).
Last week Mark & I were working through the various aspects of what we consider two incredible products of technical genius that have both been initially tarnished by poor customer communication.
- Angela - Apple Store Lines are a Good for Apple
- Over / Under: Angela Ahrendts out by June?
- New MacBook Still Vaporware, But High In Demand
- Apple MacBook: Failure to Launch
While a perfect launch by Apple would have produced an ample supply of Apple Watch and MacBook, to meet the excitement and demand created by Apple, the reality of manufacturing each of these these bleeding edge technology wonders in mass quantity has proven more difficult than anticipated — even for one of the best company on the planet who is known for building incredibly complex items at an incredible pace.
My brother and T-GAAP colleague wrote an article yesterday, “Over / Under: Angela Ahrendts out by June?” We have never in our four year history seen such a lightning rod for positive and negative comments about the same article. Mark was called brilliant and an idiot at the same time (funny because sometime I think he is a brilliant idiot — but that’s another story).
In all seriousness we at T-GAAP are very aware that the problem with the Apple Watch launch isn’t solely due to Angela Ahrendts’ new way of launching a fashion item via the Apple Store. That said, her new methods did not help any. While the Apple Watch production has been rumored to be plagued with low display yields by LG, or another manufacturing process, we don’t think this is a supply chain issue. A supply chain problem would have reared its head long ago, so Tim Cook would have known about it before his March Keynote that things were going sideways. Apple flubbered big-time in its communication to customers. Apple set expectations one way, based on the history of delivering products, and then has failed to come close to meeting those expectations. The problem is as much a marketing problem as a manufacturing one. The pre-order system only inflated Apple’s woes. And Apple Watch isn’t the only casualty in this process as MacBook has suffered the same fate. Today, you can go into an Apple Store to look and touch, but cannot walk out with one of Apple's two new products — a cardinal sin for retail sales.