low-end disruption

Fighting Back Against Disruption: Has Starbucks Gone Far Enough?

'Bean' there before

A little over a year ago, Howard Schultz, then chairman of Starbucks wrote an internal memo lamenting the loss of Starbucks' distinctiveness. He wondered openly whether in the mad rush to expand and grow ever more operationally efficient (as measured by speed and same-store sales increases, rather than quality of experience), the company had lost a bit of its soul.

This memo was reported in all the major business papers and spurred a flood of blog postings from Starbucks critics and fans as Schultz seemed to have captured what was on everyone's minds, although still at that time, a largely unspoken feeling.

I too wrote an article taking a very different slant and documenting how and why Starbucks had allowed itself to evolve from being the market disruptor to the disruptee as a number of major foodservice chains began to compete on many of the now commoditized (and watered-down) features of the Starbucks experience -- better quality coffee, much lower price, more inviting workspaces to stay the afternoon and work or lounge, free WiFi, faster service and so on.

Through the remainder of 2007, it became increasingly clear that the days of heady growth, at least in North America, were indeed over, and that Starbucks competitors were taking direct aim at the weaknesses in Starbucks' business model armor that had crept into their operations over the preceding 10 years.

The company still looked healthy on paper, with year-over-year revenues in 2007 22% ahead of 2006 and record net income (profit). But, trouble signs included dramatically slowing same-store sales growth which had clearly reached a limit, and a large number of customers opting for the improved, more widely available and cheaper coffee solutions of the competition as I predicted in last year's article.

Additionally, by the end of 2007, long-time Starbucks loyalists were increasingly grumbling about what was wrong with the company and voting for change by going less frequently, or going elsewhere entirely.

Hello. My name is Howard. Remember me?

As if sensing that the tide of success was turning against his prodigy, Schultz moved back into the driver's seat at the company he built in January 2008, reassuming the CEO role and announcing a return to the basics of Starbucks vision and identity. While acknowledging that the competitive landscape was different, Schultz asserted that the problems at Starbucks were internally generated for the most part, and that the solution lay in self-examination, putting the primacy of the customer experience first again, and getting back to the core mission that had made Starbucks successful in the first place.

Since January, Schultz has been busy righting the ship with a number of dramatic changes, many of which were easy to predict and well-designed to rally the faithful. Last week, the most significant (economic) announcement was made, with 600 store closings and up to 12,000 layoffs coming, and it caught the attention of the business media, partly as a bellwether indicator of the down economy. Certainly that's the way Starbucks spun it, but is it the whole story (or even the right story)?

Slow train coming

Starbucks pre-bagged beans. Might be fresher, but that sweet coffee smell just isn't the same when you walk in the door.

Starbucks pre-bagged beans. Might be fresher, but that sweet coffee smell just isn't the same when you walk in the door.

In last year's article I identified several signs of disruption and difficult decisions for Starbucks to avert or at least parry with the competition disruption that Starbucks own mistakes had enabled (although in their defense and viewed from an internal "operations" perspective, these would have been perfectly logical innovations to improve efficiency, profitability and leverage the brand through extensions). These included:

  • pre-bagging coffee beans to preserve freshness (in the process, killing the distinctive coffee smell of an authentic neighborhood coffee bar, and the sensuality of sounds and sights such as scooping of beans, weighing and pouring them into custom bags, etc.)
  • expansion of chain to be almost as ubiquitous as McDonalds (turning them into a "true chain" experience, common but still expensive)
  • conversion from manual expresso machines to automatic to improve speed, efficiency and consistency of coffee making (at the expense of smells, theatre and "hand-made" quality)
  • dilution of brand experience due to rapid expansion, higher staff turnover and lower training standards, resulting in surly and uncaring baristas
  • introduction of warmed breakfast sandwiches and other foodservice items as a further brand extension (more brand and customer experience dilution)
  • expansion of music retailing operations (more brand and experience dilution)
  • expansion of branded non-food and non-music retail operations (more brand and experience dilution)
  • new "low end" competitors entering market serving "good enough" coffee options (upgraded coffee roasts, espresso and capuccino, "third place" alternatives) at significantly lower prices

Our recommendations included:

  • undoing the conversion of coffee bars into retail emporiums, restoring the "third place" ambiance and experience
  • improving training
  • getting rid of automatic espresso machines that made Starbucks just equal (in perception) to the lower-priced competitive options for many consumers
  • acknowledging that new "low-end" disruptors (McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, local gas stations) selling fresh-brewed espresso at 25% of Starbucks price changed the game and required a specific competitive response
  • closing stores because the "coffee aficionado" market was already over-served (in the US market) given "good enough" competition at much lower price points

It's important to note that a few of these are counter-intuitive (at least to most by-the-book MBAs), and options that most businesses wouldn't consider.

For example, when I discussed the installation of automatic espresso machines last year, it was noted that the original decision to do this had cost millions of dollars. Replacing them would potentially both slow down service and retire perfectly good equipment before it was fully depreciated and had reached its natural end of life. (Although the equipment was a "sunk cost", most businesses that had made such a decision in the first place would not easily reverse it and incur additional expenses to restore an "experience" and recreate the lost competitive differentiation.)

And what has Schultz done?

The Clover Coffee Machine will elevate the quality and freshness of regular brewed coffee to the premium level that coffee enthusiasts expect, but not so for Starbucks espresso coffees, which will be even more automated than before with the Mastrena, reducing baristas to button pushers. Click on the image to read how the Clover system works.

The Clover Coffee Machine will elevate the quality and freshness of regular brewed coffee to the premium level that coffee enthusiasts expect, but not so for Starbucks espresso coffees, which will be even more automated than before with the Mastrena, reducing baristas to button pushers. Click on the image to read how the Clover system works.

  • get rid of breakfast sandwiches by end of 2008 (announced Jan 30), to eliminate strong smells that compete with coffee
  • slow pace of new openings and close 100 underperforming stores in US (announced Jan 30)
  • stop reporting on year-over- year same-store sales growth (announced Jan 30), which could only be achieved in long term by continued dilution of brand experience through increased retailing options
  • upgrade "partner" (i.e. barista, counter clerks, store management) training to re-focus on exceeding customer expectations and improve the overall experience (announced Jan 30)
  • acquisition of The Coffee Equipment Company for its Clover brewing system -- a method which creates a vacuum to suck the steeping coffee through a filter to create an individually brewed cup similar to French press (which pushes the filter through the steeping coffee) to create a superior flavored cup of "traditionally" brewed coffee, with enhanced richness and body (announced Mar 19)
  • introduce Mastrena espresso makers to replace current generation of automatic machines. (Although Schultz announced this, development of this machine, exclusive to Starbucks, was underway for 5 years.) Billed as enhancing the theater (because you can once again see the barista over its lower profile, and offering more control, it is still an automatic machine whose exclusivity doesn't address the quality and theatre lost with the old manual machines. (announced Mar 19)
  • Loyalty rewards added to Starbucks cards. (announced Mar 19)
  • Close 600 under-performing stores (up from only 100 under-performing stores in January).  12,000 employees will lose their jobs.  (announced July 01)

Overall, the emphasis of these changes is essentially the same as the recommendations I made last year, with the exception of two key points, which I'll discuss below.

The stated purpose has been to:

  • bring back the sense of theater
  • enhance the Starbucks experience consistent with brand expectations
  • put the emphasis back on coffee and hopefully undilute the brand identity

Unquestionably for drinkers of traditionally brewed coffee, the use of Clover machines to individually brew whatever you want from fresh ground beans (rather than chose from one of the three pre-selected coffees of the day) is a large improvement. Closing stores was expected because Starbucks was overbuilt, although Starbucks is blaming closures on the economy.

Is it the economy stupid, or is it really disruption?

For the first time ever, Starbucks has experienced a year-over-year decline in same store sales. The economy explanation has been picked up and widely reported in the media (because it fits the story that they want to report), but we have a hard time believing that Starbucks drinkers are consuming less coffee because of the price of gas.

More likely the economy is providing an incentive to the most price sensitive of Starbucks customers to switch to cheaper McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts alternatives, accelerating a trend that would have inevitably have happened anyway, due to the increasing availability of good enough low-end alternatives. Starbucks claims to have done research that disproves this, but we think they'd be wise to ignore the research, which is harder to prove than this more rational explanation.

The problem with drinking your own koolaid on something as strategic as protecting erosion of the customer base is that once people make peace with the mental switch from a high-end to low-end disruptive product, rationalizing that the low-end low cost alternative is good enough, they rarely go back.

The two things in the list of strategic changes that Schultz has implemented that are still at odds with "undisrupting" Starbucks are the switch to Mastrena ultra-automatic machines and not fully addressing the low-end threat for what it is. While the Mastrena may be an improvement in visibility of the barista, enabling them to participate in the experience for the customer, it is still an automatic machine. In fact, it automates more of the process, not less.

The supposed expertise of the barista is therefore non-evident -- they can't do any more to improve the espresso shot than can the cashier at McDonalds. The emphasis of the Mastrena is on higher volume (operating efficiency), and any qualitative difference in the cup of coffee between it and the Verisimo machine is so minimal, it is unlikely to be noticed by the majority of caffeine addicts patronizing Starbucks.

Starbucks closes 600 stores. Did too fast growth make them less exclusive as a brand? Did we really need new Starbucks in Starbucks parking lots?

This is a key element, because in no way does the replacement of old machines with the Mastrenas differentiate the end product or in the consumers' mind justify the higher price for Starbucks versus their competition.

Proprietary is not equal to different, and this is a sustaining innovation that reinforces that Starbucks has overshot the needs of their customers, but yet still underperforms on a key dimension -- the expectation of a quality hand-crafted coffee. An expectation that Starbucks created, but has now walked away from.

Secondly, Starbucks gives the appearance of continuing to be in denial that speed and price are performance criteria that a large percentage of their customers deem important, and that many will sacrifice the brand image of Starbucks to get a good enough cup at McDonalds.

Admittedly, this is a very tough line to hold, since through its chain-store ubiquity, Starbucks has ceased to be a unique neighborhood place, becoming instead the middle-of-the-road McDonalds of premium coffee. The only problem is, McDonalds is better suited and better able to be the McDonalds of premium coffee.

How then can Starbucks respond? Can it be different enough to continue commanding a huge price premium over its competition? If not, will business continue to siphoned off by low-end disruptors?

Is there a counter-disruptive response that allows Starbucks to not concede the low-end to McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts while maintaining its higher end niche for hard-core loyalists? Will Starbucks realize that the Mastrena is masking the real problem and that by positioning it as an improvement to the coffee experience, may actually lose more customers as it rolls out (if there is no taste difference, has Starbucks reached the limits of innovation in the core experience).

Will they recognize that purists want a manual shot pulled, or minimally a semi-automatic (because the barista has more control than with a fully automatic)? Can all these needs co-exist?

While we must praise Schultz for the aggressive return to Starbucks origins and a stronger vision, the question now is has he gone far enough, or is the past year a harbinger of much greater disruption to come? Or, has he recognized that disruption is the problem, and there are more surprising announcements to come as a result?

More importantly for investors, is this the end of Starbucks as a growth stock (SBUX - click to see performance over past year compared with Dow Jone and S+P 500), or at about 1/2 the valuation of a year ago, and still dropping, is it a buying opportunity?

Wall Street has been betting against a return to the days of heady growth, but does it have to be that way? I don't think so, but it requires disruptive imagination to see a way out. Perhaps Schultz sees it too.

What do you think?

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Disruptive Business Strategy: What is Steve Jobs Really Up To?

Two days before the official launch of the iPhone, the pitch of media, pundit and public anxiety over perhaps the most anticipated new product since Windows 95 has reached a level only Steve Jobs could properly describe -- Insanely Great!  And here I am, contributing to the noise, raising it even a decibel louder if that's possible.

How loud is it?  As I finish writing this post, Technorati says that there are nearly 189,000 blog postings (in English -- there are nearly 305,000 in all languages) that talk about the iPhone. 

iPhone Debut Rivals Harry Potter Mania, But Will It Last and Why?

Compare that with 39,170 that mention Motorola's RAZR, a phone that was the previous biggest smash hit and which literally put Motorola back in the cell phone business after years of decline.  Nearly 6 times the level of mention of a phone which has been exceedingly popular, a design hit, has been in the market since 2004 and which exceeded all other flip phone sales within one year of its release. 

And, the number of postings that include mention of the iPhone has been rising by over 1,000 every 4 hours today, and you can count on it growing even faster until the pent up hysteria is released at 6pm on Friday.  And, the chatter certainly won't stop then.

Every major media outlet has weighed in.  The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, every computer or telecom related industry trade journal has reviewed it.  Virtually everyone who's been privileged to receive one of the media samples for review has said it's cool -- so cool it almost lives up to its hype. 

Like the mania for video game consoles or Harry Potter books, prospective customers started waiting in line outside flagship stores in New York Tuesday morning.  Unprecedented for a phone.

Think about it -- the entire country seems locked in a heat wave, with most major cities experiencing temperatures in the mid 90s or higher.  Yet, people are so lustful of being one of the first to own an iPhone, that they will camp outside a store for 4 days in the sweltering heat to lock in to a 2-year service commitment from AT&T, the worst service provider in the business (more on that later).

So, does all this mean runaway success -- the game is already won?  Or, will there be an equal and opposite reaction when possibility and excitement about the future gives way to reality, and inevitable issues with service, availability, bugs in functionality and unfulfilled expectations?

Apple fanatics say it will be successful because it is ultra-cool, easy-to-use, a breakthrough in design elegance and software sophistication. Naysayers say nothing could live up to this level of hype, and that when things die down, sales will appear lackluster no matter how good they are.

Virtually everyone notes the stupidity of getting into an exclusive deal with AT&T and warns that this could be the albatross around the iPhone's neck. Almost all of the speculation and predictions are based on visceral and emotional reactions, and influenced heavily by the reality dispersion bubble that surrounds Steve Jobs, and by the majority belief that "better" wins. 

But if we run with that notion reductio ad absurdum, what exactly does 'winning' mean?  Assuming that the consensus is that the iPhone is a better phone, does it have to achieve market dominance as a late entrant the way the iPod has in the MP3 player space?

Surely it doesn't have to match iPod's 80% market share within 5 years! There are over a billion mobile phones already in use around the world.  Is a 10 or 20% market share strong enough to be considered successful? (The RAZR's share is only around 5%.)

Is this even the right yardstick to use?

The iPhone Will Be a Disruptive Winner

iPhone will be successful regardless of the metrics used.  It will be successful beyond the expectations of the most enthusiastic pundits. 

It will be successful beyond what Steve Jobs thinks.  It will be successful in spite of the apparent deficiencies that have already been noted in the reviews. It will be successful despite partnering exclusively with a single carrier, and the one most despised in the industry -- although this will be the biggest road bump the iPhone faces

It will be successful because it will change the game -- actually, it will change many games, and therein lies the secret of its success.  It will do all this because it will be disruptive. 

But, predictions are dangerous. And, mine disagree with those of many people whose opinions I respect and whose theories I borrow from. Even though I'm siding with the majority who believe the iPhone will be a big winner, how do I arrive at that conclusion and what exactly makes it disruptive?

Who Disagrees With Me

Before explaining what the highly respected experts are missing, let me first say who some of them are and try to summarize their positions.


Innosight is the consulting company formed by Clayton Christensen to sell management services around disruptive innovation. Clay developed the original ideas and theoretical framework that underlies disruptive innovation in his series of books - The Innovator's Dilemma, The Innovator's Solution and Seeing What's Next. Saying he (or his minions) have it wrong is like saying that the pope isn't Catholic.

In January, after the original announcement of the iPhone, Innosight consultant Jonathan Barrett said:

  • at $500 or $600, the price is too high
  • Cingular (now merged into AT&T) is incapable of providing the same high quality, seamless user experience that Apple customers expect
  • iPhone won't work on 3G high speed data networks -- only EDGE or Wi-Fi is supported -- so there won't be anything unique or distinctive about the wireless service
  • the deficiencies plus high price point will prevent iPhone from finding a market sweet spot
  • the approach of Apple is a "sustaining strategy" (i.e. incremental innovation of the cell phone), not a disruptive one, positioned against deep pocketed, long time industry incumbents who have a lot to lose if Apple wins and will fight fiercely for share

He reaches his "not disruptive" conclusion while still finding many things to like, such as lack of keyboard, design beauty, novel interface, thinness and coolness factor.

Mike Urlocker

My colleague, and the CEO of The Disruption Group, has a stronger technology, industry and investment background when it comes to the iPhone, having been the original analyst at UBS to identify the RIM Blackberry as a disruptive product and the first to recommend RIM as a strong buy. Mike has worked for and advised software companies on marketing strategy, and at UBS he was executive director and member of the global technology and telecom teams.

In his Disruption Scorecard evaluation of the iPhone, again shortly after the original announcement in January, Mike rates it a B-, and labels it likely a hit, but not very disruptive.  He reasons that the product appeals to people who want status and high design (the coolness factor) and are willing to pay for it, but that it doesn't have much potential to change the game like Blackberry did, or upset incumbent rivals such as Nokia, Motorola or Samsung.

Laura and Al Ries

Branding and positioning experts Laura and Al Ries (Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the original book that defined the concept of positioning) take a different tack, identifying the iPhone as a "convergence" product, and the iPod as a "divergence" product. The concepts of divergence and convergence come from Evolution Theory -- basically, the idea is that there is a common origin to all species, but that over time the "tree of life" diverges as natural selection creates specializations to adapt to the environment.

Another failed convergence product.

Another failed convergence product.

Similarly, Al and Laura (and other pundits too) argue that the natural trend for all products is towards divergence and specialization to better suit consumer needs.

They claim the iPod was successful because it was a divergence product. Moreover, they argue that most "convergence" products fail -- convergence being when multiple feature categories are combined in a single product (in iPhone's case, an iPod, cell phone and PDA).

Their position is that consumers prefer products that are optimized to do one task well, rather than a lot of tasks poorly, and they further claim that the iPhone has been over hyped and most over hyped products fail to live up to expectations, therefore the iPhone will be a failure.


Most of the others who claim the iPhone will be a failure base it on their own personal biases rather than what the market as a whole is likely to do and why -- "I'm not going to get one because . . .".  Name your complaint here. Price, lack of keyboard, slow data network, AT&T as carrier, touch screen keys too small to hit accurately, it will have bugs in version 1.0, etc.

So, what are they all missing, and more to the point, what is Steve Jobs really up to?

The Label Problem

One of the problems with evaluating anything analytically is that we get hung up on labels rather than thinking about what the labels mean and why the rules of thumb associated with them usually work. In the case of the iPhone, there are many labels and definitions being applied that are throwing people off the scent of what's really happening and my belief is that this is deliberate.

Yes, Steve is trying to fool the experts and fly below the analytical radar, ironically while mounting one of the most pervasive and successful hype build ups of all time.

To start with, the name iPhone is a mislabeling. While iPhone does indeed have phone capability in it, it is not a phone. Suspend disbelief for a second, walk with me a little, and it will all make sense soon.

Is your laptop PC a phone because you can make GoogleTalk or Skype calls using it? If not, why not?

Does it matter that it isn't the only thing you do with it? What if that was the most important thing you did with your PC, because you make a lot of calls to India, and free long distance service is worth a lot to you? Still not a phone?

Well, if your PC isn't a phone, is it a typewriter? I know that the primary purpose for my PC is typing documents, blog posts and html. I print a lot of those on paper. Mine is definitely an evolved typewriter.

Or maybe your PC is really a gaming console, or a mobile email device because you use it at home, at work, at Starbucks and at hotels and other wi-fi hotspots around the world to send and receive emails. Or, maybe it's just another example of a highly unsuccessful convergence device?

Or, do you still think your PC is something else?

The iPhone is Definitely Not a Phone

So, if you were willing to suspend disbelief and suppose that the iPhone might not be a phone, what is it then? Let's start with why it's called an iPhone.

iPhone is both sales positioning and a ruse. iPhone is positioned as a phone because Apple knows that in that niche, the market is sorely lacking for a stylish, easy to use, fun, visual, well-designed and well integrated device. It is a first if only because of its elegance. Don't believe me?

Then why isn't it really an evolved iPod?  One with a really big screen, beautiful graphics and music navigation, and by the way, it includes the ability to make phone calls?

The reason is because Apple believes this is the purpose that you will understand out of the starting gate, and for which it can convince people to shell out $500 or $600 to get the most stylish and coolest gadget on the block. Therefore it is positioned as a phone, and that's the basis on which everyone is analyzing it, and writing glowing reviews. But it isn't a phone.

It's also a ruse, because Mr. Jobs has a much higher goal in mind than selling the world's coolest phone. But this is an effective way to divert attention from the real disruption that is happening until it's too late.

Why This Makes Perfect Sense

Let's get a historical perspective to make a little more sense of this. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and tried to sell his patents to Western Union in the late 1870s, how do you think he described what it was?

No one had a framework to describe how revolutionary the phone would be as a communications tool. If you wanted to talk to someone, you went across the street, knocked on their door, and if they were at home or in their office, you could talk.

Initially, outside of the securities industry, people couldn't even understand why they would want a phone. Especially since the first version could only work over short distances due to signal loss on the wires. There was no network, there wasn't any need for communications to be sped up that much and nobody else had one, so how much use was it?

Bell considered the telephone to be a way to transmit voice over the telegraph, and that's why he thought Western Union would buy his patents. Bell viewed the telephone, perhaps one of the most disruptive technologies of all time, as an incremental ("sustaining") innovation over telegraphy.

Western Union, on the other hand, viewed it as being worth less than $100,000 since they rejected the offer to buy the patents for that much, although they later tried to buy them for $25 million.

Do you consider your telephone today to be a highly evolved telegraph? If you can imagine that, what about your cell phone, or is it different because it's mobile? What then of the iPhone? Just a space age telegraphy device with no keys or dials?

The important thing to note here is that in the early days, it is difficult to imagine the application and importance of disruptive innovations if they really are, because no one has a framework to understand its value.

That's why the car was positioned as a horseless carriage. That's why TV was radio with pictures. That's why the first computer was called ENIAC -- or the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator. 

That's right, the first computer was just a calculator that cost 200,000 man hours to build, $486,804 in 1946, and used $650/hr worth of electricity to sit idle. Some times the original naming belies the importance of an innovation.

So, positioning of an innovation in the short term is not the same as long-term recognition of value and the salient characteristics that define its use. If not for the need to calculate missile trajectories more quickly and accurately during the war, the first computer might never have been built.

And what of convergence versus divergence? Most consultants and branding experts will tell you that convergence as a strategy almost always fails, because the more things you combine into one, the more compromises you have to make in design, and each individual function is sub optimized at the expense of the whole.

In disruption theory, a parallel idea says that as companies continually add sustaining innovations to better meet the needs of mainstream consumers and/or differentiate their products, they eventually overshoot the needs of most of their customers. Convergent products usually exceed the needs of all but a small minority of any prospective customer base. After all, who needs every tool on a Swiss Army knife?

That's the theory, but the reality is that when you try to apply simplistic labels to categories or products and then assign attributes or success factors based on those labels, you can miss the forest for the trees. In the case of convergence versus divergence, this is especially true, since which bucket you assign a product to varies based on whether the combined elements are truly synthesized in such a way that they cannot be separated and provide the same benefit, or whether they are just bolted together and not really integrated to optimize overall performance.

Ask yourself whether the combination of radio technology, speakers and a cathode ray tube to make a TV represents convergence or divergence? Is it the evolution of radio, or are the elements synthesized in such a way that they create something truly new?

If I turn on the TV, but listen to it from another room, is it still a TV, or is it a radio? Did the TV fail because several technologies converged? What about personal computers?

So what is the iPhone, and what is Steve really up to?

It's a handheld one of these. Fits in your pocket too.

It's a handheld one of these. Fits in your pocket too.

The iPhone is disruptive because it isn't really a phone, or for that matter, an iPod. If it was either of these, then as cool and elegant and nicely designed as it is, it would still just be an incremental or "sustaining" innovation.

Remember that the iPhone has a complete version of the Mac's OSX operating system embedded, plus it lacks a keyboard and has a truly novel interface with seamless integration between different functions. With all that, it can be considered as the first truly personal handheld entertainment and communications computer.

It can also be considered the first handheld business computer powerful enough to replace a notebook for road warriors tied of lugging all their paraphernalia through airport security. In other words, it competes in a different class of products -- not as a phone, not as a smart phone, and not as a computer.

It serves the un- or underserved need for lightness, simplicity, ease of use, true integration and is simple enough that my mother could use all the features without thinking about each being a different application or device. Competing against laptops, it doesn't yet have all the applications my PC has, but it is "good enough" that many will be ready to give it a try.

And, there are already numerous applications you can download to enhance the functionality for your needs, and many more business applications (especially things like bluetooth connectivity to a real keyboard, document editing, spreadsheets and presentation capability) which will run in Safari are likely to come. 

And, when compared to a laptop, it is disruptively inexpensive. Analogous statements are true if you evaluate it as a personal communications and entertainment computer.

This is, I think, what the huge excitement is about. People innately sense that this is much bigger than a phone, they just aren't yet able to articulate what is significant about it, and how we'll look back on Friday June 29, 2007 as one of those days when everything changed. 

And, it looks really cool and I desperately want one.

Steve's End Game

The iPhone is a trojan horse.

Steve lost the first battle between the PC and the Mac because he was less sophisticated as a business person in those days, and didn't fully appreciate how difficult it would be to convince the masses that they needed an expensive personal computer before they had even used one at work. In 1984, the Mac exceeded the needs of most potential customers, and looked like a toy to business (unless your business was about graphics or publishing).

The DOS-based PC was the "good enough" disruptive innovation of its time because it catered to mainframe users used to buying computing equipment from IBM and used to looking at green-screen character-oriented terminals.

This time it's different. Almost all of us use PCs daily. And, most of us are tired of the now clunky-seeming interface which isn't much different or easier to use than the initial Mac interface of more than 20 years ago.

And, we desperately need a single, small pocket-sized device that can handle all our business needs while on the road and enable us to leave our 10 pound paperweights at home. Something that's easy to get through airport security, and makes my life less complicated.

Moreover, at the price point of $500 or $600, this is something that every road warrior can afford today, if only as a style accessory. So, the decision won't be made or inhibited by corporate IT departments.

Sure, they'll try to block connectivity to their servers on security grounds -- they always do, because they think computers are about them, not about the users' needs. Of course, the iPhone includes VPN connectivity, and most have already got their heads around that. But so many executives will have these that just like the Blackberry before it, corporate acceptance will be very fast. And, once you've adopted the iPhone as your traveling computer, how much of a jump will it be to make your next notebook/desktop for office use be a Mac?

My Prediction

As a phone, the iPhone will be exceedingly popular. If production can keep up with the demand, I believe that Apple will sell more than 2 million before year end 2007 -- if they can scale fast enough and have a new version out in time for Christmas, maybe as many as 5 million.

Steve Job's stated target is 10 million sold by end of 2008. Given that there will probably be at least 2 more versions of this product before that, I believe 10 million is a very low estimate, set so that expectations can be smashed -- again, it will depend how fast production can gear up to handle demand and support several different models, but 20 million should be easily reachable.

As additional business applications start coming online, probably early to mid-2008, expect sales to really take off. We will no longer be judging the iPhone as a phone when that happens, but as a true micro-mini sized PC which revolutionizes the entire tech industry and rejuvenates innovation throughout Silicon Valley. At that point, the iPhone will disrupt Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, and maybe even Nintendo (to name a few).

see Seth's Prediction Page


And, what about AT&T? Well, that truly is the fly in the ointment and Steve's Achilles Heel. AT&T is brutish about customer service, slow to innovate and slow to reform. They will try to extort every possible advantage in pricing and contractual obligation that they can. AT&T knows nothing if not how to exercise a monopolistic advantage.

Moreover, AT&T lacks the broadest service coverage, and no single carrier (in the US, at least) is right for everyone. We all know that signal strength and dropped calls vary based on where you spend most of your time.

So, if you live in an AT&T dead zone, tough luck. Their EDGE network is slow, and they don't have anywhere near complete enough coverage with their 3G services (which aren't built into this version of the iPhone anyway).

It's hard to understand why Job's wouldn't let the market decide if he wasn't going to lease his own service. With a single carrier that many will be unhappy with, Apple will take the brunt of service complaints -- if I could go anywhere, I'd blame the carrier, not Apple. 

Verizon has the best coverage and fewest dropped calls. T-Mobile has the best customer service, best rates, and happiest customers.  Maybe AT&T (Cingular at the time) was the only one willing to play ball on the technology changes that Steve wanted.

Regardless, if service complaints and customer mistreatment stories start hitting the press, expect a negative backlash that could take a serious bite out of sales growth and long term success. On the other hand, wide scale Wi-Max is a technology whose time may well have come -- it would make perfect sense for independent Wi-Max providers to bathe cities in their signal, and then AT&T could become almost irrelevant in the equation (if Wi-Fi VOIP capability exists).