Retina Display brightens Apple’s profits

Srinivasan_macbook-asp

If you’re like me you ordered the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and you’re anxiously tracking its shipping status. What does this new product mean for Apple? How about another $1 billion in pure profit.

Apple made a gross margin of $18.5 billion just in the last quarter. If you peel back the layers and look at how its different product lines contribute to this margin, you will find its MacBook lines account for $1.65 billion.

Apple’s profit from MacBook lines declined from 2011 to 2012, and the average selling price (ASP) of MacBook line dropped by $40.

It may not sound like much, but at 47 percent unit margin, that number meant $52 million in forgone profit. All because their product mix changed from selling higher priced MacBook Pros to lower priced MacBook Airs and 13-inch MacBook Pros.

That is about to change with its new product refresh, especially with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Let us do some math.

What can we say from distribution of sales between the different MacBook versions from the $1,245 ASP numbers? For simplicity, let us treat the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro as one category with an ASP of $1099, and the 15-inch MacBook Pro as another category with an ASP of $1799. Solving for these numbers tells us that the 15-inch MacBook Pro accounted for less than 23 percent of MacBook units sold. In other words, three in four MacBooks sold are either MacBook Airs or the 13-inch version.

Shifting more of the sales to the higher priced MacBook Pro is one clear way to increase profits. Enter the new 15-inch MacBook Pro with its $2,199 price tag and two compelling value propositions — 256GB SSD (solid-state drive) and Retina Display.

For $400 more, customers get both 256GB SSD and Retina Display. And if anyone should insist on getting just SSD, they can pay $500 more instead of $400 more. That is the decoy option put in place just to make the 15-inch retina display far more attractive than it would have been by itself.

By design, the Retina Display is not available in the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. This way, those who want the insanely-high screen resolution will have to pay up at least $2,199 to get it.

This clever price discrimination will result in two positive effects on the units sold. One, some who would have settled for a MacBook Air or the 13-inch MacBook Pro will upgrade to the $2,199 MacBook Pro. Two, it will push some who preferred the 15-inch MacBook Pro to the $2,199 version with Retina Display. The net result is a higher ASP than the current $1,245 number. Even if one in ten customers of first category and one in five in the second category upgrade to Retina Display, Apple will see the MacBook ASP go up to $1,363.

If Apple sees no change in total number of units sold from the current quarter, this ASP bump will still result in a minimum additional profit of $200 million. If you include net new purchases and higher percentage up-sells, this number could easily become $1 billion in additional profit.

That is one amazing and magical product.

Rags Srinivasan is a management professional who specializes in product strategy and strategic marketing. He is currently working on big data products. He blogs at Iterative Path and tweets at @rags.

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