201203211257紐約客科技新趨勢預測:蘋果熱能持續多久?行動裝置巨人勢力漸頹了嗎?How Long Will the Cult of Apple Endure?






How Long Will the Cult of Apple Endure?

Watching all the fuss on Monday about Apple’s announcement that it will soon start paying a dividend and buying back some shares, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that the Cupertino-based gadget manufacturer isn’t a corporation in the normal sense of the word: it’s a worldwide cult. If more evidence were needed, witness the long lines that formed outside Apple stores late last week to purchase the new iPad, which, whisper it softly lest you get stomped on in the rush, isn’t much different from the old one.

What other company could dominate a day’s news simply by saying it plans on distributing directly to stockholders perhaps a quarter of the profit it generates? If it were any company other than Apple, that story would be confined to the business section. It’s not as if the sums involved are mind-blowing. Relative to Apple’s revenues, which could well total upwards of $150 billion this year, a $10 billion dividend payout is small beer. Compared to the U.S. economy at large—the G.D.P. recently passed fifteen trillion dollars—it is a rounding error.

Moreover, despite the fact that Apple’s stock price rose on Monday, the announcement isn’t necessarily positive news for the firm’s long-term future. Technology companies start distributing cash to their investors only when they can’t think of anything better to do with it. For years, Google and Apple made it a point of pride that they didn’t pay a dividend—why waste money on the stockholders that could be used to create fabulous new products? Google, which is now capitalized at barely a third of Apple’s valuation, still doesn’t pay a dividend.

In ditching this policy, Tim Cook, the successor to Steve Jobs, is acknowledging what Microsoft acknowledged to some extent nearly ten years ago when it started paying dividends, and more seriously three years ago, when it raised its annual payout substantially: it is now generating so much cash that it can’t hope to reinvest it all productively. Rather than let the money fester on the balance sheet, the company might as well hand over some of it to its rightful owners.

In the short run, that is good news for Apple stockholders—hence the rise in the company’s stock price yesterday, to more than six hundred dollars a share. The company is enormously successful and profitable. (In the most recent quarter, it earned about $13 billion on revenues of $46 billion.) It is also testament to the enduring competitive advantage that the United States enjoys in high-tech. With Apple, Google, Facebook, and the like leading the way on all five continents, predictions of American economic decline look a bit premature.

That all said, I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask how long Apple can continue its all-conquering run of success. In the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, it has put together perhaps the most remarkable triptych of commercial successes in the recent history of consumer products. About the only parallel I can think of is from the movie industry—the original “Star Wars” trilogy—and that isn’t a very good one. Apple’s gizmos aren’t just cleverly designed computers: as the lines last week indicated, they are socioeconomic and cultural signifiers. Even when it turns out that some of these very same products are produced in sweatshop conditions redolent of nineteenth-century Manchester , many smart, affluent, and educated people want to be seen sporting them. Sorry, that is an understatement. They absolutely have to have them.

What this attitude says about “smart, affluent, and educated” people I will leave for you to ponder on your coffee break. Here, I am more concerned with how sustainable it is. For any fashionable purveyor of consumer goods, be it a rock band, a clothing line, or a cell-phone manufacturer, retaining the label of “cool” is the hardest thing of all. And if Apple were ever to lose that label, it would also shed much of its ability to charge premium prices and extract monopoly rents.

On the plus side, Apple boasts a dominant position in two of the fastest growing areas in the economy—mobile communications and tablet computing—and it also has powerful network effects working in its favor. Once you expend the money and effort to join the Apple ecosystem, the thought of leaving it isn’t pleasant to contemplate. Do you want to convert the older songs and movies in your iTunes library to another format? Of course you don’t. For nearly two decades now, Microsoft has been relying on prohibitive “switching costs” to protect its Office franchise. Despite the development of the Internet and the rise of so-called “cloud computing,” it’s still more or less intact.

But protecting an existing franchise is different from growing it and expanding it into new areas, which is what Apple has been doing with startling alacrity since it released the iPod in 2001. Just five years ago, the company’s revenues were less than $25 billion. By the end of this year, they will have risen six-fold. For Apple to repeat this trick, it would have to generate revenues of close to a trillion dollars in 2017. Is this conceivable? Yes. Is it inevitable? For at least two reasons, I don’t think so.

1. Competition: Apple’s enormous profits are an invitation to every other company in the industry to enter its markets and try and chisel some of them away. From Google’s Android operating system for mobile phones to Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system, which will supposedly be optimized for tablets, the competition is intensifying. But what would really threaten Apple is not so much a nifty new slate or cell phone, but the introduction of truly disruptive technology—be it a wearable computer, a robot to help with housework, or whatever—by another company. In following up the iPod with the iPhone and iPad, Apple introduced three disruptive technologies in a row—an achievement that will go down in business history. But can it keep it up? If and when something comes along that is cooler than the latest gizmo from Cupertino , Apple is potentially in trouble.

2. Diseconomies of scale: A.k.a. the curse of getting too big. Since the industrial revolution, virtually every successful company has eventually succumbed to it. Why would Apple be any different? Some types of diseconomy are internal. Particularly in the absence of Steve Jobs, how long can Apple maintain the culture of innovation and excellence that has propelled it to this position? There are also external diseconomies that are beyond the company’s control. As Apple gets bigger and bigger, there are sure to be growing calls for its power in the market to be curtailed. A couple of years ago, there were stories about a possible Microsoft-style anti-trust investigation, which would examine Apple’s policy of requiring software developers who make apps for its products to use Apple’s own programming tools. More recently, there have been stories about the Justice Department confronting Apple and a number of big publishers over their efforts to control the price of e-books. That is only the beginning.

I am not suggesting that Apple is going to stumble today or tomorrow. Given the company’s growth rate, its reservoir of engineering and marketing talent, and the worshipful coverage that much of the media affords it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see its stock hit $1,000 later this year or next. With a historical price-earnings ratio of seventeen and a prospective ratio of twelve, you can even make the argument that the shares are reasonably cheap. But if the stock did hit $1,000, I would be a seller.

Even in the presence of economies of scale—of which, network effects are one particularly powerful type—experience suggests that companies don’t get bigger and bigger without bound. The recent history of technology is littered with dominant monopoly franchises that appeared to be permanent but turned out to be temporary. During the nineteen-sixties and seventies, IBM looked invulnerable. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, Microsoft replaced Big Blue as the dominant player. For coming up on a decade now, Apple has been the industry trendsetter and cultural avatar. Something tells me that history doesn’t stop here.

iPhoneの新型は4~6月期にも発売か

ロイタ-通信は22日, 米アップルが高機能携帯電話「iPhone アイフォ-ン」の次世代機を今年4~6月期にも発売する見通しだと伝た。韓国メデイアの報道を元に報じた。報道によると, 新機種の画面は, 現在最近の「4S」より大きく, 今月発売された新型の多機能情報端末「(iPad)アイペッド」と同じ高精細のディスプレ-を採用する。アップルは韓国サムスン電子など大手メ-カに部品を発注したという。

「ベンチャーは「かつ消えかつ結ぶ」

ブログの効用:ブログを長く書いていると, 時間がたったはじめて分かる自分の間違いがよくわかります。過去の間違った考えが文字にはっきり残っているのみならず, 世の中に公開されている。いや, 恥ずかしいことです。しかし, 一方で自戒をこめて, これはすごくいいことであります。というのも, 人間, 大体時間が経つ, 自分に都合の良いことしか覚えていないとが多いからです。「xをしさえすればうまくいったのに, ついうっかり機会を逃してしまった」と思うことはありませか?「ああ, あの株を買っておけば良かった!」とか。でも多くの場合, 真実は「うっかい機会を逃した」のではなく, 「本当に良いかどうか, その時点では分からなかった」その点, ブログは, 思いつくことを書きつづっていくので, 「その点で」考えていたことが記録に残ります。 

大間違いAmazonの将来予測:例えば, 10年ちょっと前の私の考えた「Amazonの将来像」を過去のブログから引用するとこんな感じです。(当時は, まだブログ書きはじめだったので, 文章が硬いです。いわゆる一つの「肩に力が入ってる」状態ですね。) 2001年春ごろ, 私はEcommerce の着実な成長を全く疑わなかった。いったんEmailを使い始めたら二度とEmail なしで仕事ができなくなるのと同様, いったん始まったEcommericalは止まらないはずだ, と確信していた。しかし, その前提の中で何か起こっていくかのミクロ予測ははずだ。はずれた予測はこういう感じだ。

(一)ECommerceは確実に伸びるが, (2001年当時までの)ECommerce 企業への資金投資は大幅に過剰。過剰な期待と資金より, 元の取れない過剰設備が行われた。

(二) 過剰投資に見合うリタ-ンがないことが明らかに新たな資金調達はできなくなるが, 企業が黒字転換しないためECommerce ベンチャ-は苦境に。

(三)ECommerceべンチャ-は倒産, またはそれに近い状態になり, brick and mortarの既存大企業が, べンチャ-の持つECommerceインフラを元の価格の何分の一かで買い取る。例えばAmazon(の持つ物流倉庫やITインフラ)はBorders などに叩き売られ, Webvan(の持つ倉庫, トラック, ITインフラ)はSafewayなどに叩き売られるだろう。 

(四)インフラを叩き売リ価格で購入したbrick and mortar 企業は, 投資金額が低いゆえに収益のECommerceが可能になり, その後は順調かつ安定的にECommerce が成長する。

Amazon さん, ごめなさい。私はなにも分かっていませんでした。

一応「オンライン商取引が成長する」という大ざっぱな点は合っていますガ, しかし, べンチャ-の世界ではこういう大所高所の話はあまリ意味がないのでした。「理論的にこういうビジネスモデル, こういう領域がうまく行く」と考え, しかも, それが正しかったとしても,  それに合致した個別のベンチャ-ガうまく行くかどうかは, また別の話なのです。

Google やYahoo,Appleに投資した, 著名ベンチャ-キャビタリスト,Mike Moritz はこう語っています。

「大きなテ-マについて考えることはほどんとない。(べンチャ-投資という)仕事は, 鳥を見つ付るようなものだ。私は群れて見ないようにいる。群れ全体について観察すす代わりに, 群れの中の興味深い鳥を見つけたい。」

「大きなテ-マ」「鳥の群れ」とは, 「ビジネスモデル」であったり,「好機の領域」であったりするわけですが, それを見ない, と言っているわけですね。  

興味深い鳥はいずこに:個別の社会に関しても, 「興味深い鳥」を見つ付るのは, 相当大変です。

Andrew Chenという人が, 最近自分のブログ( http://andrewchenblog.com/2012/03/14/)で「いかに将来を見抜くのが難しいか」を語っています。Andrew Chenはベンチャ-のアドバイザ-やエンジャル投資をしているブロガ-デすが, 彼は2006年まだ社員が12人のFacebookとミ-ティングをして, 「この会社がビリオングラ-企業になることはない」と思ったそのこと。Facebookは広告料で稼いでいるわけですが, をの広告料の単価が極めて安いことから, 」「この会社, どんなに大きくなってせいぜい年商1500万ドル(12億)くらいだな」と思ったと, しかし, 実際には, 昨天の売り上げは37億ドル(3000億丹)となりました。Andrew Chen試算は 「月のぺ-ジビュ-は50億くらいにしかなるまい」という予想に基づくものでした。現在のFacebookの月間ぺ-ジビュ-はなんと1兆に。

2006年と言えばYahooがFacebookを10億ドルで買収しようとした年でもあります。Yahooの当時試算では, ユ-ザ-は大学生, 若手の大学卒業生, そして高校生に広がり, 2010年には4800万にまで成長すると予測, 当時は「おお, なんて楽観的な見通しなんだ」と思われたのですが, 現在ではユ-ザ-数は8億人超という予想を絶する結果に。誰の予想も大はずれだったわけです。

古今東西

さて, 先々何か起こるか分からないこと, これは, べンチャ-事業に限らず, 実は大昔から語り継がれてきたことでもあります。1212年に鴨長明がつづった「方丈記」の有名な出だしを読めば一目瞭然。

「ゆく河の流れが絶えずして, しかももとの水にあらず, よどみに浮かぶ泡沫は, かつ消えかつ結びて, 久しくとどまりたるためしなし」

(川の水は絶えないが、それは同じ水のままではない。よどみに浮かぶ水の泡も、消えたり出来たりして同じようにとどまることがない。)

1000年たっても, 相も変わらず 「かつ消えかつ結ぶ」今日の頃なのでした。

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