At US$325 billion, Apple’s market valuation is now a staggering 15 times its annual profit. But isn’t the bubble about to burst? There are three reasons why it could: Apple’s segmentation strategy; pricing strategy; and business model.
Apple has taken the concept of segment stretching to extremes. It products have gone from being adored by a clearly defined target group to mass popularity. The problem is that premium design products that offer an outstanding user experience simply aren’t suitable for the mass market. In the long term, the mainstream public won’t be prepared to pay a considerable premium for stand-out design and ease of use.
When the initial hype dies down, many customers will switch to cheaper competing products instead. And that’s the catch; penetrating the smartphone market means attracting the masses. By definition, ‚followers’ are not willing to pay more money for innovations, so it will be hard for Apple to find buyers in this segment in the long run.
Apple has tried to enforce its high price strategy for as long as possible. Now we’re seeing a turnaround, with the new and improved iPad 2 being launched at the same price as its predecessor. A price premium of up to 100% will not be feasible in the future mass market for tablet PCs; Apple’s target segment is too broad for that. Its price premium is too high for new segments, and the competitors, especially Samsung, are too good and too smart not to take advantage of that.
If Apple wants to cling to its strategy of appealing to the masses, it will have no choice but to lower its prices, but its share price will suffer as a result.
Apple has turned paid content into a successful model. No other manufacturer makes it as simple to buy content. Initially, nobody seemed to mind too much that Apple demanded a 30% cut of content subscriptions. But content partners have started to grumble, and are developing bypass strategies.
The real danger lies elsewhere, however. In reality, it’s the customers who will make this business model crumble. Not everyone is happy about Apple banning Flash applications, or about the omnipresent iTunes, or Apple’s attempts to decide what consumers might like to buy and how, and none of this will be accepted in Apple’s new, broader, customer segments.
No manufacturer, Apple included, will be able to handcuff mass content exclusively to a single device. Why should newspaper readers be able to read the latest headlines on a PC but not on an iPad? Such restrictions will be less of a hindrance to loyal Apple customers, but they’ll annoy the mass public. In light of the fierce competition, Apple will have to slacken its rigid business model, or else it won’t be able to continue targeting a wider segment. And that would be the death knell for another bastion of profit growth and share price development.
Time for change
The unavoidable changes to Apple’s price level and business model will put its share price under pressure. Apple is not Nokia, but neither is it worth ten times more than the world’s largest cell phone manufacturer.
Unless Apple invents another revolutionary new product, it has two strategy choices. Continue with segment expansion. To be able to stay in step with the prices of competing products in the mass market, Apple will have to stretch its portfolio and its brand even further. The iPad and iPhone will need to be offered in more versions (like Apple’s Mac computers), with a range of model variants that suit buyers’ varying willingness to pay.
Apple needs to skim existing segments more effectively and push for further growth in these segments. By delivering a unified user experience with its various products, Apple can make its customers more likely to buy products from more than one category; iPhone users entering the world of Macs, for example. The more Apple products a customer has, the closer his or her attachment to the brand.
Simon-Kucher & Partners Strategy & Marketing Consultants is a global consulting firm with 500 professionals in 23 offices worldwide, focusing on smart profit and growth.
Why Apple’s share price is doomed to fall
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