Company / division: Apple
Sprint’s Virgin Mobile Goes iPhone-Only in Relaunch (Jun 22, 2017)
Ex-Apple Engineer Chris Lattner Leaves Tesla After 5 Months (Jun 20, 2017)
Apple Poaches Two Sony TV Execs to Lead Video Programming (Jun 16, 2017)
Apple has hired two executives who previously helped make Breaking Bad and The Crown on behalf of AMC and Netflix respectively as its new heads of video programming globally. Those two pieces of content are powerful examples of the role of original content in boosting video brands – Breaking Bad was a major plank of AMC’s push over recent years to turn itself into more than just a catalog player, and while The Crown isn’t Netflix’s most popular bit of original content, it’s very good and a sign of the kind of big-budget stuff it’s going to be making more of going forward. As such, these are fascinating hires, given that for now at least Apple is on the opposite of that process – commissioning rather than producing original video content. These hires could be a sign that change is coming, given that these two new execs have experience producing and not just commissioning video, but that’s a somewhat unusual model for original content compared with other major players like Netflix, which have still tended to farm out original content rather than lead production internally. It’s possible that they will merely become equivalents of Ted Sarandos at Netflix, using their expertise to commission and oversee outside projects, but they seem somewhat odd hires in that context. All of this, meanwhile, seems much less plausible in a continued narrow focus on video content in Apple Music, and much more as part of a broader push into video ahead of a subscription video service. Two other things worth noting: Apple put out a press release on the hires, something it does very rarely indeed, suggesting it wants to make a fuss out of this. Secondly, these two will report directly to Eddy Cue, which will set up an interesting dynamic with Jimmy Iovine, who has seemed to loom large over all of Apple’s content efforts, but especially in video, and who I’ve speculated before is a bit of a loose cannon in this area. I’m hoping these two coming on board provides some more clarity in who owns original video content at Apple.
This is exactly the kind of speaking out of turn that Apple suppliers absolutely know not to engage in, so it’s baffling that Wistron’s CEO would have been so careless. Wistron, of course, is the vendor Apple is using for its first foray into manufacturing in India, and this is the kind of thing that tends to jeopardize those relationships. It’s not a huge revelation – Apple joined the consortium that manages the Qi wireless charging standard which it already uses in the Apple Watch a while back. But it’s one of a number of new hardware features that are likely to make it into the next iPhones – certainly not the headline feature, but one of a checklist of features that will be used to drum up demand. On the other hand, I remain skeptical of the value of mat-based wireless charging – though there’s some appeal to just putting your phone down to have it charge, that really requires several chargers in different places around your home and/or office to be useful, and it’s actually more limiting than traditional plugged-in charging for things like making phone calls or typing on your phone, where you might want to hold it while it’s charging. I’m still most curious to see whether Apple has made any advances in this regard and how it will both approach and sell wireless charging as a feature.
via The Verge
Apple didn’t mention Business Chat explicitly during its WWDC keynote on Monday, but details about it have emerged during the week and it held a session on Friday morning at which it detailed the service for developers. What we know now is that Business Chat is an equivalent to Facebook Messenger for business to allow businesses to perform customer service tasks through iMessage. It won’t launch publicly until next year, but Apple is announcing a developer preview and all the tools necessary for businesses to create customer interactions using iMessage. The platform is pretty fully featured, offering not just text messaging but payments through Apple Pay, pickers for time slots, products, and the like, and integration with custom apps through the iMessage apps platform. Between this and the various other changes we’ve seen announced by Apple around iMessage over the past year, it’s evolving iMessage from a mere app to much more of a platform, very much along the lines I outlined in this article I wrote early last year. I think that’s super smart, and one of the best things about it from a customer perspective is that Apple isn’t doing any of this to drive new revenues or push advertising or any of the other things others in this space – notably Facebook – are doing. Apple is very aware of how personal a space iMessage is, and will prevent businesses from ever sending unsolicited messages – every interaction will be initiated by the user, from the first onwards. The platform looks clever, and giving developers and companies lots of time to implement it should mean that by the time this releases to the public next year, it should be really effective.
I’ll start with my usual caveat on so-called “gigabit” wireless services: though theoretical throughputs on devices with the new modems being discussed here can reach gigabit per second speeds, the real-world experience is going to be a fraction of that. In other words, even if the reporting in this article is correct, Apple isn’t going to be missing out on true gigabit speeds any more than the other device vendors will have them. The second caveat is that even the more realistic speeds will only be available where carriers have upgraded their networks to support them, which will be far from everywhere for the near future. With those caveats out of the way, though, Apple will be one of the few device vendors out there without these faster modems in its devices over the next year. However, as the article rightly points out, Apple has rarely been willing to put cutting edge new modem technology in its devices at the same time as others, generally preferring to wait for the technology to mature before deploying it, as it notably did with both 3G and LTE. There is, of course, this time also the added complication of Qualcomm being the only supplier with a gigabit modem ready to go, and the fact of Apple’s very adversarial relationship with Qualcomm and its decision last year to introduce Intel modems. I’m inclined to believe the reporting here is accurate, but I’m not sure it’s really all that significant – in real-world experience, there will be very little difference for many customers over the next couple of years, and Apple will almost certainly jump on the gigabit modem bandwagon next year, likely through Intel.
The Trump administration is holding the first meetings of its American Technology Council, led by Trump son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, later this month. Despite the recent contretemps between the tech industry and the administration, it appears most of the largest companies will still send senior leaders to the meetings, including CEOs or chairmen in many cases. Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Intel, Cisco, and others will all send at least one senior representative to the meetings. That’s a sign of the realism that still prevails at these companies despite broad opposition within their ranks to any kind of collaboration with the government. These companies still have policy objectives the government can and likely will help with, and disengaging entirely over those issues where there’s disagreement isn’t likely either to drive meaningfully different policies in those areas or achieve their broader goals. But that will make for some uncomfortable times for these leaders, most of whom looked pretty awkward at the first pre-inauguration meetings with Trump and his team. And these companies will face continued criticism from within Silicon Valley and elsewhere for their perceived compliance with the administration regardless.
Apple Hires Head of Stanford Digital Health Center (Jun 9, 2017)
Apple has been in battles with various states over so-called “right to repair” legislation in recent months, and one of its key arguments against proposed new laws is that its devices have to be repaired in special ways in order to ensure the continued integrity of the Touch ID sensor and the secure enclave attached to it. Replacing an iPhone screen with a damaged Touch ID sensor, it argues, is something that can only be done by official Apple technicians with the ability to certify the integrity of those components. That, in turn, means that not all screen repairs can be conducted by any run of the mill repair center. Predictably, critics have argued that Apple merely wants to preserve what they see as a lucrative repair business given that Apple often charges more for such repairs than mall kiosks. All that is by way of context for this news that Apple is planning to put a couple hundred of its proprietary screen repair machines into third party repair centers in the next little while, with another two hundred coming by the end of the year. This puts some weight behind Apple’s argument that it’s intent on preserving security of devices and not merely its revenue streams, given that it’s now opening up access to those machines, albeit mostly through big partners like Best Buy. Given that there are still states with no Apple Stores at all and other parts of the US where people would have to travel long distances to one, it makes sense to spread availability of the repair technology more broadly, and Best Buy already hosts mini Apple stores within its stores to help meet these needs. But I don’t think any of this is going to neutralize the calls for Apple to open its repair processes more broadly, which is a great illustration of how narratives form around what are at root fairly complex subjects. It’s far easier to claim that Apple is somehow acting against its customers’ interests in this area than to explain the complexities involved in repairing a Touch ID sensor with all the security implications that has.
★ Apple Announces HomePod Home Audio System with Siri (Jun 5, 2017)
Apple today upgraded its iPad Pro lineup and announced a new version of iOS with big changes for the iPad as well as support for AR. The major theme in both the hardware and software aspects of the iPad announcements was productivity, where Apple continues to push the iPad Pro as a potential laptop replacement. The hardware changes improve performance across the board while specifically tweaking the ratio between screen and device size for the smaller iPad Pro in a change that likely foreshadows what Apple will do in a more dramatic way in the Fall with the iPhone. Just as the Mac lineup became more powerful with today’s announcements, so the iPad is becoming more powerful as a potential computer replacement, and the iOS changes specific to the iPad further that message, with support for a much wider range of multitasking scenarios and other more sophisticated features. For the first time, the iPad version of iOS feels like it’s gaining a truly distinct identity that’s really optimized for heavy-duty productivity tasks, and it will be interesting to see how the OS feels on the iPads not designed for pro use, because a number of user interface elements and conventions will change as a result. However, the other big change in today’s iOS announcements is support for AR through ARKit for developers, which is Apple’s first foray into AR. Notably, whereas the VR support in the Mac is primarily aimed for today at creation of VR content, Apple’s AR push is much more end-user centric, and will enable developers to quickly and easily create a range of AR apps and games for the iPhone and iPad. Whereas smartphone-centric AR today is very photo- and video-centric and dominated by companies like Snapchat and more recently Facebook, Apple’s platform approach could dramatically expand the use of AR in smartphone apps and move smartphone-based AR forward significantly in terms of mainstream adoption.