How Popular Will Smartwatches Be?

A while ago, I tweeted why I felt the tech pundits that suggest that you don’t need a smartwatch when you’ve already got a smartphone, are totally wrong.

Naofumi Kagami 加々美直史さんはTwitterを使っています eric analytics BenBajarin One difficulty in analysis is tech community biased towards people who can pull out phones during work

view on Twitter

The point is that whereas many people who write or comment about tech have a job where it is acceptable to pull out their smartwatches quite frequently, a large proportion of the population spend their work time directly in front of customers and are therefore unable to do so.

For example, think about waiters and waitresses at a restaurant. How would you feel if they were staring at their phones and if they didn’t notice that you were trying to get their attention? Or how would you feel if you were riding on the subway and the driver, who is responsible for your safety, was peeking in his smartphone?

There are plenty of jobs where glancing at a watch is acceptable, but staring into your smartphone isn’t.

You could easily add other jobs where a smartwatch will quickly become a necessity and not just a convenience. For example, doctors working inside hospitals have to respond quickly if one of their patient’s condition suddenly deteriorates. They carry phones with them at all times, but it’s vital that they don’t miss a call. Rather then having a vibration in your pants which can sometimes be hard to notice, it’s much better to have a tap on your wrist.

Similarly, sales reps will also do much better if they quickly respond to emails or phone calls from customers, and so missing calls is not an option. For this very reason, many Japanese employees keep their phones in their shirt pocket and not in their trousers, because it’s much easier to notice a vibration on your chest. This will no longer be an issue if you are wearing a smartwatch.

Also lacking from the discussion is women who often carry their smartphones in their bags and not in their pockets. They don’t want to miss calls or important notifications either.

The list goes on and on. In fact, you get to the point where you really start to wonder why smartwatches didn’t take off earlier, before Apple announced that it was entering the market.

The way I see it, there has always been a very strong need for glanceable notification devices that could be worn, especially for professionals, despite the lack of interest from the tech community. The true mystery is why none of the non-Apple products could deliver on that need. Somewhere, there was a block. Maybe it was the inability to quickly respond to that notification without pulling out your smartphone. Maybe it was because such devices didn’t match a suit from a design standpoint.

Whatever the reason, it seems likely that the Apple Watch has overcome the block and now we will see a flood of people recognising the benefits of notifications coming to your wrist. This is why I am optimistic about Apple Watch sales, and sales of smartwatch sales in general. I would be very surprised if Android Wear did not start to sell briskly, although it may take a product iteration or two.

How Will The Apple Watch Affect Tech

Here is a list of some of the things that might happen if the Apple Watch and similar Android-compatible wearable devices start seeing strong sales.

  1. Some early reviewers are saying that their usage of their iPhone decreased when they started to use the Apple Watch. If this indeed is how Apple Watch users will behave, this will huge implications for digital marketing. Marketers will have to think of ways to appeal to consumers on their watches, which will have very different characteristics from smartphones.
  2. Not only does the Apple Watch not have a web browser, it also seems to lack any HTML rendering. Emails are rendered as text, which means that any emails that only include the HTML component are not going to show any content. This suggests that text and good copywriting is going to increase in importance whilst visuals are going to be less important. Another possibility is that we will see a lot of emoji even in the promotional material send by corporations. This is actually the preferred way that Japanese companies send email messages to their mobile subscribers so we have precedence here.
  3. This could reverse the strong and accelerating trend towards graphical and video content that we see on social networks. We might revert to simple text messages (with emoji). This really is like going back to the Japanese i-mode days.
  4. The Twitter client sucks if you are following a lot of people and you have them organised in lists. In fact, since scrolling through large lists is not as comfortable or as brisk as on a smartphone, it would be particularly unwieldy if you have a lot of follows. Twitter has a serious problem on their hands and they might bring back lists to the centre stage, or they might start heavily curating your timeline.
  5. This also has implications on how shopping sites might be structured. Shopping sites can no longer use large lists of merchandise to show their goods. I am not confident that current recommendation algorithms are good enough at filtering content for use on watches. Interestingly, the Apple Watch is not a plus for e-commerce retailers but could be a huge boon for brick-and-mortar stores which can use iBeacon-based location data to send customers exactly the right message at exactly the right time.
  6. Basically, you can’t scan through a lot of content like you can on a phone. The content has to be pre-filtered or curated.
  7. The Apple Watch, because it does not have a web browser, is absolutely Google-free. It’s surreal to say this after a decade of Internet domination by Google, but it’s true.
  8. Being browser-free is going to change the way content and merchandise is discovered. Since you can no longer use SEO tactics, you will have to resort to having your message proposed through a native advertisement or a social endorsement (a retweet or a like). That is, unless you have a brand or a cause so strong that people will have installed your app.

I foresee a lot of changes coming. Some are even quite disruptive to the current Internet juggernaughts.

Of course, this totally depends on the Apple Watch being a huge success, and on customers preferring to use the watch more than their smartphones if there is the option to do so. Whether this will be the case is still an open question, but I would like to end with the thought that if you have an Apple Watch, you are more likely to keep your iPhone in your bag or on the table, instead of your pocket. Having the Apple Watch on you at all times will definitely distance you from your iPhone.

Android on Feature Phones

There has always been a big difference between Android and iOS web usage. One explanation has been that many Android users are actually using their smartphones in basically the same way as a feature phone; that they are used mainly for texting and voice, and not being used too much to connect to the rich Internet.

Now, in Japan, feature phones are transitioning to Android.

What an Android/Feature phone hybrid might look like

On March 3rd, 2015, I commented on a Techpinons article by Bob O’Donnell, giving a description of a fun Android-based feature phone that was recently announced in Japan.

Just to give you some ideas, let me talk about a fun phone that we have in Japan.

A Flip-phone / Smartphone hybrid!!

It looks just like a flip style feature phone, but the keypad also works as a trackpad so you can freely move a cursor around on the screen. It runs Android 4.4 on a quad-core CPU, doesn’t work with Google Play, but messaging apps like LINE run OK. It has a full browser, HDR, WiFi and LTE. You can download apps from an app store run by the carrier (in this case, KDDI). It also comes preinstalled with a maps app, which is, you guessed right, created and owned by the carrier. It even has an office suite!!

You can tether to your tablet, if you really feel like using a boring flat slate. It actually has some Continuity-like features to work together with tablets like tapping on a phone number on your tablet will make your phone dial the number.

So Bob, is this the kind of thing you are looking for?

When you run out of ideas, you should come to Japan!

Rationale for the transition

This Nikkei article does not have much in terms of news, but it explains how moving to Android is not really about features, but more about development costs.

Common wisdom is that feature phones are easier to create. That may be true if you are Nokia and you created phones that were sold in huge numbers worldwide. However, with the rise of Chinese manufacturers and the drop in smartphone component prices, this will not continue to be true in the long-term.

Who uses feature phones anyway?

One thing that the Nikkei article gets wrong is that feature phones are not used predominantly by older people.. In corporations for example, there are many people who use a combination of feature phones and tablets. Feature phones have longer battery life, and because the flip design allows the microphone to be closer to your mouth, they are better suited if your primary usage is voice. In many ways, the Android/Feature phone hybrid that I talked about directly addresses these users.

What does this say for Android usage?

These Android/Feature phone hybrids will not be used as smartphones and will not contribute to Android web usage much. Importantly, they will not contribute to Google’s ecosystem and they will not rely on Google services. In fact, it is likely that they will not be able to run the majority of Google Play apps.

WhatsApp Disrupting SMS

The Economist made the following tweet suggesting that WhatsApp was disrupting SMS. 

This is totally the wrong way to look at things. 

The better way is to consider messaging apps disrupting social networks and collaboration tools. That’s actually what’s discussed in the article

In fact, what’s notable about messenging apps is not how the displaced SMS, but instead how slow Internet giants like Google and Facebook were to come up with their own versions. 

As for SMS, well that was a consequence of carriers owning the network stack and the application stack. As soon as phones could access Internet protocols directly and build apps on that, hence uncoupling the network and the app layers, it’s days were numbered.  SMS was disrupted by the mobile Internet. Similar things have happened with voice over IP, even from the Skype days. 



Wrist Computers, not Smartwatches

The words that we use to describe things and events profoundly affect how we think about them. We must be very careful of this when discussing any new category of product. 

In particular, we have to keep this in mind when discussing smartwatches.

Just think. Should we call them smartwatches or should we call them wrist computers?

If we call them smartwatches, we are lured to thinking that they will disrupt watches. 

On the other hand, if you call them wrist computers or wrist communicators, then you may think that they will disrupt smartphones, and eventually PCs. 

It is super important to be careful.  

Apple is Bringing Luxury to the Masses

By selling the 17,000 USD Apple Watch Edition, it would seem as if Apple is trying to become a luxury brand. Here I would like to discuss how I think this argument does not capture what Apple is really becoming. I don’t think Apple is trying to be a luxury brand at all. Instead I view this as Apple becoming a new kind of brand. A brand that brings luxury to the masses.

A luxury brand can only sell to a small portion of the total market. However, by becoming a luxury for the masses company, Apple is aiming to take both profits and volume from the markets that it targets. This is much like how the iPhone captured 10-20% of the global smartphone market (which made it the first or second largest vendor), with close to 90% of the profit share.

What do we mean by luxury?

“Luxury” has been an issue in the commentary surrounding Apple for quite a while. It used to be directed towards the reason why people buy iPhones as opposed to premium Android phones. With the Apple Watch, because of the gold Edition, this argument has become even more commonplace.

The problem is, nobody really seems to know what “luxury” means, and the people who do seem to use it somewhat differently. As Horace Dediu mentioned in a recent podcast, maybe it is time to stop using the term “luxury” and to come up with something new. This does however seem rather extreme given that other industries have been happy with this for decades.

I am not in any way an expert in neither luxuries nor fashions and hence I have no informed opinions on how these terms should be used. I do think that the distinction is important for understanding Apple Watch.


Luxury is very often associated with price. Simply, cheap products are rarely luxuries and luxuries are usually pricy.

Looking at the prices of Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Edition satisfies the criteria for a luxury watch. It is priced from 10,000 USD to $17,000, with the emphasis on the 15,000-17,000 USD versions (10,000 USD is for the sport band which is rather unusual for a luxury watch).

However, the aluminium and stainless steel versions, which start at 349 USD and go up to 1099 USD are not exactly luxury. They compare in price to 200-400 USD watches from DIESEL (which calls themselves a “premium casual brand”), mechanical watches from FOSSIL. They are also at the low end of premium watches by brands like SEIKO and CITIZEN and at the high end of fashion watches from CASIO. It’s impossible to classify the aluminium and stainless steel Apple Watches as luxury.

Taking a completely different view, they tech view, you also find that it is squarely in the range of the iPad mini to iPad Air. The Apple Watch aluminium and stainless steel versions are actually at the lower end of Apple’s whole product line.

So although the gold Apple Watch Edition is certainly priced as a luxury product, the other versions are not. The other versions are simply premiums as are any other products in Apple’s product line.

Is Apple Watch luxury?

Since I don’t really understand luxury, I’ll defer explanation of the term to articles on the web. For example, here is an article by James D. Roumeliotis.

There is a classic litmus test:

  1. Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  2. Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  3. Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle?
  4. Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?
  5. Does the brand offer authenticity?

In the video for the Apple Watch Edition, Jony Ive briefly mentions limited quantities so it would seem criteria 1. is satisfied.

Criteria 2. is satisfied by the very nice videos, which are available for all versions including the cheapest aluminium Sport model.

Criteria 3. is not met for any of the versions.

Criteria 4. is problematic. Jony Ive describes the highest level of craftsmanship (or care), but most of this is automated. This craftsmanship is mass-produced by precision machinery and is available for all versions. It is at the highest level, but is not exclusive for the rich.

Criteria 5. is something that is something that I don’t understand. I won’t comment on this.

What you see is that all versions, even including the aluminium Apple Watch Sport, satisfy a number of the criteria for luxury. In fact, the only criteria that the gold Edition uniquely satisfies is that regarding limited quantities.

Luxury for the masses

Apple Watch is actually a “luxury for the masses”. By automating and mass producing what previously required a high level of craftsmanship, Apple has brought luxury products within reach of the masses.

Importantly, this is not unique to the Apple Watch. Nor is it something that is recent. Almost all Apple products have been produced with the same amount of care and precision machining for quite a while now. What Apple is saying is that the attention and care to detail they have been exercising for years on products ranging from the iPad, iPhone, MacBook, iMac to the PowerMac, has always been worthy of luxury status.

The Apple Watch Edition is not a special product. It is just like every other Apple product.

A note on fashion

An aspect that was not previously an topic for Apple, but is now a topic for the Apple Watch, is fashion. In the article I linked to above,

However the nature of fashion is ephemeral and change. Pick up a copy of September Vogue and judge for yourself.

Although there are some fashion brands that are very pricey, price itself is not a criteria for fashion. Fashion is more about change.

This is why we have fashionable Swatch watches from under 100 USD. It is perfectly OK to be cheap but fashionable.

It is very possible that the Apple Watch would be fashionable. The prices certainly do not preclude it. Also like Swatch, there are a wide variety of bands and clock faces to choose from which allow the wearer to express their individuality. Brand power is also likely to be a key in fashion, and the Apple brand is certainly one of the favourites among e fashion conscious people.

What I find interesting about fashion is its dynamics of change. Fashion can change very quickly in the span of a year or two. It can also be rapidly obsoleted. Therefore, if there is a strong fashion aspect to the Apple Watch, we have to accept the possibility of a very, very rapid uptake, which could even be faster than the previous tech adoption champion; the iPad.

We should look out for how often the Apple Watch appears in magazines and news dedicated to the fashion conscious. If it is significant, then we might see an extremely quick ramp in adoption, an adoption rate that is characteristic of fashion.

Why does this matter?

The distinction between what it means to be a luxury, premium or fashion is important because it defines the addressable market. A luxury product in the pure sense must have exclusivity, and hence the market is limited. That is why Swiss watches only capture 3% of the total watch market in unit sales. This compares to iPhone having over 10% market share of global smartphone shipments and having about half the smartphone market in the US and Japan. Add to the fact that most people nowadays don’t even wear watches, and you have to conclude that the luxury watch market is pretty small from Apple’s perspective.

It’s not that Apple seeks to maximise profits. It’s that Apple seeks to make meaningful contributions. And you can’t really change the world by just targeting the luxury segment.

Luxury for the masses

I believe that Apple is aiming to bring luxury to the masses, and has actually been so for quite a while. If fact Apple has from its very beginning, always been a “for the masses” company.

With the Apple II, Apple brought personal computing from the hands of hardware enthusiasts towards software enthusiasts. With the Mac, Apple made personal computing easy enough for everybody to use. With the iPhone, Apple brought personal computing away from office environments and into more personal settings. Apple has always been about expanding the number of people who can use their products, and increasing use-cases.

Apple is misunderstood because in bringing their products to the masses, they do not rely on cheap prices. People think Apple targets only the premium and luxury segments of markets, while forgetting that these markets would often not have existed without Apple in the first place.

Categorising Apple as a luxury or even premium company does not capture the essence of what Apple strives to do. We must understand Apple as a “for the masses” company. What is new with the Apple Watch is simply that this time, Apple has explicitly brought luxury to the masses.

State of Non-Game Revenue on Google Play

Back in February, App Annie released a report on Google Play and App Store revenue in Germany. The central theme was that Google Play revenue had surpassed App Store revenue in Germany, which actually isn’t very surprising given the large number of Android users in Germany (StatCounter suggests that in other developed countries, Android market share is generally lower). What is startling is the chart showing how small non-game revenue is on Google Play.

Google Plays Rapid Rise in Germany EN pdf 10 17ページ

Clearly, if your app is not a game and you want to make money from it directly (either from an up-front payment or an in-app payment), then it doesn’t make that much sense to develop for Android, and the situation hasn’t improved much.

I have also discussed non-game revenue in some previous posts.

  1. Non-game Apps Growth in the Google Play Store
  2. Non-Game Apps: iOS App Store vs. Android Google Play

Apple Is Not Focusing On Luxury

The pricing of the gold Apple Watch Edition tells us that Apple is not focusing on luxury. Instead, they are focusing on fashion.

First read Benedict Evan’s great post on why Apple is making a gold watch.

Apple retail is a self-funding marketing operation. So too, perhaps, is the gold watch. Apple might only sell a few tens of thousands, but what impression does it create around the $1,000 watch, or the $350 watch? After all, the luxury goods market is full of companies whose most visible products are extremely expensive, but whose revenue really comes from makeup, perfume and accessories. You sell the $50k (or more) couture dress (which may be worn once), but you also sell a lot of lipsticks with the brand halo (and if you think Apple’s margins are high, have a look at the gross margins on perfume). 

His argument is that Apple created a gold watch for marketing purposes. They aren’t really serious about selling you a gold watch, and they don’t care if they don’t. They care that it’s on the cover of Vogue magazine and lots of people talk about it.

This would have been different if Apple had made the price of the gold Edition something like 5,000 USD. Then there would be normal people buying it and the volumes would be pretty high. High enough to make a significant contribution to total sales of the Apple Watch.

Horace Dediu for example was predicting something like 5,000 USD. That probably would have been the correct price if Apple was trying to optimise for revenue and profits. John Gruber predicted 10,000 USD which was still very far off from the actual 17,000 USD. In his case, he was simply pricing based on competitors; competitors whose gold watch prices aren’t optimised for revenue generation either.

The aluminium and stainless steel versions are very affordable

So now that we’ve got the gold Edition out of the way, we can turn our attention to the aluminium and stainless steel versions at $349 USD and $549 (for the non-sports band Watch). These are very affordable, especially for a high-build quality tech product. They are iPad prices. Although they are only a bit more expensive then Swatches or Casio G-Shocks, they are in the same range as Fossil watches.

And anyone suggesting that these are luxuries or jewels is simply confused. They have been blinded by the gold Edition, which is probably exactly what Apple intended. Fashion is a much better way to describe them.

One important thing to note is that if you wear a Swatch on casual occasions, then in many cases, you will also wear a separate watch for more formal ones. However with the Apple Watch, you are expected to wear the same watch at all times, switching bands to suite the occasions. Since the bands for Apple Watch are also quite affordable, this is easily within the reach of normal fashion enthusiasts.

Apple is not focusing on luxury

It should be very clear by now that Apple is not focusing on luxury. If they were, then they should at least have 5,000 USD luxury models that they can sell at meaningful volumes. Instead, the only models that Apple is serious about selling in volume are much cheaper. They are priced not at luxury prices, but fashion prices.

What does it mean for Apple to focus on fashion?

Apple in many ways has always been somewhat fashion minded. They have always made computers that look very nice, and with the iMac G3 lineup, they had a variety of colourful bodies to choose from. Even the current iPhone lineup has three colours to choose from.

Apple has also attracted the attention of a large number of case manufacturers, many of which who provide very fashionable designs. There is an abundance of fashion surrounding Apple’s offerings.

Apple has always been focused on fashion. Nothing has changed.

The iPhone Did Not Disrupt the Mobile Handset Industry

Yesterday, I wrote about how smartwatches would be a sustaining innovation relative to the watchmaking industry, but instead by a disruptive innovation relative to the smartphone industry.

To illustrate my point, I described how smartphones were a sustaining innovation (and not disruptive) to the mobile handset industry, and how smartphones were instead disruptive to PCs.

Since many people will understandably have an issue with smartwatches disrupting smartphones, I think I should go into a bit more detail. Instead of going into logic, I will give my understanding of what happened when the iPhone entered the market (Christensen’s mistake) and examine the parallels with the Apple Watch.

  1. Smartphones did not disrupt the mobile phone market: Many people think that the iPhone disrupted the mobile phone market. Disruption means that new entrants successfully displaced the incumbents. While this is certainly true that one entrant, Apple, gained 8.4% market share of total mobile phones, if you look at the other players, the mobile phone market is still mostly comprised of incumbent companies that used to sell feature phones. These companies were fortunate that Google provided Android for free, so that they could easily and quickly develop their own smartphones. Some may note that Blackberry and Palm almost completely disappeared. I would argue that if you look at the total mobile phone market, they were never more than a small niche so they weren’t really incumbents at all. As for Nokia, they simply bet the company on the wrong horse. If they had chosen to use Android, there is little doubt that they would have still been a force to reckon with.
  2. Smartphones disrupted PCs: To understand this, you have to lump smartphones and PCs together to create a “personal compute market”. Ben Bajarin has done this, and the following chart shows what has happened. PCs have clearly been overrun, and importantly, neither Microsoft itself nor any of the PC OEMs (with the exception of Lenovo which is very agile at M&A) successfully made the transition to smartphones. This is what disruption looks like.
    Ben BajarinさんはTwitterを使っています Microsoft s journey of computing platform share through the years http t co taFsFr1sZp

Here, I’d like to look at this in a bit more detail. The thing is that if we take a look at the mobile handset industry before and after the iPhone, there certainly has been movement in the dominating players. At first glance, it would look like there has been some kind of disruption. However, as I will point out below, the truth is that disruption came from cheap Asian manufacturers and not from Apple.

Gartner Says Worldwide Mobile Phone Sales Increased 16 Per Cent in 2007
Source: Gartner 2007

Gartner Says Sales of Smartphones Grew 20 Percent in Third Quarter of 2014
Source: Gartner 2014

The Handset Industry Was Disrupted By East Asia

In the above tables, we see Nokia’s rapid decline and Samsung’s ascent. We also see Motorola and Sony Ericsson disappearing from the scene whereas LG maintained its position. Huawei, TCL, Xiaomi and other Chinese and Indian OEMs rose quickly.

This is the combination of a few of events;

  1. Korean manufacturers rapidly grew their presence, overtaking Western and Japanese firms. Korean companies simply made high quality devices and components cheaper than their rivals.
  2. Mobile handset users in both China and India exploded. To cater to these huge markets, homegrown companies sprung up and were successful. The rise of Chinese and Indian manufacturers is simply a result of the explosion of these markets.
  3. Nokia made a very large bet on the wrong technology. Nokia correctly understood that it would not be able to differentiate if it went with Android. However, there was not yet a good alternative OS so Nokia decided to bet on Windows phone in the hope that it would arrive in time. It didn’t. I’m sure that few people would disagree that Nokia would still be relevant if they had adopted Android.

Regarding item 1), this is exactly what Japan did in the 1960s and 1970s, disrupting US electronics and automobile manufacturers. Emerging industrialised nations capitalise on cheap labour and new factories to create high quality products at low cost. Just as Japan initially started out as a cheap, low-quality manufacturer, but quickly moved up the ladder to become a high-quality one, so has Korea in the last decade. The rise of Samsung in particular is simply a consequence of this.

The role of Apple in this is that it created a shake-up. It created a fast changing environment where every company was scrambling to produce a device capable of competing with the iPhone. These environments typically favour quick-moving entrants which have nothing to lose. In the case of Japanese electronics companies, it was the transition to transistors that shook up the environment. In automobiles, it was the oil shock that shifted attention to more efficient cars. Likewise, the iPhone did not directly disrupt the phone industry but instead created a volatile situation which the Koreans could then exploit.

Regarding item 2), this is again very obvious. When the vast majority of smartphone hardware is being made in China anyway, it is natural that Chinese firms would create their own brands. The iPhone has nothing to do with this.


  1. The iPhone did not disrupt the mobile phone industry.
  2. The mobile phone industry was disrupted from the low-end by Korean manufacturers which were climbing up the ladder from cheap, low-quality to cheap, high-quality.
  3. The iPhone only served as a catalyst for change. It did not directly influence the direction of the shift.

Sustaining Innovation and Disruptive Innovation in Cameras

A recent tweet from @charlesarthur on the camera market very nicely captured the difference between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. Let me explain.

Charles ArthurさんはTwitterを使っています How a segment dies http t co BkAkU49CHl

  1. Digital cameras started penetrating the consumer market around the year 2000. They were initially had very bad resolution and colours were inaccurate. Battery life was also a huge issue. Despite this, they took off in sales because you could view your photo immediately after you took it, and you didn’t have to go to your local photo processor.
  2. Initial deficiency is a hallmark of disruptive innovations. Disruptive innovations often start off as a “toy” that however provides significant convenience to low-end users. In this sense, digital cameras completely fitted the bill.
  3. However, if you look at the players in the market before and after the digital revolution, you notice that they are almost identical. The exception is that Casio gained significant market share (due to first mover advantage). Otherwise the main players, Nikon, Canon, Olympus all maintained their positions and enjoyed increased sales during 2000-2010. Clearly, digital cameras did not end up being disruptive to the film-camera market. Instead it was sustaining.
  4. The reason for this is that the incumbent film-camera makers were motivated to make the shift to digital. Digital cameras were significantly more expensive than film cameras and drove a replacement cycle that would not have been existent without the new technology. This was financially very appealing to the incumbents. There were technical hurdles like manufacturing the CCD cameras. However, there were modular CCD manufacturers who were willing to supply these to the previously film-only camera makers. Hence film-cameras makers were both willing and capable of making the shift to digital. This is why only Casio, with its first mover advantage, was able to gain significant footing among the film-camera incumbents.
  5. Since 2010 however, the incumbent camera makers have collectively seen a large drop in sales. This is due to cameras on smartphones. Instead of the traditional camera makers, the winners in this new market are Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, etc. They are the smartphone makers. What happened here is unmistakably disruption.
  6. Smartphone cameras were also initially very poor compared to the regular digital cameras. Like digital cameras ten years before, they also started out as “toys”, which however provided significant convenience to the user because you could immediately upload the photos to the Internet. Technology-wise, smartphone cameras were no better than digital cameras were in the year 2000, relative to the incumbent products.
  7. The very different outcomes are a result of the difficulty of transitioning to the new market. I don’t mean difficulty in technology. I mean difficulty in flipping the whole organisation from top to bottom. For film-camera makers, it was relatively easy to transition to the digital-camera market. They were still selling cameras through the same channels to the same users. Film camera makers did not have to change their business models or their sales and marketing organisations at all. The only issue was technology and even this was easily overcome through modularity. However, for camera makers to transition to the smartphone market, they have to change their technology focus, their distribution channels, their sales and marketing organisations and everything else in between. This was too much for them to do. Instead, they focused on the higher-end of the market (digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras) where they could still thrive while maintaining their organisations and business models which worked, but only until smartphone cameras became good enough for all except the most demanding photographic tasks.

So there you have it. The takeaway here is that the most important element of a disruptive innovation is whether the incumbent is motivated and capable of embracing it or not. If the incumbent embraces the innovation, then disruption will not occur. However, if the incumbents don’t do so, then they will be disrupted.

It is usually not the technology that decides whether disruption will succeed or not, but rather whether or not the company organisation is capable of embracing it.