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posted by janrinok on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:19AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the being-successful-at-success dept.

Jean-Louis Gassée writes at Monday note that Apple’s most recent quarterly numbers broke a number of laws:

Law 1: Larger size makes growth increasingly difficult. The Law of Large Numbers predicts the eventual flattening of extraordinary growth. "And yet, last quarter, Apple revenue grew 30%, breaking the Law and any precedent," writes Gassée. "iPhone revenue, which grew 57%, exceeded $51B in one quarter — close to what Google achieved in its entire Fiscal 2014 year." Apple’s recent numbers show, the iPhone seems immune to modularity threats.

Law 2: Everything becomes a commodity. As products are standardized, margins suffer as competitors frantically cut prices in a race to the bottom with the PC clone market serving as a good example. "At the risk of belaboring the obvious, a rising Average Selling Price (ASP) means customers are freely deciding to give more money to Apple," says Gassée. "We’re told that this is just a form of Stockholm Syndrome, the powerless customer held prisoner inside Apple’s Walled Garden." Yet according to Tim Cook “…fewer than 15% of older iPhone owners upgraded to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The majority of switchers to iPhone came from smartphones running Google Inc.’s Android operating system.” Apple’s recent numbers show, the iPhone seems immune to modularity threats.

Law 3: Market share always wins. With a bigger market share comes economies of scale and network effects leaving minority players condemned to irrelevance and starvation. Yet despite its small unit share (around 7% worldwide, higher in the US), Apple takes home about half of all PC industry profits, thanks to its significant ASP ($1,250 vs $417 industry-wide in 2014, trending down to $379 this year).

Law 4: Modularity Always Wins. In the end, modularity always defeats integration. Clayton Christensen points out that in the PC clone market, modularity allowed competitors to undercut one another by improving layer after layer, smarter graphic cards, better/faster/cheaper processing, storage, and peripheral modules. Yet, as Apple’s recent numbers show, the iPhone seems immune to modularity threats.

"I have no trouble with the Law of Large Numbers, it only underlines Apple’s truly stupendous growth and, in the end, it always wins. No business can grow by 20%, or even 10% for ever. But, for the other three, Market Share, Commoditization, and Modularity, how can we ignore the sea of contradicting facts?" concludes Gassée. "As Apple continues to “break the law”, perhaps we’ll see a new body of scholarship that provides alternatives to the discredited refrains. As Rob Majteles tweeted: “Apple: where many, all?, management theories go to die?"

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by pe1rxq on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:31AM

    by pe1rxq (844) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:31AM (#143050) Homepage

    Most of these 'laws' are bullshit to begin with. They are generalized observations. And like Moore's law, if you convince enough suckers it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    These 'laws' are mainly used by investers and stock brokers. And these guys are so good at their job that they are indistinguishable from monkeys and dart-board throwing experiments....

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:53AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:53AM (#143059)

      They are generalized observations.

      As are all laws (except for those which are imposed rules). Including the laws of nature.

    • (Score: 2) by ilPapa on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:40PM

      by ilPapa (2366) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:40PM (#143167) Journal

      Most of these 'laws' are bullshit to begin with

      "Laws" of economics and business are generally nonsense. Economics especially is rife with "woo".

      --
      You are still welcome on my lawn.
      • (Score: 2) by Jeremiah Cornelius on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:57PM

        by Jeremiah Cornelius (2785) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:57PM (#143179) Journal

        Economics doesn't even deal with the observation part... Doctrine and ideology are the order of the day, despite what Levitt and Dubener publish as "observation".

        --
        You're betting on the pantomime horse...
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11 2015, @03:21AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11 2015, @03:21AM (#143422)

      Coward's Law:
      If you don't know wtf you're talking about, it must be a/the Law.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:40AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:40AM (#143054)

    Law 1: OK, so Apple continues to grow fast. For now. All that means is that Apple has not yet reached the limit of its extraordinary growth. It does not disprove that Apple's growth eventually will flatten.

    Law 2: The commodity are not iPhones, the commodity are smartphones. Apple continued to sell expensive computers long after the PC was a commodity. It's just that Apple was no market leader. And the smartphone market is far from settled yet. Time will tell how much market share Apple will keep in the long run.

    Law 3: OK, I'll give you that. At least if you define "wins" as "makes the most money".

    Law 4: Where's the modular smartphone? Ah, right, it's still under development. [wikipedia.org] So you're surprised that an item that's still under development didn't win against an item you can already buy?

    • (Score: 1) by linuxrocks123 on Tuesday February 10 2015, @05:27PM

      by linuxrocks123 (2557) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 10 2015, @05:27PM (#143212) Journal

      Yeah, Apple will eventually go out of style. Not sure when, but fashions always do. In the meantime, well, a fool and his money and all that. $700 for $100 worth of hardware and a crippled BSD-clone OS isn't a terribly good deal for me, nor probably for most of the people who just use it for Twitter, selfies, and phone calls.

      People seem to be liking Oppo phones recently. Maybe they'll get the lemmings next. Or maybe the iPhone will keep them for a while longer.

      In any case, the latest news on the scammers at Apple is not really interesting.

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:43AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:43AM (#143057)

    1. They claim to sell you devices whereas you only rent them
    2. They colluded with other high tech firms to not hire workers from each others
    3. They dodge taxes (like all scummy large corporations)

    The list goes on ad nauseam.

    • (Score: 2) by Wootery on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:15PM

      by Wootery (2341) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:15PM (#143155)

      To my knowledge, only (2) is actually against the letter of the law.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:59PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:59PM (#143181)

        I wonder if the OP avoids doing anything to pay less taxes. When they get a tax refund does the poster say "no thanks, I don't want to avoid paying taxes". Everyone tries to avoid paying taxes and, so long as you're not doing anything illegal, why not.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11 2015, @03:24AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11 2015, @03:24AM (#143423)

      And ebook price-fixing

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by acid andy on Tuesday February 10 2015, @10:02AM

    by acid andy (1683) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @10:02AM (#143063) Homepage Journal

    It's the same way enormous, elaborate, cathedrals got built. Apple is a religion for those that follow. They cannot help but pay their tithes.

    --
    Where did that thought come from? And that one? What about this one? Woah, man...
  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by TheRaven on Tuesday February 10 2015, @10:51AM

    by TheRaven (270) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @10:51AM (#143075) Journal

    Law 1: This is true within a market (as it reaches saturation, you run out of room to expand), but Apple has moved from computers to portable music players, to phones, to tablets and has sidelines in online music, video and software distribution. It's been a few years since they entered a completely new market (the iPad was the last time), so there may be some cause for investors to worry if they don't - the iWatch is their next attempt and we'll see how that goes.

    Law 2: That's true, but it takes time. It's also not quite so clear cut. For example, the graphical UNIX workstation market that SGI owned basically died because its key selling point was speed and eventually commodity hardware caught up because companies like nVidia could outspend them on R&D with a much lower markup by having huge volumes. Cars haven't gone the same way, because there's some status attached to the higher-end models. The questions is whether the higher margins at the luxury end outweigh the lower volumes. For PCs, this didn't happen because PCs running Windows all have roughly the same user experience with the same set of core components - there isn't much incentive to pay the higher margins, unless you're differentiating the machines in some way like a different OS or a very different form factor.

    For Law 3, basically the same applies. Market share doesn't always win, it only wins if it's in the right bit of the market. Being in the low-volume, high-margin end works well as long as the profit in the rest of the market doesn't let everyone else massively outspend you on R&D.

    Law 4 is just stupid. The PC market is about the only place where this has happened, and even there it only extends to desktops. For laptops there's very little modularity. The modularity that actually matters is on the other end of the supply chain: can you swap out one supplier's part for another? This is where Dell does very well, but the economies are different when you want huge volumes of the same product.

    --
    sudo mod me up
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by WizardFusion on Tuesday February 10 2015, @11:55AM

      by WizardFusion (498) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 10 2015, @11:55AM (#143087) Journal

      ...the iWatch is their next attempt and we'll see how that goes.

      Horribly wrong, but they will sell a lot of them (or so they will say). The iWatch will only be bought by apple fanboys.

      It's already way behind the curve in terms of design and function, and it hasn't even been released yet.
      More and more companies are moving to round faces to match "normal" watches as an attempt to better blend in.

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by quacking duck on Tuesday February 10 2015, @02:50PM

        by quacking duck (1395) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @02:50PM (#143150)

        More and more companies are moving to round faces to match "normal" watches as an attempt to better blend in.

        Smartwatches are not devices that only show hour/minute/second hands around a miniature circular clock. They show data, and whether that's text or visual, it works better for humans when it's square or rectangular.

        Recall the monitors seen on the bridges of the first 3 or 4 (original) Star Trek movies; they are horrible [wordpress.com] at displaying information [blogspot.com], and were replaced with more sensible rectangular ones in Star Trek V and VI.

        Now of course, you're not supposed to be doing anything complicated like reading console logs or Excel charts on something that small anyway, but even looking at the occasional photo on a round watch becomes pointless.

        Showing stuff in circles is trendy, and in a bad way. Sadly this has infected even Apple, at the software level at least, where the latest OSX and iOS contacts app's pictures are shown inside a circle instead of rectangle, and number pad buttons are circles too.

        And, you might not have noticed, but Apple's last 3 big things (iPod, iPhone, iPad) were all designed NOT to blend in, but to be noticed. iPods with their white earbuds when most were black, the iPhone with the large (at the time) screen and annoying fanboys showing you everything it could do, and iPads weren't exactly inconspicuous. The last thing Apple wants is to have their new watch be part of the background. So far that strategy has worked pretty well for them.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:13PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @09:13PM (#143309)

          The problem with the iWatch is that it's too early. It still requires you to have the phone to do anything, which defeats the point of the watch aside from trendy factor. Heck a Dick Tracy watch had more functionality than the iWatch. Once the battery life and the requirement to have a phone directly next to it are gone, it may be useful, otherwise it's just going to be a trend, most people already are moving away from watches, simply because they already have a phone. It's an interesting experiment. I think full Android in cars will take off before the Apple iWatch, and I'm somewhat surprise Apple hasn't moved into this market more. I'd think it would be a great place to create more interest for their whole ecosystem, and something I think that they would do well in.

          • (Score: 2) by quacking duck on Wednesday February 11 2015, @04:28AM

            by quacking duck (1395) on Wednesday February 11 2015, @04:28AM (#143445)

            Pairing isn't a problem with just the iWatch, it's a problem with *all* smartwatches. After a quick search, it seems the only smartwatch that doesn't depend on your phone being nearby is the Samsung Galaxy S, which has a SIM slot and 3G data connection. But from the review it seems there's a lot of compromises... and it still technically needs to be paired with your phone, just that it can do it over 3G as well as Bluetooth.

            I never watched Dick Tracy, but the argument it could do more than the Apple Watch makes as much sense as those who said Apple copied the PADD from Star Trek: The Next Generation... or the Newspads from the movie "2001". No, they really didn't. The PADD and the Dick Tracy watch were *concepts* that were made possible only with special effects and post-production work, whereas Apple and others have made actual real-life working devices.

            And Apple is already in the car console space with Carplay, both in new cars and aftermarket units. Too early to say how that market will trend.

      • (Score: 2, Informative) by gtomorrow on Tuesday February 10 2015, @07:37PM

        by gtomorrow (2230) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @07:37PM (#143271) Journal

        The iWatch will only be bought by apple fanboys.

        It's already way behind the curve in terms of design and function, and it hasn't even been released yet.

        God, you could almost substitute "iPod" for "iWatch" in your assessment. And we all remember that fiasco...errr, wait.

        Although I'd tend to agree with you in this case, my crystal ball is in the shop right now. Obviously yours is a better model. Possibly an iBall?

        I kid, I kid! /triumph

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by brocksampson on Tuesday February 10 2015, @12:38PM

      by brocksampson (1810) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @12:38PM (#143101)

      Thank you for pointing that out. The authors state that the iPod "paved the way for the iPhone," but that does not mean that everyone with an iPhone used to own an iPod or that everyone with an iPod transitioned to an iPhone. Apple started with personal computers, moved to laptops, then to MP3 players, then to smartphones, then to tablets, and now to wearables. Each of these represented an entirely new market in the sense that selling someone an iPod in 2003 was not cannibalizing iMac sales. If you look at each segment, I bet you will find the "law of large numbers" being obeyed; what was their growth in MacBook sales in the same quarter? Aren't iPads losing money?

      And Law 4 is probably still true, except for the part where it is inevitable. Those of us who used to build desktop machines were flummoxed by the lack of modularity in laptops and saddened that it is only getting worse with embedded devices. Go ahead and try to upgrade the RAM or flash memory on your smartphone. And the ever-changing landscape of sockets and chipsets basically makes modern desktops extensible kits. Cars have had that problem forever. Sourcing parts on an old car often means not just finding a carburator, but one from the same make, model, and year. The automobile industry gave rise to tool and die shops, machine shops, metal shops, etc., each cranking out specialized parts to specs. And despite that glaring inefficiency, cars never modularized because--much like the mobile phone chargers of yore--they could gouge consumers by creating artificial scarcity. Even car batteries are make-specific. The mobile device market looks a bit like that, no? Plus now you can get trapped in a company's silo and end up being forced to buy needless, incremental upgrades because they drop soft/firmware support for the old model.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by TheRaven on Tuesday February 10 2015, @12:53PM

        by TheRaven (270) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @12:53PM (#143107) Journal

        Those of us who used to build desktop machines were flummoxed by the lack of modularity in laptops and saddened that it is only getting worse with embedded devices. Go ahead and try to upgrade the RAM or flash memory on your smartphone.

        In particular, for anything portable you have a trade between being easy to modify and being compact. Every removable panel, ZIF socket, hinged door, and so on adds to the volume (and to the cost). In a market where the easiest upgrade is to buy a new device and in a market segment full of people with more spare money than spare time, which way would you expect it to trend?

        There were two big advantages to modular desktops. The first was that you could build a machine that had the specs that you wanted, even if you were a niche market. The problem with this is that it means that anyone in that market is not going to be a big-voume customer (though there might be higher margins). The second was that it let you upgrade gradually and spread out the cost. With mobile phones, there are usually financing agreements that do this (and carriers that are happy to lock people in to a 1-2 year contract that comes with a 'free' phone that's really a phone financed by a 50% APR loan incorporated into the contract cost).

        --
        sudo mod me up
      • (Score: 2) by quacking duck on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:04PM

        by quacking duck (1395) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:04PM (#143153)

        I agree with most of your comment, except the suggestion that iPads are losing money. That might apply to Microsoft's Surface tablets (not 100% sure), but like the tablet market as a whole, iPads simply aren't selling as much as they did in the previous year. "Not making as much money" though isn't automatically "losing money".

        • (Score: 2) by meisterister on Wednesday February 11 2015, @01:25AM

          by meisterister (949) on Wednesday February 11 2015, @01:25AM (#143400) Journal

          Yes, what you say is true, but it doesn't really fit into the corporate mindset. I would expect that any decrease in sales could be called a "loss" only because it is a "loss" relative to where you were last year. The idea is to continuously grow rather than to shrink even slightly.

          --
          (May or may not have been) Posted from my K6-2, Athlon XP, or Pentium I/II/III.
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by PizzaRollPlinkett on Tuesday February 10 2015, @12:12PM

    by PizzaRollPlinkett (4512) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @12:12PM (#143093)

    Apple's success comes from creating a "want", not a need. Their devices are positioned as luxury items. Apple makes billions through arbitrage. They manufacture their devices in China at commodity prices and sell to Americans at American prices. The difference is the profits Apple reports all the time. No other tech company that I know of has perfected this buy-low, sell-high arbitrage. Other tech companies buy low and sell low, content to flood the market with commodities.

    What Apple has done is position their products as a status item. Basically, the number of iPhones sold as a percent of the American population means the top 20% or so owns iPhones. It's a way to separate yourself in the socioeconomic strata the same way people shop at organic grocery stores instead of Wal-Mart and drive a Lexus instead of a Toyota. Apple has also perfected getting people to buy the same thing over and over again every couple of years. That's getting harder now because of the maturity of their platforms. What Apple has done is make their product a necessity as a status symbol - if you have an iPhone, you belong to a higher socioeconomic class. This positioning is why they make billions. A company like IBM did not do this, and they are selling off their hardware to commodity Chinese manufacturers. HP flooded Wal-Mart with low-quality computers, and they're flailing away trying to survive. Office supply stores are consolidating to survive because no one wants to buy the low-end computers they sell. I definitely see a pattern here.

    Apple has also perfected the "product launch format" for generating hype, with their carefully controlled leaks of information that build up to the release of a product. The difference between them and Double Your Dating or bad stock market advice is that Apple does have a quality product you can buy. That's another reason why Apple makes billions.

    Note that Apple has put their laptops on the back burner recently. Kind of a shame, since they have the best-quality laptops. But people see laptops as commodities now. Apple has trouble separating their laptops from the usual flood of Acer and HP commodity junk, so Apple has been emphasizing their devices over laptops.

    --
    (E-mail me if you want a pizza roll!)
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:19PM (#143113)

      +1 very very well written!

      It is your point about commodity price vs american price that i run linux

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by khallow on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:26PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:26PM (#143115) Journal

      Apple's success comes from creating a "want", not a need. Their devices are positioned as luxury items.

      Economics has long since learned to not make that distinction due both to the subjectivity of the meaning of need and because it introduces extraneous issues. For example, you need air in order to survive. But I don't need you alive in order to survive. Your need is not my need. For an example of the latter point, it doesn't actually change the economics of the iPhone if we term it a want or a need.

      Apple makes billions through arbitrage.

      Arbitrage means risk-free. The manufacture and sale of iPhones was and is not even low-risk. There were plenty of things that could have gone wrong for Apple over the last decade. Similarly, there are plenty of large risks now with the various tricks and strategies they use now. For example, if malware bricks a large portion of the iPhone market tomorrow, Apple's future sales and reputation is on the line.

      They manufacture their devices in China at commodity prices and sell to Americans at American prices. The difference is the profits Apple reports all the time.

      They sell to plenty of non-US residents too. China is a big market for iPhones, for example.

      No other tech company that I know of has perfected this buy-low, sell-high arbitrage. Other tech companies buy low and sell low, content to flood the market with commodities.

      Welcome to the magic of pricing power. You will find that a lot of tech companies have perfected this approach. For example, anything with the buzzword "enterprise" in it. They just don't happen to be phone manufacturers.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:22PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @03:22PM (#143159)

        Economics has long since learned to not make that distinction due both to the subjectivity of the meaning of need and because it introduces extraneous issues

        What you guys are describing is monopoly pricing.

        There is only one company you can buy an iPhone from. There are many you can buy a smartphone from.

        http://soylentnews.org/comments.pl?sid=6030&cid=142721 [soylentnews.org]

        To add to my point of my prev post. Apple has managed to make themselves they only maker of a desirable item. In economic terms that is 'utility' (one of the many voodoo things economics comes up with to describe demand that you can not measure very well). Apple has very carefully not called themselves a smartphone. Thru their use of marketing they make sure they are very clear it is an iPhone. This is what many companies strive for in the 'high end' segments. To not be a commodity but to be the 'only one to buy'.

        Given that they are a monopoly in their segment. They can build at marginal cost but sell at price points well above others. Because they can jump to the demand curve for pricing.

        Now with that artificial creation of smoke and mirrors they have created. They will have to be very careful. The reason for their current boost was the upgrade of the phone to better specs. That was seen as a reason to upgrade from the latest shiny android everyone was using (galaxy s3/s4 mostly which were pretty cool phones).

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday February 11 2015, @04:06AM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday February 11 2015, @04:06AM (#143437) Journal
          It's called branding not monopoly pricing.Yes, Apple has a monopoly on the brand, but they don't magically get monopoly pricing as a result. Their pricing power instead is an intermediate value between the monopoly pricing extreme and the brand having no value at all. After all, there are plenty of substitute goods for an iPhone. And some people will choose the cheap alternative over an iPhone as the price goes up.
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Nerdfest on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:47PM

      by Nerdfest (80) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:47PM (#143120)

      Apple also get hundreds of millions (at least) in free marketing because of the media's continued fascination with them.

  • (Score: 2) by CirclesInSand on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:02PM

    by CirclesInSand (2899) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @01:02PM (#143108)

    Patents are the answer to your confusion. Apple have a lot of them, and they will sue you if you try to compete with them.

    One commonly overlooked economic behavior: in the hypothetical free market, customers are potential competitors. When the markets are landmines of patent litigation though, even a competent engineer observing "hey I could make this" can't utilize his skills. It's well known that Jobs used patents as weapons, so it should be no surprise that Apple can charge such margins on consumer electronics.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @04:02PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10 2015, @04:02PM (#143183)

    Mr. "Open Mac" drove the company into the commodity computing space when he ran product development.
    He tried to do the same with Be, and failed miserably.

    Now, he comes back and says his product strategy were the 'rules'.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by darkfeline on Tuesday February 10 2015, @06:19PM

    by darkfeline (1030) on Tuesday February 10 2015, @06:19PM (#143236) Homepage

    Apple is immune to modularity effects just like fashion is. Pay millions for a Ferrari, or an outfit made by some obscure world-renown designer, or an Apple product, but you're paying for form, not function.

    Everything that's actually functional will suffer from said modularity effects, because those things exist to solve quantifiable, practical problems, and people who need a problem solved don't care what brand name they use or how shiny their logo is.

    --
    Join the SDF Public Access UNIX System today!
    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11 2015, @03:32AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 11 2015, @03:32AM (#143428)

      An iPad is just a big Monster Cable. It doesn't sound any different, but it proves that you had extra money to spend. If that is a feature or a bug is up to the consumer.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by shortscreen on Tuesday February 10 2015, @06:37PM

    by shortscreen (2252) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 10 2015, @06:37PM (#143249) Journal

    Is Apple immune to modularity threats?