iPhone 5 – Sprint killer?

It is widely rumored that Apple will announce the iPhone 5 on September 12th with a September 21st launch.  The rumored new specifications of the phone:

  • 4G LTE  - this is largely a given at this point given that the iPad 3 has 4G and that the LTE networks are now more widespread.
  • Larger screen – taller, not wider, bringing the screen size to 4 inches and the aspect ratio to 16×9 from 4×3
  • Faster processor
  • More solid construction (“LiquidMetal” casing)
  • New dock connector – not an exciting feature and an annoyance to many.
  • NFC chip – this is a huge maybe, but IMHO would be a huge deal (per my prior post)

So what does this have to do with Sprint? Well, Sprint made a huge push to carry the iPhone and got it last fall with the iPhone 4S.  In order to get it, they were rumored to have committed to buy (and sell to consumers) $20 billion of new iPhones over 4 years, that’s 30 million iPhones.  Sprint has sold about 6 million iPhones so far. So only 24 million to go in the next 3 years….

Meanwhile, the biggest update with the iPhone 5 will be 4G LTE.  Sprint actually was the first big carrier in the US to build a 4G network. However they built it based on a technology called WiMax.  They eventually realized this was a losing standard and committed to build an LTE network earlier this year but this is years after Verizon and At&t started building their networks.

It seems very likely that the iPhone 5 will not have WiMax capability and therefore a Sprint iPhone 5 will only work on 4G in very limited cities compared to Verzion and At&t.  See the stats below:

  • Verizon 4G LTE – 371 Markets, 230 million people
  • AT&T 4G LTE – 47 Markets, 80 million people
  • Spint 4G LTE – 19  Markets,  unspecified coverage, but likely <30 million people

So, as you can see, Sprint is way behind here.  If, as anticipated,  consumers are excited about 4G LTE speeds, they’ll want to buy a Verizon or At&t phone (note that some have speculated At&t will suffer with their smaller footprint too).

If Sprint doesn’t capture a good share of iPhone 5 sales, they’ll be stuck with a contractual commitment, an expensive network rollout and more subscriber losses.   Meanwhile, T-Mobile is offering better pricing on unlimited data plans, which threatens Sprint Android  business.  I think the iPhone 5 launch could trigger the beginning of the end for Sprint, forcing them to sell the company, either to another carrier or a dark horse like Google or Apple (looking to disintermediate the carriers entirely).

Other opinions?

Sources:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57504223-37/lte-iphone-5-might-lure-at-t-users-to-verizon-says-analyst/

http://www.bgr.com/2011/10/03/sprint-guarantees-to-buy-over-20-billion-in-iphones-from-apple-launching-the-iphone-5-exclusively/

http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/26/sprint-q2-2012-earnings-net-loss-widens-to-1-4b-1-5m-iphones-sold/

http://www.autoomobile.com/news/sprint-iphone-5-plan/1002052/

http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/255319/for_lte_network_slow_but_thorough_will_win_the_day_sprint_says.html

http://www.autoomobile.com/news/verizon-iphone-5-att-sprint/1001962/

http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/26/sprints-lte-rollout-stymied-by-uh-birds-as-it-plans-to-activate-four-new-markets/

http://www.theverge.com/2012/6/19/3094715/sprint-lte-speed-test-verizon-att-tmobile-comparison

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/gadgetreviews/the-state-of-4g-lte-verizon-sprint-and-at-and-t/29218

http://community.nasdaq.com/News/2012-08/more-lte-markets-for-sprint-analyst-blog.aspx?storyid=169170

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2409081,00.asp

http://bostinno.com/2012/09/03/iphone-5-release-date-apples-newest-iphone-is-days-away-here-is-everything-we-know-photos/#ss__218953_199403_3__ss

http://9to5mac.com/2012/06/25/new-iphone-prototypes-have-nfc-chips-and-antenna/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57493323-37/sprint-sweetens-the-deal-for-iphone-4s/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203405504576603053795839250.html

http://www.phonearena.com/news/Sprints-current-deal-with-Apple-allows-it-to-sell-LTE-enabled-version-of-the-Apple-iPhone_id28487

http://seekingalpha.com/article/571281-sprint-and-apple-s-iphone-a-deal-from-hell

http://9to5mac.com/2012/08/29/sprint-expands-4g-lte-coverage-promises-rollout-to-more-markets-soon/

Recent Apple Announcements – Summary and Reaction

Below is a way overdue summary of Apple’s Announcements from their June 11, 2012 World Wide Developer’s Conference and my take on them.

First (since many people won’t want to read the long summary below), my takeaways:

  • For those wondering when the new iPhone will be released, I have no specific info, but the common thinking is still September/October.
  • It seems that Apple will continue to make their Mac operating system (OSX) and mobile operating system (iOS) more similar until eventually they merge into one. This is good for users that like the simplicity and usability of iOS but also means that Apple will exert more control over the Mac in terms of customization and developers (which is not good IMHO).
  • Especially in light of the above, Apple will continue to face a challenge regarding its native apps and how they allow for competition with other similar apps.Currently, in Mac OSX,one can reset the primary app for many categories to one that competes with Apple’s native app – e.g. Apple Mail vs. Microsoft Outlook or Safari vs. Google Chrome. While Apple has started to allow more competitors to their native apps in iOS (e.g. Sparrow for Mail and Chrome for browser), they cripple these apps in various ways:
    •  Competitive mail apps can’t take advantage of push technology or become the default app for mailto links.
    • Competitive browsers can’t be the default that opens when a link is clicked from another app.
    • Competitive map applications can’t be opened when an address is clicked.
  • Personally I think the native app treatment will hinder the progress of iOS and the iPhone going forward. Imagine if Mac users were more or less forced to use Apple Mail, Safari and iCal instead of GMAIL, Chrome and Google Calendar. I think you’d have a lot less Mac users.
  • Noticeably absent were any real updates to the MacPro (almost an irrelevant update announced after the keynote) and the iMac/Mac Mini. Perhaps these will be upgraded at a different date/different event. Or, it’s possible that Apple is now laser focused on their notebooks and mobile devices and won’t be rushing to upgrade their other hardware products. Maybe there’s a good reason for this (focus?), but there are still a lot of folks who buy and want to buy these other products.
  • Many of the most significant iOS6 updates will only be available to the latest devices. This will both be an incentive to get people to upgrade but also will irritate both users and developers.
  • I think that the Passbook app (described below) for the iPhone could be a pre-cursor to the release of an NFC chip for the new iPhone.  To me, this would be a huge deal.  I wrote more about NFC here.
  • Features that I continue to hope for in iOS that weren’t announced:
    • Profiles so different family members can share the same iPad in a more reasonable way (like accounts on a Mac/PC)
    • Offline maps (like Google announced for Android)

Ok, here’s the summary of the Apple announcements:

  • New Macbooks: Apple announced updated Macbook Airs and Macbook Pros. As usual – faster speeds and similar or lower prices. They also announced a new type of Macbook Pro that has a retina display and flash memory making it much lighter than a normal Macbook pro.
  • OSX Mountain Lion: Apple announced some more details about the new version of the Mac Operating System. Most of these announcements had to do with features that make OSX more similar to iOS and increase synchronization with iOS.
  • iPhone/iPad Operating System – iOS 6- will be released in the Fall:
    • Siri – Siri will expand to the iPad (only the newest iPad 3). Siri will also add the capability to search for restuarants (using Yelp) and sports scores/info. It will also allow you to send a Tweet. Lastly, Apple announced partenrships with some auto companies to include Siri in their cars.
    • Facebook – Apple announced a partnership with Facebook that will function like the current integration with Twitter. Users will be able to post to Facebook from many different applications. They will be able to “like” apps, songs and more. Facebook events and birthdays will be integrated in the iPhone calendar and Facebook friends’ photos and birthdays will be integrated into iPhone contacts.
    • Phone – Apple announced some interesting updates to the iPhone’s phone calling application. (yup, it still makes calls! :) ). For incoming calls, one will now see 2 additional options besides accepting or declining. One can “reply with message”, sending a text message back to the caller with either a canned or specific message, e.g. “I’m in a meeting, will call you later.” or they can select an option to “remind me to call back later”. These reminders can be based on time or place (e.g. when I get home). The second feature for phone is a “do not disturb” mode. This can be set for nightime hours, for example with allowance given for specified favorites and for if someone tries to call repeatedly.
    • Facetime over cellular – Apple announced that Facetime will no longer be restricted to Wifi only. This will only be for iPhone 4S and above or iPad3 with cellular connection. Some have mentioned this could consume significant bandwidth/data and possibly cause issues for most users who are now on metered data plans.
    • iCloud photo sharing – As a substitute for the photo sharing that was a part of MobileMe, iOS6 will let users create and share albums from their phone or iPad using iCloud as the host. This will only work with iPhone 4S or greater or iPad 3 or greater.
    • Mail – i0S 6 will have some feature improvements for the native e-mail application including the ability to upload attachments from any e-mail and the ability to designate “VIP” e-mail senders.
    • Maps – As I wrote about before, this was widely anticipated. The new Maps app looks significatnly different. Here’s the summary:
      • no more Google
      • turn by turn directions! (only with iPhone 4S, iPad 3)
      • 3D Flyover mode (only with iPhone 4S, iPad 3)
      • Live traffic (this will rely both on some partner sources like Waze but mostly on data sourced from iPhone users once the app is public.
      • Some big differences with the current app from a negative standpoint (see this great Gizmodo post for screenshots):
    • Safari – Safari was updated to include tab synchroniztion (tabs from the Mac will optionally synch to the iPhone/iPad and vice-versa). Also, the Safari reading list will be available offline (like Instapaper and Pocket)
    • Passbook – This is a new native app from Apple that will manage gift cards, airplane passes, concert tickets, etc. App developers will be able to leverage this app to store these dynamic “passes”
    • App Store (more here)  The iOS App Store will have a brand new interface included updated iOS app pages with a lot more data. Also, users will no longer be taken to home screen when downloading new apps. As mentioned in the Facebook section, users will be able to like an App from within the appstore.
    • Restrictions- As I mentioned in each section, many of these new features will only be available to the newest devices – i.e. the iPhone 4S, iPad 3rd generation and the new iPhone which will likely be announced around the same time as the release of iOS6. Summary of restrictions:
      •  Flyover and turn-by-turn in Maps – iPhone 4S or later
      • Siri – iPad 3rd generation and iPhone4 S
      • Shared Photo Streams – iPhone4 or later or iPad2 or later
      • Facetime over cellular – iPhone4S or later or iPad3 with Cellular
      • VIP list and VIP and Flagged smart mailboxes – iPhone4 and iPad2 or later
      • Offline Reading lists – iPhone 4 and iPad2 or later

For those that made it this far, what do you think?

Some more links:

http://www.businessinsider.com/ios-6-key-features-2012-6?op=1

http://techcrunch.com/2012/06/11/ios-6-top-features/

http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/06/maps-in-ios-6-will-require-a5-processor-for-3d-flyover-navigation/

http://www.apple.com/ios/ios6/

Google preempts Apple with Maps upgrade announcement

I recently wrote about the expected change in the iPhone/iOS native Maps application.  Apple is expected to replace Google as the backend and upgrade the app to include 3D maps. This is all supposed to be announced at WWDC on Monday, June 11.

Today, Google preempted this announcement with updates of its own regarding is mobile maps app.  It specified that these updates were for the Maps app on Android but made reference to availability in the future on iOS. More coverage from Mashable, Ars Technica and Apple Insider.

The features they announced:

1. 3D Maps (unclear how this will compare to Apple’s 3D maps and how much coverage there will be to start)

2. Offline maps (this was one of my top requested features, yay!)

3. Better “streetview” for walking directions in places without roads like parks, mountains, etc. See the photo below for Google’s new rig to capture these views. This is kind of cool but seems like it will take some time to get coverage.

It’s not entirely clear when these features will be available or the specifics about how they work.  It seems that Google wanted to announce these before Monday so as to:

1. Steal Apple’s thunder

2. Soften the blow when it’s announced they’re no longer powering the native app on iOS.

Unfortunately for Google, they are not in the same league as Apple when it comes to PR, so most people will not even hear about today’s announcements while Apple’s announcement on Monday will likely be accompanied by a launch of other sexy products and features and will get covered ad nauseam.  In general, I think this competition is great. When Google and Apple have competed in mobile OS, desktop browsers and elsewhere, consumers have reaped the benefits of some of the best and quickest tech innovation ever. Bring on the maps!

The most important app on your iPhone is about to change

There have been persistent rumors over the past month or so that Apple will be replacing (upgrading?) the current Maps application with the new version of the iPhone operating system (iOS 6).  This has been expected for a while as Apple has purchased a variety of companies that work on parts of the map ecosystem. The screenshot above is a speculative screenshot of what the new app might look like in 3D view.

I’ve written before about how Maps may be the most important app on the iPhone.  Many people use the Maps app every day and it certainly has changed life for many folks – no more having to print directions or write them down before leaving the house on a drive, walk or trip. Despite any flaws or missing features, the Maps app has been a key part of the transformative experience of owning an iPhone.

Many people refer to the Maps app on the iPhone as Google maps.  It’s true that for now the underlying data comes from Google but like all the native apps on the iPhone, the app has always been built and maintained by Apple. Ever since Google launched Android and incurred Steve Jobs’s wrath, it was assumed that Apple would replace Google as their backend and it seems now is the time.

The rumors are that the app will receive a full overhaul – the backend will be owned by Apple and the visual look and feel will change to, particularly to include a 3D viewing option.

I will withhold judgement on whether or not the app will be an upgrade, but to me, the most important things that should be done to improve the functionality of the maps app are (I’ve written about these before):

1. Include turn-by-turn directions.  This means that rather than having to push “next”, the phone automatically tracks your progress and visually and orally provides the next set of instructions (just like your car’s GPS does).  It also corrects the directions automatically if you go off-route. Google’s app for Android does this well. The reason this used to be hard is due to licensing costs for using the underlying map data in this way. Google got around that by creating their own set of map data.

2. Include an option to download offline versions of maps for specified metro areas.  The GPS doesn’t require the cellular network to work and the app could be fully functional with offline maps. This would serve 2 functions:

  • Maps would load when network service is slow or unavailable (e.g. subway underground). There is nothing more frustrating than being lost and late to a meeting and watching a map try to load in the background.
  • When roaming outside one’s core country, one could use the maps app to navigate in an unknown city without paying exorbitant data roaming charges.
I’m not convinced that Apple will build an app that has great features and functionality vs. just more interesting design and views (e.g. 3D). So, I  hope that once Apple replaces Google from its backend that Apple approves a native Google Maps app for the app store. I also hope that Google builds and submits such an app that’s as good or better than their Android Maps app. Real competition for an app that is as core as Maps would be very healthy.

Does Instagram’s $1 billion sale explain the $41 million investment in Color?

Color  infamously raised $41 million before releasing their mobile app in March of 2011 and has since become the punchline of countless jokes after a spectacularly failed launch.  Their app was widely panned and they have since pivoted (most lately to a live video app) and have shaken up their management team.  There is good reason to question such a large investment in what was just a team and an idea, particularly as the results have been quite questionable thusfar.

However, Instagram‘s success has proven what I suspect was the thesis of the Color investors. That thesis is that the shift to mobile would create an opportunity for new social networks to emerge, particularly around mobile digital photos. This opportunity was likely to be huge. Sequoia and the other investors were betting on entrepreneurs with a very strong track record of success who were pursuing an opportunity they strongly believed in. In fact, not all was lost for Sequoia who invested in the round that immediately preceded Instagram’s sale and doubled their money in a few days.

That said, I’m not sure the Instagram outcome  justifies the investment in Color.  If anything, I would argue that that large investment did Color more harm then good in a variety of ways:

  • It created unrealistic expectations from the press and the public about their app.
  • It allowed and encouraged the team to grow too quickly before there was a product to grow.
  • It did nothing to insulate the team from competition as Instagram and countless competitors emerged with much less capital behind them.

Instagram, by contrast, grew their team very slowly (only 13 people at time of acquisition) and only raised a modest $500k to start.

One wonders if investor pattern matching bias was to blame here.  While there is much evidence that successful entrepreneurs have an advantage when starting a new company, perhaps over-relying on this technique isn’t useful. Also, Color was unique in that it was assembled as an all-star team of serial entrepreneurs who hadn’t all worked together before.  Many would argue that a team that is experienced working well together has a better chance of success than a team of individual stars.

So, a summary of my conclusions:

1. Raising a lot of money isn’t always helpful.

2. Past performance does not necessarily guarantee future performance.

3. Big splashy launches are not only not always helpful but can be harmful too.

4. In almost any scenario, Sequoia still ends up making a lot of money.

Blackberry’s Last Stand?

RIM previewed the Blackberry  10 yesterday.  I won’t talk  about the specifics of the phone, but a couple of things struck me.

1. Even RIM doesn’t seem convinced that they’ve figured things out.  The executives just don’t sound all that convinced.  Also,  look at the body language in the image below. Does Thorsten Heins (the CEO of RIM) seem excited for this launch?  Compare that to Steve Jobs when he launched iPhones.

2. I think RIM had two choices recently  when deciding how to fight back against iPhone/Android.   One was to continue to release phones with physical keyboards and emphasize that they were the best mobile device for creating content.  Build the best e-mail clients/service that one could imagine, recruit developers to build document creation apps, blogging apps, etc.  In addition, continue to develop security solutions that appeal to businesses. While these wouldn’t have enabled them to beat Apple or Android, IMHO it could have enabled them to maintain a solid player in specific niches.

A second choice would have been to embrace either Android or Windows Phone as an OS. This wouldn’t have been an easy road, but at least they wouldn’t have had such a hard job to convince developers to build apps for their platform.

A third option would have been some combination of those two. As it stands, RIM’s strategy will make for a major uphill battle.  I think the path that they have chosen (eliminate physical keyboards and stick with their own OS) virtually ensures their failure.

I sometimes have nostalgia for my old blackberries but mostly I pity the folks that still have to carry them or [perhaps even more] the people that choose to.  The modern business environment means that no matter how well-established your business is, if you stop innovating/competing, you can be disrupted in 5 years or less.

BlackBerry’s Last Chance

BlackBerry’s executives seem to have no idea what the future holds, one of it’s cofounders completely severs ties, and the strategic retreat they have in mind may be too late. Read More RIM President and CEO Thorsten Heins at the BlackBerry World 2012 General Session. Image: Research In Motion Today is the launch of BlackBerry World .

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via: www.portfolio.com

 

Applying Moneyball Tactics outside of sports

Cover of "Moneyball: The Art of Winning a...

Cover via Amazon

It’s kind of funny – the implicit assumption in the book and the movie Moneyball was that looking at data analytically to avoid natural bias and irrational decisions was standard fare in business.  It was sports that needed to catch up.

In actuality, I’ve observed that most businesses actually could do with a lot more moneyball tactics. The post below discusses how HR departments are only now trying to quantify the success of their recruiting and performance of their employees. Other examples where I think Moneyball techniques could prove interesting:

Hollywood – I asked about this on Quora, apparently some are experimenting.

NCAA Brackets – the WSJ showed how “blind” brackets outperform those with named schools.

VC Investing – Chris Dixon wrote an excellent post on how pattern matching may actually be a bad crutch for Venture Capitalists as they discount teams that don’t fit the traditional mold.  Not sure how to help solve this other than developing other lenses to look at investment opportunities, akin to OBP in Moneyball.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t value qualitative and “gut” in making decisions, we just need to temper those with quantitative data to eliminate the bias and irrationality we all share.

Other ideas where Moneyball tactics would be helpful?

Moneyball and the HR Department

The human resources department is known for being touchy-feely, but in the age of big data, it’s becoming a bit more cold and analytical. From figuring out what schools to recruit from to what employees should be offered flexible work arrangements, data analytics are helping HR professionals make more informed decisions.

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via: blogs.wsj.com