BI Research Express 11/3/2011

A Complete Overhaul Of Apple’s Product Line Next Year Makes More Sense Than You Think
Apple will overhaul all its product lines in 2012, according to well-sourced (but sometimes wrong) trade publication DigiTimes

At first, this seems like a tall order—a complete refresh for all products? 

And yet, if you drill down, it doesn’t seem unlikely. As the great chart below from SplatF shows, Apple refreshes its products relatively regularly:

 

apple product design refreshes

Photo: Image: SplatF

 

Let’s break down Apple’s major product categories:

  • iPhone: Apple seems to have settled into a rhythm where the iPhone has a major redesign every other year, and a minor refresh in-between. That would set the stage for a brand-new iPhone 5 in 2012.
  • iPad: Even though we have only had two years of data, so far Apple has stuck to the same rythm as the iPhone: last year’s iPad 2 was a moderate refresh of the first iPad; a brand-new iPad 3 in 2012 seems like a good bet and is widely expected.
  • Apple TV: Many observers expect Apple to introduce some sort of ambitious new TV product in 2012, perhaps a voice-controlled TV set. 
  • iPod: The iPod business is slowing down, as it’s cannibalised by the iPhone and other smartphones, except for the iPod Touch, which is basically a phone-less iPhone. If the iPhone gets a redesign, it’s possible the iPod Touch could as well. Many people have already predicted the demise of the iPod Classic, which hasn’t changed much in years. And one day surely, demand for the smaller iPods will go away.
  • Laptops: Many observers expect that Apple will overhaul its MacBook Pro line, giving it a thinner, wedge-shaped design similar to that of the MacBook Air. 
  • iMac: While the iMac is successful, its current “aluminium unibody” design has been around since 2007, eons for Apple. It’s arguably time for a refresh.
  • Mac Pro: There have been reports that Apple could shut down its MacBook Pro line due to weak demand, as it has its server line.

As we can see from Apple’s history and where its current product line stands, while a complete product refresh in 2012 at first seems like biting off more than it can chew (and it would certainly be a great feat), it’s not as unlikely as it sounds. In fact, it’s quite possible. 

ALSO ON APPLE: Siri could be a revolutionary user interface on par with multi-touch with equally momentous consequences, according to Asymco analyst Horace Dediu. He argues that big shifts in computing are driven by new revolutionary user interfaces, and Siri’s voice control could be one of them and therefore drive new, disruptive products for Apple. According to this line of thought, a Siri-driven Apple TV would be a huge hit on par with the iPhone.

The Verticalization Of Professional Networks Begins: Is It A Threat To LinkedIn?
More and more, we are seeing the emergence of “vertical” professional social networks: networks dedicated to a specific type of occupation with specialised tools. 

 Here are two examples:

  • Academic networks. These networks help researchers and scientists get together to share data and information, and help companies tap networks of researchers to solve problems. One such network, Kaggle, recently added Silicon Valley and technology heavyweight Max Levchin as chairman. Another example is Paris-based Hypios.
  • Investor networks. These networks help investors conduct private financial transactions like M&A and asset sales. An example of a contender here is CapLinked, but also investors that connect entrepreneurs and investors like AngelList. 

Are these a threat to LinkedIn, the biggest, and more generalist, professional social network?

As we argued in our study of network effects, generalist networks can be undermined by more focused vertical upstarts. Is this going to happen to LinkedIn?

In the short-to-medium term: no. From a market opportunity standpoint, LinkedIn is a giant resume database, which gives it a unique asset to attack the multibillion dollar global recruiting industry. That is an enormous opportunity, and whether these networks succeed or fail won’t make a difference to LinkedIn’s execution in this market.

That being said, it is a big missed opportunity, because it shows that LinkedIn can’t become a platform. Facebook’s greatest insight, and what guarantees its dominance of the web over the next 5 years, was its crucial early realisation that it couldn’t do everything “social”–but that it could provide tools to third parties to do it through their social graph, thereby improving the value of their company (and allowing them to take a tax later on).

Building platforms seems to be a “DNA thing.” It’s a core competency, and companies either can or can’t do it. And LinkedIn, so far, has been in the latter category. It has certainly tried to become a platform by allowing third-parties to build apps on top of LinkedIn and providing tools like an equivalent of Facebook’s Connect feature, which allows user to log in to third-party sites with their Facebook credentials. But so far the applications are very limited. And several third-party LinkedIn developers have told us, on condition of anonimity because they are partners with LinkedIn, that LinkedIn’s third-party tools are limited and technically frustrating.

LinkedIn is often referred to as a “professional” or “grown-up” Facebook, but that misses a crucial difference. Like Facebook, LinkedIn is a social network; unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is not a platform. This is a missed opportunity, and even though it shouldn’t affect LinkedIn in the short-to-medium term, it remains a long-term weakness because in the future vertical professional networks just might undermine LinkedIn.

Therefore, even though LinkedIn has a big opportunity ahead of it that it is uniquely positioned to grasp, its incapacity to turn itself into a platform puts a lid on its potential future value. 

In other news…

Everyone’s breathless about how Amazon is disrupting the publishing business by publishing books itself, but so far they’re not having that big an impact. Part of the problem is channel conflict: Some bookstores and Barnes & Noble refuse to sell the books.

Amazon is creating Kindle book-lending service for Amazon Prime subscribers. Prime members, who pay $79 a year for faster shipping, will be able to borrow one Kindle book per month for free. Amazon continues to increase the benefits of Prime.

Jawbone launches “UP”, a wristband-iPhone app combo that tracks your movements and thereby gives you information about your health and well-being. Jawbone is better-known for making fancy phone headsets, but this is part of Jawbone’s broader vision to make “wearable computers”, which it believes could be the future of computing. If that vision succeeds, mobile computing wouldn’t be centered on the smartphone as it is now, but on several devices, linked to the cloud and controlled by voice. 

China is now the world’s second largest mobile app market and usage grew 870% in 2011, according to mobile analytics firm Flurry.

DON’T MISS OUR REPORT: The Way Companies Are Getting Financed Is Completely Changing →

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