For their second financial quarter in 2016 Apple reported sales of 51.2 million iPhones — that's 562,637 iPhones sold. Every day. That sounds tremendous, but no, not to Wall Street, which instead reacted with the same level of annoyance I do when stepping in dog shit on my way to Starbucks. The end result? Apple stock dropped some 14% over the next 12 trading days, slicing a cool $76.74 billion — enough to purchase two Netflix-es (or 1 pair of Yeezy Boost 750's) — off the Cupertino company's market cap.
But still, let's focus on that number again: 562,637 $700 iPhones sold every day. That's impressive.
And that's why Davey Alba's framing of internet psychic Mary Meeker's crystal ball reading of internet trends at Wednesday's Code Conference had me blowing up my inflatable fainting couch (I carry one with me for just such occasions) again after reading the following headline: "The iPhone’s Biggest Threat Isn’t Android—It’s Amazon’s Echo":
On slide 133 of her much-anticipated annual Internet Trends report, venture capitalist Mary Meeker made a curious comparison. She put a graph of iPhone sales side-by-side with a sales estimate for the Echo, the newish wireless speaker and voice-activated personal assistant from Amazon.
That juxtaposition might seem strange, but Meeker was making a point. Sales of the iPhone have been slowing, and according to Meeker’s projections, they’ll go into decline by the end of 2016. Right as this is happening, sales of the Amazon Echo are starting to take off.
Famously, Amazon doesn't do number releases so the data bar graphed on Meeker's Power Point slide is based instead on estimates by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP). On one side of the slide is a chart showing annual iPhone sales since 2007 rising higher and higher until finally cresting in 2015 and then dipping in 2016, or at least appears to dip since we actually don't have the technology yet to travel into the future to see the numbers for Q3 and Q4 and all we have to go on for now is Meeker's guesstimate. On the other side of the slide is CIRP's estimated numbers for the Echo, presented quarterly since Q2 2015. Here the graphs show increasing sales over the course of 4 quarters ending with Q1 2016 and one data point: 1 million.
You'll remember of course that Apple released a watch — the Apple Watch — last year that's often referred to by the media, analysts, and even 53% of non-Apple Watch owners in the U.S. as a flop. The Apple Watch began shipping on April 25, 2015 and over the remaining 3 quarters in 2015 moved 11.6 million units.
Of course we get that this isn't really about the numbers ("metrics"), and that market expectations shape perceptions, and that on the internet/Snapchat perception is reality. Also, we're deliberately ignoring the point Meeker is making about the "rise" of stand alone voice-activated assistants like the Echo because based on Echo's current sales and the Chromebook acting as the server for Alexa's software (this detail may not be technically accurate) — virtually no one has one.
None of this meant as knock on the Echo, a perfectly fine, albeit expensive cooking timer I hear, or Ms. Meeker, whose presentation, all jokes aside, is informative and well worth watching. Instead the bone I'm picking is with Alba, and Wired, and the annoyingly obvious "we couldn't help ourselves" headline.
Real talk: Alexa is unquestionably an improvement over Siri: it hears better, it understands better, it responds faster, and thanks to APIs that developers can tap into — it integrates better and learns new skills — and as a piece of consumer technology it makes as much synergistic sense now as the Kindle did when Amazon was just an online bookstore. Yet the claim that the Echo is the iPhone's (and by extension, Apple's) greatest threat is still quite wide of the mark, that it may feel accurate is only because it scratches the thin paint hiding the actual issue: Apple's greatest threat isn't the Echo or Amazon anymore than it is from Google's Home, or Android, Spotify, Netflix, or Dropbox. Instead, Apple's greatest threat remains the division within itself — until its services businesses — their integrations, polish and attention to detail, their staffs, and sense of self-worth — rise to the same level of reverence and worship that bespoke hardware and being white do in the boardroom of the Temple of Jobs, the actual headline we should be reading is: "Apple's Greatest Threat — Is Apple."