With sales data, reports, and analysis covering a wide range of categories including computing, networking, memory, media, monitors, and printing, we help our clients understand the rapidly-evolving product landscape and technology trends at the national and local market levels.
Research is based on both retail point-of-sale tracking and consumer information for all retail channels, including the Web.
The Retail Tracking Service monitors retail sales of consumer technology products. Data provided by our participating channel partners delivers a detailed picture of product movement down to the item level. National information is available weekly and monthly; local market information is available monthly.
Store-Level Enabled Retail Tracking
Store-Level Enabled Retail Tracking complements our national Retail Tracking Service– it can help you determine whether sales are distribution-driven or whether certain parts of the country are contributing more to national share or driving growth. The velocity measure that is part of Store-Level Enabled Retail Tracking takes into consideration sales volume (Annualized Industry Volume or AIV) rather than considering store count alone, for a more meaningful read on where products are selling and how they are performing.
Account Level Reports
These reports enable retailers who choose this option to share their information with approved vendors, allowing vendors to analyze business performance at specific retailers down to the item level in many instances. By making this report available to their vendors, retailers can work together with them to optimize performance. These reports may only be made available with the express permission of the retailer.
Explore comprehensive market research on consumer behavior and attitudes across a wide array of industry sectors. This service provides a total market view, encompassing activity at all retailers including Walmart. It delivers critical insights into market trends, demographics, and customer satisfaction to help companies address the challenges of market sizing, competitive analysis and response, new product development, product positioning, and more.
NPD’s Analytic Solutions group includes senior leaders with extensive experience developing and delivering analytic solutions that help clients predict areas of risk and growth to improve marketing and product development. By combining NPD’s unique data assets and industry expertise with state-of-the-discipline research techniques and proprietary solutions, our Analytic Solutions team is able to answer clients’ most pressing business questions.
Checkout delivers the most comprehensive view of consumer purchase behavior for general merchandise categories, across all retailers over time, to help you understand how to adjust your marketing to fuel growth. Checkout E-commerce offers the most complete and accurate view of the online channel – including first and third-party sales for Amazon and other marketplaces, 400+ e-commerce retailers including direct-to-consumer, and an early read on emerging players.
The VAR channel represents significant business potential. Now you can get a picture of this elusive technology market! Our VAR Tracking Service delivers detailed monthly sales information with views at the category, brand, item, and feature levels.
New smartphones often deliver growth opportunities in the mobile accessories space. Growth in wireless charging in Q4 2017 is a prime example.
– The NPD Group, a leading global information company, announced today the winners of this year’s Consumer Electronics Industry Performance Awards at their annual reception during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Whether treating yourself or gifting to someone else, increased spending has resulted in stereo headphones historically ranking among top tech sales performers during the holiday season (Oct. – Dec.). Dollar sales last holiday were 15 percent higher than the 2015 holiday season, and 2017 sales are off to a strong start with Cyber Monday week sales up 55 percent vs. the same week last year1, according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company.
Industry revenue has turned the corner – 2017 will see the best holiday performance in years, as hot new categories and a stable market deliver positive revenue growth in consumer electronics.
According to global information provider, The NPD Group, 57 percent of all U.S. smartphone users access video content via an app at least once a month, with iOS users more likely than Android users to access video content, 66 percent versus 49 percent, respectively. Streaming video is the number one driver of cellular and Wi-Fi data consumption on mobile and fixed networks, accounting for 78 percent of the total data used by smartphone owners, with streaming video apps like YouTube and Netflix driving the greatest data demands.
Fifteen percent of U.S. internet households currently own a home automation device, up from 10 percent in April 2016, according to global information provider, The NPD Group. Year to date, U.S. dollar sales of home automation products have increased 43 percent, with strong growth across all device types1. While security and monitoring continues to hold the largest share of dollar sales in the category, video doorbells2 (+123 percent) and smart lighting (+83 percent) are also quickly growing.
High Resolution Audio Device Sales See Steady Growth in the U.S., Indicating Increasing Expectations for Sound Quality
Consumers have come to expect high definition viewing experiences, but what about quality listening? According to The NPD Group's Retail Tracking Service, since 2014, high resolution (hi-res) audio devices* have experienced steady growth with U.S. dollar sales increasing 77 percent in 2016 compared to 2014 and unit sales more than doubling over the same time period (118 percent growth).
The NPD Group today announced that it has launched its Checkout Tracking℠ E-commerce service for the technology industry. The service will provide clients an in-depth understanding of online consumer electronics sales, which is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers and retailers alike. Among consumer electronics categories seeing strong annual online dollar sales growth in the U.S. are: streaming audio speakers (80 percent), smart lighting (74 percent), and security & monitoring devices (56 percent)*.
Smart TVs to Drive Nearly Half of Installed Internet-Connected TV Device Growth Through 2020, Forecasts NPD
By the end of 2020 there are forecast to be 260 million installed devices attached to the internet and able to deliver apps to TVs, according to the latest NPD Connected Intelligence forecast. This represents 31 percent growth in TV-connected devices over the forecast period, led by smart TVs and streaming media players. In fact, smart TVs will drive nearly half (48 percent) of installed internet-connected TV device growth through 2020, while streaming media players will contribute 31 percent of ownership growth.
Video games, electronics, and apps make up a combined 22 percent of kids’ licensed product dollar sales in the U.S.* – on par with the volume represented by toys, which is the number one licensed industry at most retailers, according to the U.S. Kids License Report from global information company The NPD Group.
IT hardware sales revenue rose 6% in the distribution channel in 2017, with unit sales growing solidly at 5% — but software gains were even bigger. See what we see . . .
In 2017, the U.S. B2B indirect hardware market grew 4% compared to 2016, from $55 billion to $57 billion. The increase outpaced annual U.S. GDP growth and shows the hardware market's strength in the B2B channel, driven by segments such as PCs and networking devices.
Manufacturers must convince retailers that their version of the hot, new thing should be on store shelves. See how our client proved tablet/laptop buyers spend twice as much on electronics overall compared to other buyers.
Digital storefronts provide centralized services to support digital game downloading and purchasing. Until now, it has been hard to see this market up close and make data-driven decisions about digital selling platforms and how best to use them.
The back-to-school season isn't about one-stop shopping anymore. Find out what it is about these days.
Our tech analysts expect fewer than half of U.S. consumers will account for more than three-quarters of tech industry spending through 2018. That means it’s becoming increasingly important to understand the consumer landscape—you’ve got to really know those consumers. We’ve identified 6 consumer segments that are worth watching. Here’s a look at their potential tech industry value through next year.
Not many categories can boast that they grew 72% in U.S. sales in the span of a single year, but in the 12 months ending March 2017, all-flash arrays (AFAs) did just that. U.S. dollar and unit sales of AFAs are rising as companies leverage them to process growing quantities of data at a faster pace.
The back-to-school season is the second largest retail shopping season. To gauge what’s to come this year, we looked back on last year’s back-to-school shopping behavior
While HP, Inc. has a strong track record of measuring marketing campaigns using existing modeling and analytics, they wanted to run a market test to quantify ROI on these campaigns and project returns on future campaigns at a national level.
Insights and Opinions from our Analysts and Experts
It’s been a long dance between Sprint and T-Mobile, but it looks like fate has finally had her way. The two companies announced on Sunday that they will, after all, merge into one venture, with T-Mobile looking like it is firmly in control. That’s significant for a number of reasons, with the most important being that T-Mobile has re-imagined the mobile market, driving service innovation and growth, while Sprint has a terrible reputation for managing mergers (Nextel anyone?). Of course, this deal still needs to get the blessing of both the FCC and the DoJ; and consumer advocacy groups will likely be screaming from the rooftops about how this merger could drive consumer prices upwards due to less competition, leading to potential challenges.
But we disagree. The pricing battle was never between Sprint and T-Mobile, but between T-Mobile and the Big Two. Indeed, Sprint has been steadily losing market share for years now and even though the carrier pulled out all the stops with highly aggressive promotions, nothing really seemed to work. Or rather, the promotions managed to attract new subscribers, but Sprint was still losing as many, if not more, subscribers than they pulled in each quarter. This goes to show that consumers want aggressive pricing and a strong network, and Sprint failed the consumer perception test on the latter point at least.
But if Sprint was not an influencer in terms of keeping pricing down, the carrier certainly does employ a lot of people. And with any merger comes the inevitable consolidation. Yes, both carriers are talking about how the new merged entity will drive job growth, but it’s a somewhat questionable claim. Job growth will presumably be driven by the 5G network build out in rural areas, which would happen with or without this merger. Indeed, one could argue that if Sprint and T-Mobile were to remain two distinct entities, there would be even more job growth. Furthermore, we must expect a significant consolidation of stores over time, driving more job cuts.
However, it’s not clear if Sprint would survive as a standalone entity long-term - and nothing says job cuts like a struggling carrier. So, overall, the merged solution will protect more jobs, we suspect. And let’s also focus on the positive, with the economies of scale that come from the new entity only needing to build out a single 5G network. This is likely to be a faster deployment, with deeper pockets of spectrum, than either carrier could do alone, meaning a much better consumer experience overall.
But while this deal has many positives to it and is, perhaps, inevitable, it also feels rather like a quaint, old school deal. Yes, it’s necessary, but let’s consider how Verizon and AT&T have been pushing for a broader digital content strategy through acquisitions such as Yahoo!, DirecTV, and (coming up) Time Warner. The combined T-Mobile/Sprint venture will need to pretty quickly look for a comprehensive content strategy to compete effectively against the Big Two.
Which brings us to the other news of the week, this week should see the closing arguments in the Time Warner/AT&T merger debate. Both sides have some valid points, but the deal should be allowed to go through, especially as the T-Mobile/Sprint news changes at least part of the debate. Sure, the two deals are fundamentally different (one vertical, one horizontal), but they both demonstrate the need for mergers and acquisitions as the very foundation of the competitive landscape continues to shift in this digital economy. Having said that, rational digital arguments don’t necessarily sway the day, so many of us will be watching the events unfold with great interest.
Last week, SpaceX received permission from the FCC to use spectrum to create a satellite-based broadband service known as Starlink. I can’t help but think that the timing of the deal was quite perfect – as SpaceX talked about superfast broadband from space, China’s old space station, the Tiangong-1, was hurtling out of control towards Earth, reminding us that this space stuff is not that easy, and doesn’t stay up there forever.
It’s hard to bet against Elon Musk. The man is making quite a career out of dreaming big, and succeeding. He does, after all, throw enormous rockets up into space that (usually at least) come back to be reused, dig tunnels to circumvent traffic issues (useful for all those Tesla drivers no doubt), and even manage to sell flamethrowers to the public (and gets away with calling it “not a flamethrower” to avoid any issues). And, let’s not forget, his ultimate dream of getting mankind to Mars, which sounds almost feasible when he says it. So, why, when he takes on the seemingly impossible on a regular basis, am I less than convinced about an Earth-orbiting high-speed broadband solution?
My reluctance to believe starts with the fact that we’ve been down this road before. Twenty-some years ago two earlier pioneers, Bill Gates and Craig McCaw, launched Teledesic with a very similar goal of launching low earth orbit satellites to provide global broadband service. Craig McCaw was, in many ways, the godfather of the U.S. mobile services that we all take for granted today, creating the first national provider (McCaw cellular) that he later sold to AT&T. In other words, the man knew his mobile stuff, while Bill Gates, of course, understood the need for speed for computing. And yet, the venture failed to get off the ground due to the economics. At roughly the same time, Iridium, a Motorola-backed venture, had a similar goal that also ended poorly. Indeed, while Iridium does still exist today, the original version failed and was sold for less than the cost of decommissioning the satellites. Yes, it was cheaper to keep the aging satellites in the air than it was to close the business and bring them down in a controlled fashion.
Of course, 20 plus years is many lifetimes in terms of technology, and SpaceX has a couple of advantages over the previous failed ventures. Since they own the rockets needed to get these satellites into space, the set-up costs are less. Additionally, the satellites are now smaller and cheaper to build than they were in Teledesic’s days. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the LEO solution requires around 800 satellites, and they seem to have an average lifespan of five years, which is a pretty hefty hardware replacement cycle regardless of how cheap the actual satellites are. And while technology has helped make the venture more feasible in terms of satellite technology, it has also hindered it, as more of the globe is now covered by high-speed broadband services, meaning that the addressable market for the SpaceX venture is far harder to comprehend.
Between the wired broadband infrastructure that is available today and the promise of 5G – both mobile and fixed – there is far less opportunity for a broadband internet solution in wealthier markets. Where there is a huge opportunity is in less developed worlds that have limited, or no, Internet access today. But here’s the catch: Elon Musk is not building this solution as a philanthropic proposition. Rather this, as with his other “big bets” is supposed to ultimately fund the Mars venture and that seems to be in direct conflict with the size of the opportunity.
Even more challenging is the fact that SpaceX is not alone in its race to build a LEO-based broadband solution. OneWeb, which is backed by Softbank, has priority from the UN to use the radio spectrum needed for a broadband solution too. So with a questionable market need, unless the goal is to provide broadband to underdeveloped markets that will pay far less, and two companies chasing the same gold, the chance of success becomes even harder to imagine. And indeed, there are several other contenders, such as Inmarsat, Globalstar, and the re-born Iridium that are already in the sky (although all three use far fewer satellites, but result in greater latency).
It’s hard to bet against Elon Musk’s winning streak to date, but the entire history of satellite broadband services tells us that wishing on space hardware is not a good move. At best, we may see OneWeb and SpaceX’s LEOs combine into a single solution over time to improve the economics. At worst, we’ll come back to the topic 20 years from now when someone else decides to take on the challenge.
In my previous blog, Dishing Out
Mobile Predictions, we explored Dish’s desire to launch an IoT-focused mobile network and how Amazon would be a natural partner in this enterprise. But, as predictions go, there’s a far more interesting potential opportunity for the two companies: a full mobile service offering for consumers. The combined efforts of Dish and Amazon could provide a truly disruptive consumer-based mobile offering that is worth exploring.
The result would be a win-win for the two companies, with Dish benefiting from Amazon’s consumer presence, and Amazon gaining another direct connection (one could argue, the most personal, important connection) to the consumer base for its Prime-based value adds, such as video streaming. Particularly in the new post-net neutrality era, Amazon would be able to provide fee-free access to its music, video, and related services using this network, not to mention expand the potential ecosystem around the Alexa service.
Shaking up retail… again
One of the key challenges for any mobile-wannabe is creating the retail presence. In a world of online shopping, mobile service has managed to stay very much a physical store product and this serves as a significant competitive barrier. Indeed, if Dish were to launch a consumer-focused service on its own, the company would face exactly this issue, needing to build out a major store presence in order to get the consumer’s attention, especially as Dish is known primarily for its satellite-based TV service.
Amazon solves this problem both with a conventional, as well as a non-traditional approach. First the conventional: with the acquisition of Whole Foods, as well as the opening of some Amazon Books stores, and partnerships with retailers such as Kohl’s, Amazon owns a physical retail presence that can be leveraged for a mobile service launch. That’s not a bad start as retail goes, but it is Amazon’s online presence, the very core of the company, that is its true strength. In many respects, the current mobile focus on retail stores is an artificial barrier created by the carriers in order to protect (and expand) their base. Amazon’s online retail presence is easily strong enough to breakdown that boundary - if consumers will buy clothing and shoes online, they will also purchase mobile service the same way. That is a game changer for mobile.
Further, we would expect the consumer mobile service to be focused on Prime customers, with whom Amazon already has a close relationship. Indeed, a “Prime Plus” strategy, with the service fees significantly undercutting the current mobile status quo, would be Amazon’s most probable approach. For these Prime customers, an online purchase would be natural.
Ecosystems are king
This would hardly be Amazon’s first foray into the mobile world. Previously Amazon took a hardware approach with the Kindle, which included cellular access, followed later by the Fire smartphone. More recently, Amazon has focused on Prime Exclusive Phones, which tie customers more closely to Amazon content in return for discounted, unlocked smartphones. And beyond mobile, Amazon has an array of tablets and streaming devices to deliver content and shopping opportunities to the consumer. But it was really the launch of Alexa that changed the potential dynamic, moving Amazon from a content and hardware provider, to an ecosystem owner.
This is not to say, of course, that the retail component is not still the core focus – it is. But by creating an ecosystem, Amazon keeps the consumer’s attention for more of the day, making it the natural “go-to” for everything. And with more content being viewed via mobile, not to mention more purchases made, being front and center in the mobile world will help to ensure that Amazon remains the dominant retailer. The key will be to ensure that the smartphone’s interface reflects Amazon’s ecosystem, rather than that of the smartphone OEM, with Amazon’s video, music, price match app, and Alexa being the dominant services that are available.
Priced to win
Pricing the service is where Amazon can have the most impact, as the company is in a unique position to price differently than the status quo. Mobile is another touch point for Prime customers, not the lead product and, as such, Amazon doesn’t necessarily need to make money directly from the mobile component. Rather, this is all about pulling the Prime customer into an even deeper relationship. Additionally, there are potential cost savings, as Amazon doesn’t need a dense retail store strategy.
This is particularly true if the mobile service is built with Dish, where there is a win-win for the two companies. This would be quite different from the typical mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) model, which wouldn’t allow as much freedom to price effectively. But more than that, Amazon has demonstrated its willingness to spend money to retain – and expand – its Prime base. Take, for example, the plan to spend $5 billion on original content for Amazon Prime Video over the next year.
Does Alexa need a mobile network?
It is worth a pause for thought: does Amazon need a mobile network in order to expand Alexa’s sphere of influence, or indeed for the other Amazon assets. All of these are available as apps that consumers can install already, after all. Further, consumers purchasing the Prime Exclusive Phones already get a more integrated solution without the need for Amazon to invest so heavily into mobile (and it will be a hefty investment).
But, we would argue that the Prime Exclusive solution is still a peripheral one that will not see a mass-market adoption, or possibly a means for Amazon to test the market’s willingness to purchase devices online. And while the apps are readily available for all other consumers, they aren’t integrated as well into the ecosystem as Amazon should want. Controlling the mobile network, and therefore the devices (to an extent) that leverage this network, puts Amazon in a far stronger position moving forward. And owning the mobile connection to the consumer allows Amazon to push the content services, as well as Alexa, in a more compelling manner.
One (large) roadblock on the mobile path
There’s a catch in our prediction for Amazon. The main goal of this approach is to build a tighter integration of Amazon services into the smartphone to drive continued and increased engagement for Prime customers. But to do this, Amazon needs to convince smartphone OEMs to allow more prominent placement of the Amazon services on the phone, such as leveraging Alexa as the main intelligent assistant. The larger OEMs may be understandably reluctant to do this, as it diminishes their own ability to differentiate and to create their own ecosystems. Consider the smartphone market leaders, Apple and Samsung. Apple will be highly unlikely to agree to any solution that means it relinquishes control of the interface. Samsung would likely take the same approach, as it is focused on developing a Bixby-based ecosystem. The lack of just Apple would cut out roughly 40 percent of the current consumer base, making Amazon’s task a little more challenging, and any compromise on how prominent Amazon’s content would be could make the mobile move less compelling.
But where there’s a will – and we suspect Amazon does have the will – there’s a way. The service can begin slowly, and without Apple if necessary. And even without such a strong interface linkage, there are still many benefits for Amazon to launch a mobile service. Not least is the significant revenue spike that Amazon would enjoy by launching a mobile service, and that is clearly a key metric that Amazon is judged by. Even without some of the additional synergies that come from the Prime linkage, and even if Amazon had to water down the “Prime” presence, such as not insisting on an Alexa-first hardware strategy, the benefits of pushing into mobile are there.
The (even) bigger picture
This brings us to an even bolder possibility... While we began by talking about a partnership between Dish and Amazon, the ultimate end game is perhaps for Amazon to purchase Dish. The combination of Dish’s spectrum, existing customer base for satellite TV and network operations skills, combined with Amazon’s content services and retail would make a compelling alternative to the current mobile/entertainment giants that are forming up. And of course, the network would also support Amazon’s drone service.
The potential loser in all of this would be Sprint, which would quickly begin to look even more isolated with a lack of strong content services. Softbank could choose one of several strategies to counter this: looking to merge with a cable company (again), such as Charter, or looking to double down on the investment, buying into the content market in some way. Or, perhaps, seeing if it can join with Amazon and Dish to form a Triple Entente of sorts. The next 12 months should start to show the path, and it’ll be fun to watch how, or if, this prediction comes to fruition.
For a product that was criticized by many only a short time ago, the smartwatch has regained momentum in the U.S. market. Indeed, far from being a failed product, we expect U.S. smartwatch ownership to surpass that of the cheaper and more ubiquitous activity tracker by the end of 2020. This is despite the fact that smartwatch owners paid an average price of nearly 2.5 times that of activity tracker buyers (according to the NPD Connected Intelligence Wearables Industry Overview and Forecast, Dec. 2017). The growth is being driven by the Apple Watch, but it’s a success that will have a ripple effect on smartwatch brands that meet the consumer need in the Android market as well.
At the beginning of 2017, activity tracker ownership among U.S. adults stood at over 43 million devices – well over double the number of smartwatch owners. This made sense, given the wide price differences between the categories, better battery life for trackers, and the growing pains that plagued the smartwatch space prior to the last year. Additionally, many older smartwatches were generally considered to be too bulky to be a true replacement for the activity tracker. What once drew consumers to activity trackers, their simplicity, has been working against the category most recently. Consumers are now looking for more sophisticated use cases with features such as intelligent health and fitness tracking, as well as easy-to-use notifications and messaging. Many are also looking to use wearables as a control hub for things like music and home automation. As a result, many existing activity tracker owners and new buyers are making the smartwatch shift.
This process has been accelerated by the latest launch of the Apple Watch Series 3 with built-in cellular connectivity, and lower pricing on the older Watch Series 1 and 2. In fact, by the end of 2017, NPD projects that Apple will have sold almost 17 million Apple Watches in the U.S. since the devices original launch in April 2015. In addition, the mix of activity trackers will shift, as the smartwatch commands a larger percentage of the market. For example, as higher-end activity tracker buyers move further up-market to the smartwatch, much cheaper and more basic activity trackers will take over an increasing percentage of new sales.
To gain a clearer understanding of the changing dynamic between the smartwatch and activity tracker, NPD produces a bi-annual ownership forecast of the market. Based on that forecast, the below chart is of view of the shifting ownership splits among U.S. adults over time and projected forward.
This Thanksgiving we invited my Uncle Pete to dinner, which was great because we don’t normally get to spend the holiday with him. As has become the norm in my house, during dinner, my wife asked when I was heading to the stores and where I was going. Pete, incredulous that I was leaving for the night when we’d barely finished pie yelled at me, “How fun can it be leaving right after dinner and before football? Heading out to the stores at the crack of dawn Friday morning is how it’s done.”
I let Pete’s words sink in. There is no fun in leaving during football. So I decided to do a little market research by having another piece of pie and asking for the remote. This year I decided my holiday research would shift from #AfterTurkeyThursday to #BlackFriday. Tradition and all.
According to NPD’s Holiday Purchase Intention Study, those who intend to buy electronics this holiday expect to spend $595 on average, significantly more than other categories measured. Despite the buzz and attention devoted to Thursday night, there’s a lot for retailers and manufactures to like about Friday. Fourteen percent of holiday consumers will begin their shopping on Friday. Post-dinner door busters and rock-bottom TV and PC prices are excellent at driving consumers out on Thursday, but on Friday the first thing I noticed was shoppers looking at premium tech products and appliances.
The feel in my local Best Buy was tamer than the beehive I experienced last year. It was active though, and smelled like coffee. There were little kids running around (they get up early) and lots of activity around slightly bigger (60” and above) 4K TVs than normal and PCs - particularly Chromebooks. Target had a strong Beats promotion and I also saw several Echo products in carts - I fully expect those two categories to lead growth this holiday season. And in general, more shopping activity around apparel and toys. I like this Friday crowd.
That being said, I think I’m still a Thursday night shopper. Most interesting, from a research point of view, shoppers seem to have a clear objective - to get the special deal that is only available that night. There’s some urgency in getting deals before they sell out. This year, shopping on Black Friday morning was an enjoyable experience, but next year, it looks like I’m missing football again.
An old colleague of mine, let’s call him “Tom,” had a theory regarding productivity and the car. He often drove from New York to Washington, D.C., following the New Jersey Turnpike and i95, at strange hours in the early morning; and his theory was that he could multitask. He would set cruise control, turn on the interior light, pull out some ‘light’ work reading materials and get to it. His logic (if that is the correct word for it) was that the road was pretty straight and very quiet at that time of night, and that other drivers would navigate around him if they needed to go faster. Happily, and somewhat surprisingly, the story doesn’t end with a fireball on i95.
I was reminded of Tom yesterday as I was driving back from work in relatively heavy traffic. One car in particular was driving rather erratically and the cause, it turned out, was that the driver was watching a soccer game on his smartphone. The phone was perched on the dashboard above the steering wheel and he was clearly paying more attention to it than to his surroundings. Goals, near misses, and various other infractions, were cause for celebration or dismay, as all the nearby drivers could tell.
Now technically, he was not infringing on New York’s hands-free rules (assuming he started the video stream before setting off), but I’m sure there are a whole bunch of distracted driving rules that he was completely trampling over. Technicalities aside, the situation does highlight just how much watching video on smartphones has become engrained in our lives. The very fact that we can now watch a live soccer game on our phones shows how far mobile has come, both in terms of technology (fewer dead spots, faster networks) and content licensing. We truly have entered the realm where we can watch almost anything we want, anytime we want, and anywhere that suits us.
Having said that, it would be useful if other technology could catch up. If people are going to watch video while driving, the need for a self-driving car becomes more important. After all, as one colleague (not Tom) pointed out, then perhaps we could drink beer while watching the game. Or not… as I think we’re still quite some way from a fully aware self-driving car. Take for example, the driverless shuttle that was set free in downtown Las Vegas a few days ago: it had its first fender bender within the first hour, and while it wasn’t the car’s fault (a truck backed into it), a human driver would have moved out of the way of a 20-ton truck slowly backing towards it. Whoops.
In the meantime, if you are driving on the New Jersey Turnpike late at night, keep your eyes open for cars with interior lights on. It’s probably not wise to get too close to Tom if he’s too engrossed in his work.
This past week, technology and entertainment news has been largely dominated by Amazon, as they launched six new Echo devices and revealed insight into the final stages of their strategy to move further into movie production and distribution. The device strategy encompasses Alexa integration into nearly every household electronic interface, including a vastly improved, artificial intelligence (AI) driven audio play, deeper Alexa smart home assimilation, a highly competitive 4K HDR streaming video solution, link to traditional home phone service, and two devices with an entirely new form factor, the Echo Spot and Buttons. These may be among the most interesting, as Alexa skill development and consumer usage patterns will shape their uncertain path. Amidst these AI hardware advancements, Amazon also revealed the final components of a strategy to move deeper into Hollywood, leveraging a traditional distribution approach that is ultimately aimed at bolstering the Amazon Prime value proposition. Below are the details and our analysis:
Over the past three years, Amazon has launched numerous Alexa-enabled devices, such as the Dot, Show, and Look; yet their flagship Alexa enabled speaker, Echo, hasn’t received a hardware update since its November 2014 launch. In tech years, which are sort of like dog years, that’s an eternity. But, generation two was finally announced last week and is sporting two form factors, which are both less expensive than the first generation speaker. The new Echo, priced at $99, includes improved microphones to better pick-up voices, a subwoofer and tweeter, Dolby Audio, and new fabric coverings. In addition, Amazon will be selling them in a three-pack for $250, so that users can immediately take advantage of the recently introduced whole-home audio feature available with Alexa-enabled devices, which let you play the same music on multiple speakers. The original Echo design is not entirely going away; it's being reused in the $149 Echo Plus, a smart speaker that also has a built-in smart home hub that can link to Zigbee smart home devices, such as Philips Hue lights. This means you no longer have to use Amazon Skills or apps to connect things to your Echo. The Echo Plus will come with a Philips Hue bulb, in an effort to demonstrate to consumers that this is the optimal choice for smart home integration.
Echo’s no longer just about audio devices. Amazon introduced screens earlier this year with the launch of the Echo Show, and last week continued down this path by introducing two new video-focused devices to the mix. The Echo Spot, which is an entirely new form factor, and the Fire TV with 4K HDR support. The Spot is pretty nifty, think alarm clock with a 2.5-inch screen that can make video calls…hmmm. The functionality is quite similar to that of the Echo Show, bringing voice and home automation control to more screens and locations in the home. The big question here revolves around the front-facing camera. In a world where many put sticky notes over their laptop camera in fear of spying, how many consumers will embrace that feature in their bedroom or other household locations?
This launch was not just about adding Amazon screens to the home, but also connecting TVs that are already installed. Following the success of the Fire TV product line, Amazon added a 4K, HDR-capable Fire TV with 2160p resolution at 60 frames per second. It has Dolby Atmos integration and an Alexa voice remote. At $69.99 it’s far more affordable than the rival Apple TV 4K, which starts at $179, and priced in line with the $69 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra. It’s the form factor that is quite interesting, not a streaming stick and not quite a set-top-box, rather a mid-size dongle that connects to your TVs HDMI port. And for an extra $10 you get an Amazon Dot, suggesting this is as much about bringing Alexa to the TV, as it is fostering full home integration.
The home phone is back
Echo Connect, a $35 box that plugs into your landline jack, turns your home phone into an Alexa-controlled speakerphone. It syncs your contacts and bridges your phone calls to an Alexa-enabled speaker, enabling hands-free calling using your home phone. Adding phone integration essentially bridges Alexa to every facet of your home life. While most of the country already has these features through their smartphone, Amazon is banking on there being a segment of the population that wants to keep their landline number, and also sees the appeal of Alexa integration.
Let’s file this one under, why not see where it goes – Echo Buttons. They are the first of many Alexa Gadgets to come, a new way for consumers to play games with friends and family through compatible Echo devices. These buttons illuminate and can be pressed to trigger a variety of game play experiences, powered by Alexa. These devices liken back to the Simon Electronic Memory Game from the 80s; what was once old is new again.
Amidst the glory of a whole new product line, Google pulled YouTube support for the Echo Show, limiting one of its core features. Amazon announced last week that its Echo Show devices could no longer play videos from YouTube because the site’s parent, Google, stopped supporting the service. Google’s response is that Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates the terms of service, creating a broken user experience.
In contrast to the innovative Echo family of devices, Amazon’s expansion into Hollywood is as old school as it gets. There’s no contention with exhibitors about release windows and no intention to forgo a theatrical release, like Netflix does with their movies. In fact, Amazon is embracing the tried-and-true Hollywood distribution model to generate buzz and credibility for films that will eventually land on Amazon Prime. Starting with Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel” in December, Amazon will begin distributing its own films and overseeing all parts of their theatrical campaigns. Amazon is taking a more traditional Hollywood approach, focusing on art house mid-range budget films, while offering directors the creative flexibility they need. Think of this move further into content creation and distribution as a vehicle to propel Prime’s brand image, consumer value proposition, and ultimately grow the subscriber base.
You’ve likely heard of cord cutting, the trend toward cancelling cable TV in lieu of streaming video or no paid TV service at all. This trend, which is becoming more mainstream, is no longer just a behavior of innovators who test the waters of new technology. In fact, it’s so pervasive that media companies such as Disney, CBS, and HBO, have or are in the process of decoupling their programming from the traditional pay-TV distribution machine, now offering streaming services that don’t require you to buy a large bundle of channels, but rather subscribe to the core content they offer. As such, the future of TV distribution is being shaped in part by those that were willing to test new ways of delivering content to consumers.
While cord cutting has now seemingly become part of everyday life, we’re seeing the very beginning of what may be termed “phone cutting.” Phone cutters desire to leverage wearable technology, such as smartwatches, to offset the use of a smartphone and identify opportunities to leave their phone behind. This behavior falls before the early adoption stage we see in consumer technology; it’s not yet a trend, but more a trial, akin to the cord cutting we experienced a few years ago. The technology adoption lifecycle, a sociological model that describes the acceptance of a new innovation, labels the first group of people to use a new product as "innovators," representing less than three percent of the population. And that is where the phone cutter resides, facilitated this past week by Apple embedding LTE into the Series 3 Apple Watch.
Given the newness of the behavior, we can merely postulate on the extent to which wearable technology will offset the widespread use of smartphones. But, there are lessons from the past that offer a view into the future, as we were here in 2010 when the iPad was expected to replace laptops. A key learning from that adoption cycle is that dispersion of user activity is more common than replacement. So what changes in behavior should we expect from cellular connectivity on the wrist, and what limitations persist?
The appeal is simplistic: leave the phone behind and stay connected in your backyard, at the beach, the gym, or out for a run. Granted, a few smartwatches were already offering cellular connections, but integration into Apple Watch brings with it mass-market appeal and assimilation into the Apple ecosystem. Unlike early connected smartwatches, the Apple Watch is enabled by network level services such as NumberSync and DIGITS from AT&T and T-Mobile, respectively, allowing users to link their mobile phone number to other devices, not to mention the pure simplicity of Apple’s account synchronization that allows calls to bounce between Apple products with ease. Basic communication tasks such as texting, calling, emailing, and streaming music no longer require a phone. As phones increase in size, impacting portability, there are certain situations where the charm of a 1.5-inch screen clearly has its place.
This is the first generation of LTE-embedded smartwatches and that, along with a small form factor, brings limitations. For example, a high frequency of calls is bound to run down the battery and call quality will need to improve over time. Indeed, my friend looked like Dick Tracy, pulling his wrist to his face to order pizza delivery from his Apple Watch, yet had the watch been paired with AirPods the call would have been far less conspicuous. Further, iPhone-Apple Watch app compatibility is more widespread when the devices are on the same Wi-Fi network than when the watch is untethered and running solely on LTE. For example, a Skype notification will show on the watch when both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network, but when independent of iPhone, Skype is not supported on Apple Watch. A small screen also impacts touch interface making voice control vital, but that still is not as seamless as we would expect: even a minor act like adjusting a Bluetooth speaker’s volume using Siri from the Apple Watch remains challenging. While optimization is needed, these are the types of improvements solved by the user tweaking a few settings or through an operating system update.
The fact remains that there are numerous instances where a segment of the population will begin to leave their phone behind. Meanwhile, the dispersion of activities will be shaped by the innovators – the cord and phone cutters – tinkering with the integration of devices from a 1.5-inch smartwatch to a 65-inch smart TV.
The initial fanfare of last week’s Apple announcements has subsided and the debate has moved from what will be announced to which device consumers will purchase. What we have seen so far from data collected by market intelligence company, CivicScience1, is that consumers are fairly divided. The iPhone X is obviously the flagship product and, more importantly, the one that stands out as being different from the others, thanks primarily to the full glass body (yes, there are differences beneath the glass, but the reality of consumer interest is more skin deep), but at $1000+, there’s a price to be paid for such cachet, even when leveraging today’s carrier offers.
Consumers that intend to purchase a new Apple device following the announcement indicated they will buy…
According to the CivicScience results, roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population plans to purchase a new iPhone following Apple’s announcement. That’s a lot of iPhones – equating to roughly half of Apple’s U.S. iPhone customer base, or potentially over 60 million devices in the next three to six months. But the numbers (and remember that these are intent, rather than actual purchases) are not out of the ordinary for Apple, which commands a 41 percent share of the total smartphone installed base in the U.S, according to NPD’s Connected Intelligence2. As such, this appears to be the relatively standard fare of upgrades, rather than new consumers switching allegiances from Android.
And there’s a catch: the Apple intender base is fairly evenly split between which device they plan to purchase, with the X and the 8 commanding equal interest at 25 percent of those planning to purchase a device, and the iPhone 7 showing slightly more interest at 29 percent (older models are also showing significant interest, with pre-7 models commanding 21 percent of the population’s intent). To put it more simplistically, over half of those intending to buy an iPhone fairly soon are looking at older models, rather than the newly-announced devices.
This should not be unexpected. When the fresh new shiny models launch each year, the older models drop in price, both due to carriers trying to shift older inventory (if they haven’t already) and prepaid carriers jumping on the older options as a way to drive consumer interest in their service options. In other words, just as there is a raging battle among the top four postpaid carriers to retain and entice new customers with Apple’s latest and greatest, so too is there a lower-tiered fight among the prepaid carriers.
Related to this is the clear fact that income levels impact the amount of disposable income available to buy the latest and greatest smartphone, regardless of brand or capabilities. So it’s hardly surprising that the consumers who are most likely to purchase the X are in the higher income brackets, while lower-tiered incomes are more likely to choose the 8… or the 7. But, there’s also clearly a pent-up demand for even earlier, cheaper models with pre-7 models commanding just as much intent as the 7 for many of the income brackets.
This is a mixed blessing for Apple. On one hand, it does show a strong loyalty to the brand, but on the other hand, the older models are going to struggle, over time, to keep up with the demands of the latest apps and features, meaning that the consumer experience won’t be as slick and smooth.
The divided consumer base offers an opportunity for carriers:
1. To bolster the demand for newer models, it’s pretty clear that consumers need a lower price point, or at least, lower monthly payments. The sticker shock of spending $1000+ on a new device is quickly alleviated when the “real” price is less than $50 per month over 24 months, which is why 65 percent of consumers planning to purchase an iPhone intend to make use of a payment plan, rather than looking to pay all at once, according to data from CivicScience.
2. To broaden the market further, tempting consumers away from the older models, carriers should consider adding a 36-month option to the Equipment Installment Plans (EIP). Not only does this make the purchase more palatable to the consumer, but it also helps the carrier to retain the consumer for a longer period of time. In theory, the EIP is not a contract, but it’s a lot harder to switch when your device isn’t paid off. As such, there’s a win-win for Apple and the carriers that’s looking more plausible than ever before.
1Source: CivicScience surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults from September 12- 19, 2017.
2Source: NPD Connected Intelligence, Mobile Broadband survey, July-August 2017.
Tomorrow, Apple is expected to launch its next generation iPhone. Assuming the anticipated announcement becomes a reality, this will mark 10 years since Apple entered the smartphone market and fundamentally changed not only what we expect from a phone, but also the competitive landscape for mobile phones – and smartphones in particular. Theoretically, this next iPhone should be an incremental enhancement, following Apple’s pattern of launching the “S” version every other year; but, Apple cannot (and will not) simply launch a minor hardware update for the 10th anniversary. Apple is working to stay at the leading edge of the market as competition looks to build faster and more aesthetically pleasing alternatives to the iPhone behemoth.
While there’s interest in the underlying specs of any new phone, the reality of consumer interest is more skin deep. For most consumers, a sexy looking phone and a good camera are the obvious hardware features used to pique interest (we’ll get into software below). The chart below helps to demonstrate this fact.
By leveraging estimated sales data from NPD’s Mobile Phone Track, we can see significant spikes in sales with the launch of each iPhone model. The most significant spike came with the introduction of the iPhone 6 (in Q2 2014), which saw a change in shape and size for the iPhone. In other words, this model made it obvious, even at a quick glance, which consumers had the latest and greatest device when they pulled out their phone to check an email or answer a call. Taking an iPhone 6 out of your pocket in public had almost, but not quite, the same effect as when the initial iPhone launched, when people either had an iPhone... or they didn’t. There’s a “wow” factor.
We believe we can expect the same type of spike that the iPhone 6 saw – perhaps even greater – if Apple does launch a significant tenth anniversary iPhone X device. This type of device is one that consumers will want, or feel they need, to be seen with if they are an iPhone user. This brings us to another key factor in Apple’s success in the mobile phone market: its customer loyalty and retention rate is far greater than other devices. According to the latest Connected Mobility Report from NPD’s Connected Intelligence, just over 90 percent of Apple iPhone customers purchase another iPhone when they decide to upgrade devices.
What is also interesting, looking at the above chart, is that the launch of a new device has not caused a significant spike in older models at the same time. A logical theory would say that when a new phone launches, promotional activity on the older model will cause an uptick in sales. But that has rarely been the case; due mainly to the payment plans offered by carriers, which has meant that the monthly fee for a new phone is not that significantly different from older models.
Another reason to believe that the next iPhone launch will cause a larger than usual spike is that according to NPD’s Connected Intelligence, iPhone users typically hold onto their phone for 18-30 months, suggesting that they skip at least one generation of a new device launch. With over half of iPhone users reporting that they hold onto their device for 24+ months, we can expect that consumers who bought an iPhone 6 may be stretching the device’s life a little further than usual in order to wait for the new generation device to launch. Indeed, since the iPhone 7 was, in many ways, more of an incremental update rather than a fundamental change, we can expect that consumers will have been prepared to wait a little longer for the new update, which helps to explain why the iPhone 6 sales spike was higher than the subsequent two device launches. After all, the theory of an iconic 10 year anniversary device has been well talked about for the past year.
But it would be wrong to focus simply on the skin-deep appeal of the device’s body alone. Another key driver for the iPhone has always been the software and ease of use. FaceTime, for example, has proved to be a great retention tool. Once you embrace video chat with FaceTime, it’s very hard to give up. And with this next device, there are high expectations for augmented reality features that could again change the scope of how we use an iPhone. Apple is hardly alone in chasing this dream, but the company has the largest installed base to ensure that adoption of AR and other features occurs rapidly and is widespread, thus tempting new and current iPhone customers to want, or again need, the new device in order to stay current.
And finally, let’s not forget the carriers in all of this. iPhone customers are key to their ongoing success, and we can expect all four of the major carriers to be promoting major deals – in terms of payment plans and device exchanges – in order to keep their existing bases, as well as attempting to pull prospective customers from the competing carriers. In other words, get ready for a mass of promotional activity as the carriers work to stake their claims this week. Of course, there’s a rather large caveat to this: there are rumors that the iPhone X may only be available in limited numbers to start. This will require a fine balancing act by the carriers, who are, on the one hand, keen to grab as many customers as they can, but on the other hand, wary of over-promising availability on a device that may lead to large back-orders and disgruntled customers.
The combination of an iconic phone launch, along with the carriers’ appetite for greater growth in a saturated market, means that this week’s anticipated iPhone launch could be one of the most significant mobile phone launches since the first iPhone shook the status quo. And with Apple, the “X” factor is almost guaranteed.