Always worthwhile to read what the VisionMobile team is writing, and their latest blog post is no exception. This time they analyze the focus in the tech media on the “profit share” held by various players in the smartphone space, notably the huge percentage of total profit held by Apple, thanks to ongoing sales on iDevices.
Sameer Singh makes what should be an obvious point, that profit, and hence “profit share” depends as much on internal corporate issues as external consumer behavior. It indicates how well a particular company may be doing now, but not necessarily how successful they will be in the future.
For example, Apple dominates the smartphone profit rankings, due to the huge margins they earn on (mostly subsidized) iPhones and (mostly un-subsidized) iPads. Singh suggests that as smartphones become more mainstream, and hence less “cool”, those high prices and margins will be hard to sustain. The feature sets of different devices will converge, and price pressures will increasingly dominate consumer decisions.
On the other hand, I suspect that Apple has more flexibility in pricing because its products, iPads in particular, are more like “Veblen goods“, or luxury products that get more attractive at higher prices. Users of Apple mobile devices also consume more data and use more apps and web services than, for example, Android users, leading to further distortion of the app ecosystem, where enterprises favor iOS development even though Android has a higher market share.
We heard one example of this in a recent Mobile Monday DC panel on HTML5 vs Native Apps. Nancy Proctor, who heads mobile activities at the Smithsonian, reported that their development priorities are web first, then iOS, because they found that the people who use museum apps and web sites tend to be “culture consumers” who favor iOS devices.
I find this a bit worrisome, as it hints at a vicious cycle of app usage by “elite” (i.e. rich, educated) consumers, that then drives more development targeted at those elite users, and excluding the wider audience on other platforms who both use less data and have fewer options.