Two and a half years ago I declared in my mobile computing wars series that Google would commoditize the mobile computing space. Four months ago, I reiterated that assertion in Smartphone Hardware Manufacturers Are Dead and did so yet again the following month in Computer Hardware Vendors Are Dead, Part Deux! These premonitions cover not only the obvious also rans and marginal companies who’s management complained about losing the forest due to tree bark obstruction, but the very darlings of the industry as well. This includes the “used to be” market darling Apple (What Sell Side Wall Street Doesn’t Understand About Apple – It’s Not The Leader Of The Post PC World!!!) and even the current reigning champion, Samsung. That’s right, I said it! Samsung! Hey, I’ll say it again just to drive the point home, Samsung! How and why is that, you ask? Well, the same Google Android generated, creative destruction pathogen that brings us such great technology at such a rapid pace at such quickly diminishing prices that has wiped out those companies that I have warned of so extravagantly doesn’t just disappear when your current market darling get’s knocked off its perch. Let’s recap & excerpt the link above so we can clearly isolate the common thread…
So, you ask, “How is it that hardware is dead?” Well….
The open source OS paradigm calls for rapidly improving hardware specs at ever lower prices. I have pointed to evidence of this above, as these Asian OEMs produce ever better product at ever lower prices – just like the old school PC industry. This drives Google’s info-centric business model which is why Google pushes free Android.
After years of outsourcing manufacturing tech and IP integration to low cost labor Asian countries, those countries have found a way to produce trinkets of their own. Of limited quality and value so you say? Well, remember the iPhone is a Chinese phone, through and through -at least Chinese built. So now you argue, it’s American designed, just Chinese made! Please peruse the Oppo Finder 5, a phone that’s drastically superior to the iPhone 5 in practically every single way, retailing for $100 less than the cheapest iPhone 5 made. Low cost, low margin products combined with Google’s free OS will drive the price of hardware down to near zero, if not negative. Google even has its own hardware arm now (Motorola) to facilitate this downward march in margins and prices. Suppose Google decides to create best of breed Nexus devices and give them away just below cost? Imagine the best smartphone available in the world, unlocked, without a contract, for the cost of a single monthly wireless phone payment??? Google’s Nexus program is acting as a training ground to teach Google’s Motorola division to build best of breed! Google’s biggest and most successful partner – Samsung, is an Asian company. Samsung Electronics of South Korea reported today that its quarterly profit jumped 76%, as its Galaxy smartphones beat rival Apple’s iPhone in each quarter of 2012.What many seem to have missed is that EBITDA, Operating and Gross margins all slipped QonQ though. A sign of things to come??? Remember, Google benefits most when the barriers to access information are least. Reference “Cost Shifting Your Way To Prominence Using The Network Effect, Or Google Wins – Apple, RIM & Microsoft Have ALREADY LOST!” as well as my videos below…
Samsung is also currently Google’s biggest threat. This (soon to be combative) symbiotic relationship is akin to the relationship that Samsung had with Apple. Competitors, yet symbiotic partner/clients. Samsung and Google are poised to have a slugfest. Their relationship is similar to that of Samsung and Apple, with Samsung being the Apple in this case. Apple is highly reliant upon Samsung for memory and processor chips, and screens. Although Apple is the biggest Samsung client, it’s by far not the only one and the Chinese manufacturers are up and coming.
Since Samsung is highly reliant on Google’s Android but Google has significant diversification when it comes to its reliance on Samsung, Samsung’s role is reversed here. You do see who’s winning the Samsung/Apple battle, don’t you? Expect the same conflict with similar results when Samsung butts heads with Google, unless some significant changes come into play – Which is quite possible in this rapidly morphing landscape.
Despite this, I’m sticking with Google on this for now. You see, despite Samsung’s meteoric growth and triumphs over Apple, even its margins are sliding Q on Q, but most miss this because of the massive jump in earnings. Yes! Margin compression! Remember, RIMM and AAPL (and Nokia too) both exhibited this massive jump in earnings before commoditization born from the Android less than free model struck home. Many were caught with their pants down who didn’t read BoomBustBlog.
I warned in plenty of time to both avoid loss and profit on the short side for each company:
Now, Samsung seems to be the most innovative of the handset vendors to date, but if I’m right, they will end up having to innovate in a commodity space just like the traditional PC manufacturers (Dell, HP, etc.) have to do now. Why? Because of point number Three…
The new PC is not even a PC anymore, its a multi-tiered, multi-function, distributed cluster of interactive, location aware, multimedia applications sharing your social activities and data through a network of servers – in short, it’s the cloud!
For right now, GOOGLE IS THE CLOUD! See my video descriptions of Google’s business models above.
What’s the purpose of going through said lengthy exercise?
My regular readers should know an “I told ‘ya so” is coming, in the form of an analysis of Samsung’s latest quarter results. I was simply going to link to this Business Insider article by Jay Yarrow, but to be honest (and with all due respect, I think these guys work hard) the assumptions and conclusions drawn in it are erroneous and faulty. Thus let’s recreate the argument from scratch the BoomBustBlog way. The article starts off well, by stating that Samsung will fall the way Apple has through margin compression, but the accuracy ends there. The analyst quoted assumes Apple’s problems stemmed from the market for high end handsets being saturated, thus the demand bulge moving downstream. This was the justification given for the relatively weak uptake and acceptance of the iPhone 5. This actually the OPPOSITE of the truth. The demand for high end handsets has actually never been higher, which is why so many OEMs are pushing out flagship after flagship. Samsung’s best selling device, by far, is its GS3 device (not withstanding the true flagship is the Note 2, but that is more of a specialty device, whose uptake is actually increasing as well). The author of the article and the analyst from which he quotes have succumbed to the Apple RDF (Reality Distortion Field) again.
Apple’s iPhone 5 failed in resuming rapid adoption not because high end devices are nearing saturation, but because it’s not a high end device yet tried to compete with said devices!!! It may be marketed as a high end device, but it can do relatively little that the Android high end devices can, ex. NFC, Full HD screen, >430 ppi screen density, 5 inch screen, quad core processing (yes, this makes a difference, the new androids smoke the iPhone 5), LTE high speed connectivity, etc. That’s a pretty long list off of the top of my head. I saw this feature disparity coming in 2010 as Apple relied more on marketing and less on tech to sell its technology products more as life style fads instead of telecomm/computing/media consumption devices. Reference BoomBustBlog paid research Deconstructing The Most Accurate Apple Analysis Ever Made – Share Price, Market Share, Strategy and All. The result of Apple continuing along these lines is simply more of the same. Reference Most Accurate Apple Analysis Ever Pt 2. So what will be the cause of Samsung’s margin compression if they are doing “high end” it right? See the two videos above. Samsung will be forced to put more tech in each device at ever lowering price points because that is the business model of the Open Sourced OS that they have succeeded in using – Android. It’s the cost of admission into this high growth club. Now, Samsung has two big advantages that Apple doesn’t and one advantage that Apple did. To wit:
Samsung makes many of its own critical parts (screens, processors, memory chips). Apple actually has to buy these from its Android competitors (Samsung, Sony, LG), thus exposing it further to margin compression.
Samsung has a much more diversified product mix. Apple was overexposed, big time. It garnered 72% of its operating profit from one single, product that had more than half the mobile tech space gunning for it. What do you think was going to happen?
Apple, more so than Samsung, has enough brand cache to take the onus off of the underlying tech and move it to the brand, per se. People are buying (or were buying) iPhones, not iOS products. People are now starting to recognize the Samsung & Galaxy brand, giving Samsung some leverage over Android.
Expect an Android fork, or the Tizen OS to play a greater role in Samsung’s love/hate relationship with Google.
Despite these advantages, as Google pushes hardware and data access prices to near zero, margins in these spaces will collapse along with it. You can’t stop this collapse without slowing the progression in the tech space (for that’s what the consumer has been trained to expect) or successfully cost shifting – as Google has.
You know, it’s amazing how far an awareness of cognitive biases and a mastery of second grade math can get you on Wall Street. It can actually bring you tomorrows news yesterday!
Reggie Middleton is an entrepreneurial investor who guides a small team of independent analysts to uncover truths, seldom if, ever published in the mainstream media or Wall Street analysts reports. Since the inception of his BoomBustBlog, he has established an outstanding track record