Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Some Thoughts on iPhone/Blackberry

I am looking forward in the next few days to getting iPhones for my entire family. My Verizon agreement is up, so I am a free man!

There are a couple big questions in how the iPhone will do in the market, with the biggest one in my mind being how far it will penetrate the business market, which is of course currently dominated by Blackberry (something like 16 million users, mostly business, and growing rapidly).

There are a couple reasons why business penetration has been and will continue to be somewhat tough for the iPhone. Until the new 3G version, users could not link to Microsoft Exchange servers, making access to corporate information difficult if not impossible. This is not unlike the problem that Macs have had. I use a Mac at Tuck, and since Tuck is on an Exchange server, for years I had to use a Dartmouth email server instead of the Tuck server.

The new iPhone has enterprise capability so that problem technically is solved.

But the second big issue is inertia. Even now, with access by the Mac to the Tuck network wide open, my IT folks still recommend Wintel machines, and most faculty shy away from Macs thinking that there will be access problems. I suspect the iPhone will run into this as well -- until IT departments start supporting the iPhone, individual employees will have to stick with RIM or other such products.

On the other hand, there are some huge positives. It is dangerous to judge from anecdotal evidence, but I see the "pull" demand for the iPhone as being really strong. Individual faculty love the iPhone, for its applications, its ease of use, its hipness, and they are going to buy it whether Tuck IT supports it or not. Seeing that, I am already hearing that our IT group will be gearing up to support the iPhone as an approved device. If we are at all typical, this could be a tipping point for Apple and cracking the business market. The technical barriers are gone, and the transaction costs of switching over have been minimized by Apple's genius designs.

You can read all over the place about the reasons Blackberries are still better. Hmmm.....a keypad, really? And I do think that the potential for software development off the Apple platform is huge and will have a huge impact.

So, this gets us to the questions of strategy. Blackberry is huge, Apple is still tiny in the smartphone market. And Apple, at least initially, went after the consumer market, not the core business market of RIM's.

This sounds like a classic judo economics strategy. A small entrant comes in, with a strategy that credibly is going after only a small part of the incumbent's market. If the incumbent believes the entrant's strategy, its optimal response will generally be to accommodate the entry, that is, to not engage in a huge battle for the lost market. Besides the assumption that the entrant is going after only a small part of the market, accommodation being the best response also requires retaliation by the incumbent to be generalized. That is, if the incumbent can respond in a targeted fashion, such as reducing price only to those customer segments that the entrant is going after, then that would naturally be an optimal response. It is when a response must be across the board that accommodation looks attractive: the entrant is essentially saying, why would you the incumbent want to spoil the rest of your market just to fight little old me?

Note that this discussion applies most clearly to price responses, but it also applies to product innovations. I imagine that RIM is furiously looking for ways to improve its products to fight the iPhone. But to the extent that these new features will be costly, and that they will have to be implemented across the board, the above judo strategy logic applies.

A big point though is that it is not at all clear any more that Apple is working the judo strategy. When they were going after the consumer market, RIM could RIP (rest in peace). But now, Apple has cracked the enterprise barrier. Can RIM accept the loss in market share that might be forthcoming? Or should they respond aggressively -- with pricing and with new costly products and features?

I don't have the necessary pricing and cost information to do even back of the envelope calculations. My intuition, however, tells me that Apple is going to grab a reasonable portion of the business market almost no matter what RIM does. There are some segments that are just pretty indefensible against the iPhone. RIM has this huge mass of users, and they are all using pretty much the same device even though they have different tastes. The iPhone will appeal to maybe 20% of them in such a strong way that RIM might as well just kiss them goodbye -- judo works, those customers are not worth fighting for. After those low hanging fruit, however, I think the iPhone will have a tougher time, to a great extent because of inertia. RIM can slow iPhone's penetration into that thick 80% with some incremental pricing and product improvements, and that will probably be optimal over this generation of products. The iPhone will gradually move deeper and deeper into the business market, but again, much of that will be indefensible so RIM's best response is just to enjoy the cash flow from those customers while it lasts.

This is a fair amount of speculation. I will have some more ideas once I get my new phone and I see how quickly Tuck's IT department can get it up to speed.

1 comment:

Geoff said...

Two things that could impact Apple's prospects.

CON - AT&T has legendarily bad customer service and has moved slowly to offer corporate plans and pricing. They just don't seem to get it yet. But that can be fixed and there are signs that this may be starting. There is also a lot of time left on AT&T's exclusive contract with Apple.

PRO - corporate support of RIM has a huge entry cost because of the middleware required whereas the ActiveSync technology used by the iPhone is built in to every Exchange server by default. Apple can go after companies that have RIM and the ones who could not afford it but use Exchange.

Apple also wants to usurp carriers who provide Blackberry services a'la carte to individual subscribers with the new MobileMe service which is branded "Exchange for the rest of us" so that could get interesting.