Apple was a high flyer. As the stock hit $700, analysts predicted it would reach $1,000. Then Steve Jobs died. He so personified the company that many felt his death left Apple leaderless. So the stock lost 42% of its value dropping to $400.
Apple has now recaptured that lost value, and trades a bit above its former historic high. Apple is the most valuable publicly traded company in America, worth about $700B. For some perspective on just how large this valuation is, it roughly equals the combined values of Dow Jones Industrial Average stalwart, industry leading mega-companies Walmart ($281B #1 retailer,) GE ($242B #1 conglomerate,) McDonalds ($91B #1 restaurant,) and Dupont ($70B #1 chemical.)
Since Apple was on the edge of bankruptcy just 15 years ago, and its value has risen so far, so fast, many people question if it can go much higher. Yes, it’s had a great recent quarter. But can anyone expect this company to continue growing at this pace? Won’t smartphones be commoditized causing Apple to lose share, sales and profits to alternatives? And aren’t its new products like the iWatch sort of “faddish?”
Apple is actually leading another new marketplace development that may well be bigger than any previous market development (digital music, smartphones, tablets) which could well send its value much, much higher. This new market success revolves around developers, beacons, consumers, retailers and payments. Just like we didn’t know we wanted an iPod until we saw one, or an iPhone, new products that exploit the Internet of Things (IoT) is where Apple is again leading the creation of new products and markets.
Start with Apple’s developer ecosystem. No device has any value unless it has applications. Apple created the first smartphone developer network around iOS. Because Android implementations vary based on device manufacturer, Apple’s iOS remains by far the largest installed common device base in the USA, and globally. Thus, developers are attracted in the largest numbers to develop applications for iPhones and iPads running iOS before any other device. To have a sense of the size of this developer base, and the speed with which they develop for Apple products, when Apple launched its own software language for developers called Swift it was downloaded over 11million times in the first month. These developer companies, in total, captured over $25B in revenue just in the 4th quarter from AppStore sales.
Understandably, these developers are constantly creating new products which leverage the installed Apple mobile base. A base which continues to double every few months as globally people buy more iPhones (75million iPhone 6 and 6+ devices sold in the 4th quarter.) And a base growing internationally, as Apple just beat out Louis Vuitton and Hermes to become the #1 luxury brand in China. It is now a virtuous circle, where the more apps developers create the more people want iPhones, and the more iPhones people buy the more developers want to create new apps.
And this is not just consumer apps. Increasingly business systems are being built to use Apple products. Many of these are small to medium size developers and resellers. Additionally, in 2014 Apple and IBM joined forces to create IBM MobileFirst which is building enterprise applications for multiple industries which will allow people to do all their work on iPhones and iPads sold by IBM. Even though IBM has struggled of late, its enterprise application skills have long been a corporate strength, and the first wave of products rolled out in December.
Now focus on iBeacon. Beacons are small electronic devices which transmit a signal that can talk to a smartphone. These can cost anywhere from a few dollars to a nickel, depending upon what they do and signal range. Years ago Apple started developing beacons, and then optimized iOS 8 to selectively and efficiently pick up beacon signals and establish 2-way communications without dissipating the battery. Without a lot of fanfare to the general public, they began rolling out iBeacons several months ago.
Today there are millions of beacons in place. Miami airport uses them to help travelers find gates, food, etc. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum use them for wayfinding, virtual guided tours and buying products. The Los Angeles Union Station and zoo, as well as the Orlando Seaworld, uses beacons to aid the customer experience, as this technology has become ready for prime time. Starbucks uses them to help loyal customers place orders. Retail applications are many, including finding products, couponing, product information, pricing and even purchase. Chain Store Age says that 2% of retailers had beacons installed in 2014, but that number will grow to 24% by end of 2015. A 12-fold increase in the installed base, at least.
Additionally, Facebook is now integrating beacons into the Facebook mobile app. This means iPhone users won’t need to download a museum or store app to communicate with beacons for their personal needs. Instead they can communicate via Facebook to find items, know what their friends think of the item, compare prices, etc. When the world’s largest social media platform incorporates beacons Mobile Marketer says this bridges digital and physical marketing, increases personalization in use of beacons, and beacons now accelerate the move to seamless mobile marketing and sales.
So, beacons and your idevice (including your iWatch or other wearable,) with the help of all those developers who are writing apps to bring you information, now make it possible for you to find your way around and learn more about things. And with ApplePay you can actually achieve the “last mile” of concluding the relationship between the business and consumer.
While mobile payment systems have been slow to get started, ApplePay has a lot more going for it. Firstly, it has the support of about all the major bank and card-issuing institutions because they see ApplePay as possibly lowering costs and increasing their revenue. Second, 78% of retailers think mobile pay is better and faster than their current point of sale systems. As a result, 43% of retailers plan to implement ApplePay by the end of 2015.
So, during 2015 we will be able to use beacons to find our way around, use beacons to identify services and products we want, and use beacons to tell us about the services and products either with apps from the location and retailer, or via Facebook mobile. Then we can buy those products immediately with ApplePay.
Even though Apple is a very highly valued company, it is again doing what made it such a big winner. Pioneering entirely new ways for consumers and businesses to get things done. New solutions are happening in all kinds of industries, pioneered by developers big and small. And when it comes to IoT, Apple products are at the center of the next big wave. Ancillary products, like watches and headphones, further support the use of Apple mobile products and the trend to IoT. Apple’s had a great run, but there is ample reason to believe that run has not stopped. There looks to be an entirely new wave of growth as Apple creates new products and solutions we didn’t even know we needed until they were in our hands.
(Adam Hartung is the managing director at Spark Partners. He blogs here.)
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