Apple has reported a record sales slump, while Samsung’s latest phones win market approval. How did it come to this? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tells the tale.
What’s wrong with this picture? Global smartphone sales down 3%, Samsung sales down 4%, Apple iPhone sales down 16%.
Or this one? Samsung revenue up 6% and profit up 12%, Apple revenue down 13% and profit down 23%.
For one thing, Samsung is tracking global trends in smartphone shipments, which is hardly wonderful news for a brand that wants to run ahead of the market. But, for another thing, Apple has lost the magic sauce.
One could be sympathetic and believe CEO Tim Cook when he blames a tough “macroeconomic environment”. But, during the worst financial slump in living memory, the big bad Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, Apple not only held its own; it kept growing, quarter after quarter.
The iPhone had been launched in 2007, and kept getting better, allowing the company to outperform not only the market, but also all forecasts. It kept breaking through every barrier, eventually helping Apple rack up 13 years of continual growth that had begun with the launch of the first iPod. That is 51 quarters, of which around 8 had seen the destruction of entire national economies across the globe.
Tough macroeconomic environment? Apple used to trample on tough macroeconomic environments. Rather, try tough competitive environment. In the growing Chinese market, iPhone sales slumped 26%. Meanwhile, Chinese brands like Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi hungrily took global markets from their respective positions as the world’s 3rd , 4th and 5th biggest smartphone brands.
Which brings us to the Samsung Galaxy S7. It marks four out of the last five Samsung devices flagship phones that have no longer been part of the catch-up game with Apple. Back in 2012, The S3 was the best that Android could offer at the time, but also for the first time showed that someone else also gets what a smartphone should be. Still, it was considered a Cinderella, a poor copy of the finery invented by Apple for the iPhone ball.
Apple stuck doggedly to its finery: a form factor premised on a mantra that the world was satisfied with a 4” display. At 4.8”, the S3 was already pulling away. However, the iPhone 4S, still enjoying the Steve Jobs halo effect, easily kept up.
In 2013, the Samsung Galaxy S4 truly disrupted the ball, offering a phone as close to perfect as the technology of the time allowed. It overreached with some features, like gesture control. But compared to its peer, the iPhone 5, it was a breath of fresh air, with a 5” display, 50% more power than the iPhone, and a camera that for the first time gave Apple a run for its money.
It gave Samsung undisputed leadership of the smartphone market. Along with the Note series, which introduced the phablet format and proved a voracious market appetite for even bigger displays, the S4 would prove to be a wake-up call at Apple’s Cupertino HQ.
However, Apple pushed the snooze button a couple of times. Instead of coming to the party with a larger iPhone, it delivered the 5S and a youth-oriented 5C, with the same 4” display, but in multiple colours. Crucially, it fell short of market expectations that it would be a phone targeting lower-income users and emerging markets.
Luckily for Apple, the 2014 contestant from Samsung, the S5, was a rare miss-step, offering almost no good reason for anyone to move on from the previous edition. In effect, Samsung did an Apple, offering only incremental improvements.
Both brands then upped their game phenomenally, with Apple’s alarm finally penetrating its snooze late in 2014, and a wide-awake look in the mirror resulting in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus – respectively 4.7” and 5.5” phones, targeting both the regular Samsung flagships and the Note phablet. Apple reported record sales.
Then, in 2015, came the Samsung Galaxy S6, with its beautiful curved screen Edge as well as a flat-screen option, and an absurdly good camera on both. Apple responded in time-honoured fashion later in the year, with a 6S and 6S Plus, delivering – surprise, surprise – only incremental improvements.
At he beginning of 2016 it followed with the cunning trick of cramming iPhone 6-like power into an iPhone 5-type body with 4” display and calling it the SE. Because, you know, the world is still hungry for 4” displays.
In contrast, the new Samsung S7 Edge pushes the curved device’s display from 5.1” to 5.5”, while the regular S7 keeps to 5.1”. Both have less powerful cameras but more powerful processors and more RAM, along with substantially bigger batteries. The larger phone increases battery life by up to 50% over its predecessor.
Samsung added one other feature that probably made the biggest contribution to its sales holding pattern: it dropped the recommended price by more than 20%.
In a market where the latest features are often not enough to persuade someone to upgrade, and where a good phone remains a good phone for several years, the ever-rising pricetags on flagship phones from the leading brands was bound to result in a backlash. That was probably the main reason the S6 and S6 Edge were sales disappointments, despite arguably being the best smartphones in the world.
Which brings up one of the less publicised numbers from the latest Apple results: gross profit margin, which is the real secret sauce of Apple’s astounding profits and its unprecedented $233-billion cash pile.
Gross profit margin for the last quarter was an eye-wateringly joyful 39.4%. However, that was down 40.8% for the same period the year before and from it being routinely above 40% in years before. Apple has offered guidance for the next quarter that it will fall yet again.
In the “macroeconomic environment” of increasingly thrifty customers, ferocious competitors and Samsung’s cutting edge devices, don’t expect it to begin rising again any time soon.
ME and Africa Consumer tech spending to hit $149bn
Reaching $130bn this year, consumer spending on technology in the Middle East and Africa is expected to grow just 4% a year.
Consumer spending on technology in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) is forecast to total $130.8 billion this year, a year-on-year increase of 4.1%. According to the latest Worldwide Semiannual Connected Consumer Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC), consumer purchases of traditional and emerging technologies will remain strong over the 2019–2023 forecast period, increasing at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5% to reach $149.4 billion in 2023.
86.3% of all consumer technology spending in 2019 will be on traditional technologies such as mobile phones, personal computing devices, and mobile telecom services. Mobile telecom services (voice and data) will account for 68.7% of this amount, followed by mobile phones which will account for 26.6%. Spending growth for traditional technologies will be relatively slow, with a CAGR of 2.4% for the 2019–2023 forecast period.
“Faster connectivity, combined with declining data service costs from telecom service providers and the need for end users to use telecom services for an increasing number of devices, will ensure that consumer spending on traditional technologies will continue to grow,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa.
Emerging technologies, including AR/VR headsets, drones, on-demand services, robotic systems, smart home devices, and wearables, will deliver strong growth with a five-year CAGR of 10.2%. This growth will see emerging technologies account for 17.1% of overall consumer spending in 2023, up from 13.7% in 2019. Smart home devices and on-demand services will account for around 93% of consumer spending on emerging technologies by the end of the forecast period.
“The low penetration of smart home devices in the region, combined with growing efforts from market players to educate home users on the benefits and usage of these devices, will serve as an engine of growth for consumer spending on emerging technologies,” says Charakla. “A large portion of end users are already looking to invest in devices that will improve their productivity and quality of life, two key demands that smart home devices can be positioned to fulfil.”
On-demand services represent a new addition to IDC’s Worldwide Semiannual Connected Consumer Spending Guide. “On-demand services enable access to networks, marketplaces, content, and other resources in the form of subscription-based services and includes platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify, among others,” says Charakla. “As connected consumers juggle multiple services across their devices, it is essential for technology providers to understand how the adoption of these various technologies and services will impact their customers’ experiences in the future.”
Communication and entertainment will be the two largest use case categories for consumer technology, representing more than 79% of all spending throughout the forecast. More than 70% of all communication spending will go toward traditional voice and messaging services in 2019. Entertainment spending will be dominated by watching or downloading TV, videos and movies, as well as listening to music and downloading and playing online games. The use cases that will see the fastest spending growth over the forecast period are augmented reality games (49.5% CAGR).
The Worldwide Semiannual Connected Consumer Spending Guide quantifies consumer spending for 22 technologies in ten categories across nine geographic regions. The guide also provides spending details for 23 consumer use cases. Unlike any other research in the industry, the Connected Consumer Spending Guide was designed to help business and IT decision makers to better understand the scope and direction of consumer investments in technology over the next five years.
Could robots replace human tennis players?
While steeped in tradition, tennis has embraced technology on multiple fronts: coaching, umpiring and fan experiences. Since the early 2000s, the Sony-owned Hawk-Eye system has been assisting tennis umpires in making close calls. At Wimbledon, IBM’s Watson AI analyses fan and player reactions in real-time video footage from matches to create highlight reels just minutes after the end of a match.
Meanwhile, at the ATP Finals in London, similar data analysis is being carried out by digital services and consulting firm Infosys.
GlobalData’s Verdict deputy editor Rob Scammell hears the future of tennis discussed at a recent panel discussion about the use of data analytics and technology in the game.
Scammel writes: “Infosys has been partnered with ATP for five years, providing features such as its cloud-based platform, which leverages artificial intelligence to analyse millions of data points to gain insights into the game.
“Players and coaches can also make use of the Infosys’ Players and Coaches Portal, allowing them to “slice and dice” matches on an iPad with 1,000 data analytics combinations. This is data crunching is vital according to Craig O’Shannessy, strategy analyst for the ATP World Tour and a coach for 20 years – including for the likes of Novak Djokovic.
O’Shannessy says: “Video and data analytics is crucial for giving players an edge. It’s about finding out of 100 points, the 10 or 15 that matter the most, and explaining that these are the patterns of play that you want to repeat in these upcoming games to win those matches.”
However, although Chris Brauer, director of innovation at the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, asked whether the “inevitable conclusion” of technological innovations in tennis was removing humans from the game entirely. ATP chair umpire and manager Ali Nili suggested that while there could one day be robot players adjudicated by robot umpires, it would be an entirely different sport.
Nili told GlobalData: “At ATP, we’re most proud of our athletes. It’s our athletes which make the tennis exciting. It’s how fast they are, how strong they are being. As humanbeings, we compare them to us and we’re fascinated by the things that they’re able to do. They’re the number one attraction for anyone who comes in, watches tennis, and everything else is secondary, you know, all the data and everything else, because we try to make our athletes more appealing.”
Could robots replace human tennis players?
Raghavan Subramanian, associate vice president and head of Infosys Tennis Platform, says it’s a “very philosophical question” and that we can look to the precedent set by other ‘man vs machine’ face-offs.
“In chess, we had [Garry] Kasparov play against the computer. So I think the natural first transition will not be two robots playing against each other, but one robot, possibly playing against the best player today. That’s the first possible bridge before two robots play.”