Getting Rich versus Getting Lost – Smartphones

Google & Apple vs. RIM, Nokia, Samsung, Microsoft

by Adam Hartung


Getting Rich versus Getting Lost - Smartphones

  • Most planning systems rely on extending past performance to predict the future
  • But markets are shifting too fast, making such forecasts wildly unreliable
  • To compete effectively, companies must anticipate future market shifts
  • Planning needs to incorporate a lot more scenario development, and competitor information in order to overcome biases to existing customers and historical products
  • Apple and Google have taken over the mobile phone business, while the original leaders have fallen far behind
  • Historical mobile phone leaders Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, RIM and Microsoft had the technologies and products to remain leaders, but they lacked scenarios of the future enticing them to develop new markets. Thus they allowed new competitors to overtake them
  • Lacking scenarios and deep competitor understanding, companies react to market events – which is slow, costly and ineffective

Apple, Android Help Smartphone Sales Double Over Last Year” is the Los Angeles Times headline. Google-supplied Android phones jumped from 3% of the market to 26% versus the same quarter last year. iPhones remained at 17% of the market. Blackberry is now just under 15%, compared to about 21% last year. What’s clear is people are no longer buying traditional mobile phones, as #1 Nokia share fell from 38% to 27%. Like many market changes, the shift has come fast – in only a matter of a few months. And it has been dramatic, as companies not even in the market 5 years ago are now the leaders. Former leaders are struggling to stay in the game as the market shifts.

The lesson Google and Apple are teaching us is that companies must have a good idea of the future, and then send their product development and marketing in that direction. Although traditional cell phone manufacturers, such as Motorola and Samsung, had smartphone technology many years prior to Apple, they were so focused on their traditional markets they failed to look into the future. Busy selling to existing customers an existing technology, they didn’t develop scenarios about 2010 and beyond that would describe how the market could expand – far beyond where traditional phone sales would take it. Both famously said “so what” to the new technology, and used existing customer focus groups of people who had no idea the potential benefit of a smart phone to justify their willingness to remain fixated on the existing business. Lacking a forward planning process based on scenario development, and lacking a good market sensing system that would pick up on the early market shift as novice competitor Apple started to really change the market, these companies are now falling rapidly to the wayside.

Even smartphone pioneer Research in Motion (RIM) was so focused on meeting the needs of its existing “enterprise” customers that it failed to develop scenarios about how to expand the smartphone business into the hands of everyone. RIM missed the value of mobile apps, and the opportunity to build an enormous app database. Now RIM has been surpassed, and is showing no signs of providing effective competition for the market leaders. While the Apple and Android app base continues to explode, based upon 3rd and 4th generation product inducing more developers to sign up, and more customers to buy in, RIM has not effectively built a developer base or app set – causing it to fall further behind quarter by quarter.

Even software giant Microsoft missed the market. Fixated upon putting out an updated operating system for personal computers (Vista then later Windows 7) it let its 45% market share in smart phones circa 2007 disappear. Now approaching 2011 Microsoft has largely missed the market. Again, focused clearly upon its primary goal of defending its existing business in O/S and office automation software, Microsoft did not have a forward focused planning group that was able to warn the company that its new products might well arrive in a market that was stagnating, and on the precipice of a likely decline, because of new technology which could make the PC platform obsolete (a combination of smart mobile devices and cloud computing architecture.) Microsoft’s product development was being driven by its historical products, and market position, rather than an understanding of future markets and how it should develop for them.

We can see this lack of future scenario development and close competitor tracking has confused Microsoft. Desperately trying to recover from a market stall in 2009 when revenues and profits fell, Microsoft has no idea what to do in the rapidly expanding smartphone market today. Its first product, Kin, was dropped only two months after launch, which industry analysts saw as necessary given the product’s lack of advantages. But now informs us in “Return of the Kin?” Microsoft is considering a re-launch in order to clear out old inventory.

This amidst a launch of the Windows Phone 7 that has gone nowhere. Firstly, there was insufficient advertising to gain any public awareness of the product launch earlier in November (“Where’s the Windows Phone 7 Ad Barrage?” [Mediapost]) Initial sales have gone nowhere “Windows Phone 7 Lands Without a Sound” [Mediapost], with many stores lacking inventory, very few promoting the product and Microsoft keeping surprisingly mum about initial sales. This has raised the question “Is Windows Phone 7 Dead On Arrival?” [Mediapost] as sales barely achieving 40,000 initial unit sales at launch, compared to daily sales of 200,000 Android phones and 270,000 iphones!

Companies, like Apple and Google, that have clear views of the future, based upon careful analysis of what can be done and tracking market trends, create scenarios that allow them to break out of the pack. Scenario development helps them to understand what the future can be like, and drive their product development toward creating new markets with more customers, more unit sales, higher revenues and improved cash flow. By studying early competitors, especially fringe ones, they create new products which are more highly desired, breaking them out of price competition (remember the Motorola Razr fiasco that nearly bankrupted the company?) and into higher price points and better earnings. Creating and updating future scenarios becomes central to planning – using scenarios to guide investments rather than merely projections based upon past performance.

Companies that base future planning on historical trends find themselves rapidly in trouble. Market shifts leave them struggling to compete, as customers quickly move to new solutions (old fashioned notions of “exit costs” are now dead). Instead of heading for the money, they are confused – lost in a sea of options but with no clear direction. Nokia, Samsung, RIM and Microsoft all have lots of resources, and great historical experience in the market. But lacking good scenario planning they are lost. Unable to chart a course forward, reacting to market leaders, and hoping customers will seek them out because they were once great.

Far too many companies do their planning off of past projections. One could say “planning by looking in the rear view mirror.” In a dynamic, global world this is not sufficient. When monster companies like these can be upset so fast, by someone they didn’t even think of as a traditional competitor (someone likely not even on the radar screen recently) how vulnerable is your company? Do you plan on 2015 looking like 2005? If not, how can future projections based on past actuals be valuable? it’s time more companies change their approach to planning to put an emphasis on scenario development with more competitive (rather than existing customer) input. That’s the only way to get rich, instead of getting lost.

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Adam HartungAdam Hartung, author of “Create Marketplace Disruption“, is a Faculty and Board member of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, Managing Partner of Spark Partners, and writes for “Forbes” and the “Journal for Innovation Science.”

Adam Hartung




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