Company / division: Apple
This story has been somewhat misreported, although this article does a decent job. It appears a hacking collective is claiming to have lots of username / password sets for iCloud accounts, though it appears that the source of the data is a hack of some other site or sites rather than any of Apple’s own. That breach then seems to have allowed the hackers to take iCloud.com email addresses and the passwords used on other sites and use them to access iCloud services as well. In other words, this isn’t an Apple hack at all, and is only effective because people are reusing passwords on multiple sites. Using two-factor authentication and unique passwords is therefore still the best defense against this kind of thing, although Apple still has to deal with the headache of both false claims and threats from this hacking group.
Apple just made a historic and risky change to all iPhones — and you probably didn’t even notice – Business Insider (Mar 28, 2017)
Apple this week pushed iOS 10.3 to iPhones and iPads, and although there were various other headline features, the big under-the-hood change was the upgrade from Apple’s historical HFS+ file system to the new Apple File System trailed a while back at WWDC. That this upgrade went off seemingly without a hitch is remarkable given just how disruptive it might have been to devices and the apps that run on them, and given that Apple has had one or two buggy iOS releases in the last couple of years, including one that bricked a lot of phones. I suspect Apple deliberately rolled this update out off the usual big annual schedule because people tend to adopt these point releases more slowly, so that if something did go wrong it could pull it before it did too much damage. But Apple is also benefiting these days from the extensive developer and public beta programs, which get its releases into many more hands (and onto a wider range of devices used for a wider range of tasks), which likely helps iron out some bugs before they ever get to wide release. But it’s arguably been underappreciated this week just how big a change this was and how flawlessly Apple seems to have executed on it. That’s a good counterpoint to some recent suggestions that Apple’s quality control around its software has suffered lately.
via Business Insider
Apple Files its Supplier Responsibility Report for 2016 (Mar 27, 2017)
Apple has filed its Supplier Responsibility Report for last year, and it shows decent progress on several fronts. This BuzzFeed piece ties the report into a broader picture of planned deregulation in this area by the Trump administration, and notes that Apple has both opposed that deregulation and pledged to continue to report on its own efforts even if the regulations go away. Conflict minerals are a complex area of Apple’s supply chain, not least because it doesn’t deal with many of the suppliers directly, but also because many operate in parts of the world which have little regulation or transparency over the conditions under which minerals are mined. But it sounds like Apple is making progress around cobalt, one of the areas in which it was accused of not doing enough last year, and in other areas too.
After the London terror attack, a top U.K. official says Facebook needs to open up WhatsApp – Recode (Mar 27, 2017)
This is a worrying (though not altogether unexpected) resurfacing of the arguments from early 2016, when the FBI was trying to get into an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. In this case, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd (whose role has no direct counterpart in the US, but is responsible for domestic law enforcement and counter-terrorism among many other things) has made calls for WhatsApp to “open up” and specifically referred to encryption. That’s because WhatsApp was allegedly one of the apps used by the terrorist behind last week’s attack in London, though there’s no evidence yet that he used it to plan the attack or coordinate with others. The bigger issue, as with last year’s Apple-FBI fight, is of course that once the government can get in, there’s no guarantee others won’t use the same methods, whether that’s because of hacks like the one that hit Cellebrite a few weeks ago, or exposures of government tools like the Wikileaks CIA hack. Encryption is a fact of life at this point, and essential for secure communication and protection of privacy for millions of law-abiding users, and no government back door can solve the law enforcement problem without also compromising that essential function. And the Rudd quote in the closing paragraph of this story suggests she doesn’t actually understand the FBI-Apple situation at all, which is not surprising from a government official but worrisome nonetheless.
There’s not a ton here that’s new about Apple and Facebook’s efforts, but the article does share some new details about Magic Leap, which is said to be getting ready to launch this year at a price point north of $1000. As I’ve said before, for all the complaints from Magic Leap that people are underestimating its technology, until it actually shows more than a few hand-picked people, those complaints are unreasonable. This is a company that has massively hyped its own product (including releasing rendered rather than actual footage) while refusing to share any actual details about its product. There certainly are people (some of them investors) who appear to be very impressed by it, but not until it launches will mainstream tech reporters and others know whether the product lives up to the hype. In the meantime, other companies like Apple and Facebook are ramping up their efforts, and even though Magic Leap may well beat them to market, it’s a small company with no brand recognition, and it will have to blow people away en masse if it’s to take a meaningful lead in the market when it launches.
These things do the rounds from time to time, and it’s always worth remembering that very few of the things Apple acquires patents for actually make their way into its products. Like any sensible company that does lots of research and development work, Apple comes up with lots of ideas and patents many of them, in part for defensive reasons, but that doesn’t mean it has any plans to bring them all to market. As this article points out, this particular invention seems to fly in the face of several things Apple has said it won’t do. However, I do think we’ll see more attempts in the coming years to use smartphones and potentially eventually smaller devices like watches to power the various other gadgets around us, serving as identification devices and pulling in data and profiles from the cloud on external displays and so on. So even if I’m not convinced we’ll see this particular implementation from Apple any time soon, the overall concept isn’t totally unrealistic.
via Tom’s Guide
I almost didn’t bother commenting on this news story, because it’s essentially identical to all the stories that were doing the rounds at several earlier times (see this previous comment, for example, from a month and a half ago). I honestly don’t know why the Journal published this story today, because it adds nothing to the earlier stories – same unnamed government sources, same details about Wistron being the manufacturer, and the same absence of on the record comment from anyone involved, least of all Apple. It’s entirely possible (even likely) that Apple is indeed planning to manufacture phones in India, but the fact that it hasn’t announced those plans yet suggests either that the plans aren’t fully baked yet or there’s some sticking point, which makes me curious what that is.
Apple has acquired Workflow, a powerful automation tool for iPad and iPhone – TechCrunch (Mar 22, 2017)
This is a fascinating acquisition in the context of Apple’s recent parting of ways with Sal Saghoian, who ran the Automator app for macOS. That departure had signaled to some people that Apple was abandoning automation as a feature, but this acquisition sends the opposite message. Perhaps more importantly, Workflow is much more user friendly approach to automation than Automator, and what I’d hope we’ll see here is that same approach applied to built-in automation across Apple’s product lines including the Mac. That would make automation a more mainstream proposition, which is an intriguing prospect. That Workflow will remain available in the App Store is interesting too – that’s obviously going to be reassuring to existing users, but there’s no guarantee that it will stay there when Apple is done integrating it into its platforms. Siri stayed available for a time too, but of course disappeared when Apple released its version.
Apple’s App Store Gets a Makeover – Bloomberg (Mar 21, 2017)
The headline makes it sound like there are changes coming to the App Store, but this story is really about all the changes that have already happened on the App Store since Phil Schiller took it over from Eddy Cue a little over a year ago. One of the notable things in the story is the impact that better analytics have had, and how that’s made it easier for more dynamic developers to update their apps more frequently in response to user behavior. More generally, though, the article suggests that big strides have been made in the way the App Store runs from a developer perspective, which is a story that hasn’t been told much. It’s been subtle, and if you’re just a user you might not be aware of most of these changes, but better experiences for developers make for better end user experiences too. I know there are still lots of developers, especially Mac-centric developers, who have complaints they feel have gone unheeded, but Apple has at least made some progress in fixing big pain points on the iOS side.
Apple Debuts Clips, a New Way to Create Videos on iOS (Mar 21, 2017)
Alongside the iPad announcement it made this morning, Apple made three other announcements, of which this is the most interesting (the other two concern a PRODUCT(RED) iPhone and new languages for Swift Playgrounds). Clips looks like a hybrid of Snapchat and iMovie, with lots of new filters, stickers and other effects and an easy editor for creating a montage of video clips and photos, but apparently without any kind of social component. This is a funny sort of inbetweener software product from Apple, which doesn’t have an explicit social network and whose creative tools around editing photos and videos are far less used among young people than those which come with the social networks they use. I don’t necessarily see that changing with this product, though there are some clever-looking features like auto-generating titles. The proof will be in the pudding, though – the app comes out in April, though I’m guessing it may appear in developer betas before then, giving us a chance to try it out. It’s interesting to see Apple experimenting to try to fill a gap here, but I’m not convinced it’s got it right just yet.
Apple today updated its online store and issued a press release around a new 9.7″ iPad, confirming a change in strategy which seemed apparent when the 9.7″ iPad Pro launched but wasn’t made explicit until now. The new iPad drops the Air branding, and offers specs a year or two behind the iPad Pro line, while reducing the price to the lowest in Apple’s iPad lineup, at $329 (the only iPad mini available now is the 128GB model, which starts at $399, meaning that for the first time it’s cheaper to buy the new 9.7″ iPad than the newest iPad mini). What we have now, then, is a clear bifurcation between the iPad Pro, which is the latest and greatest with high-end specs, new features, and accessories like Pencil and the Smart Keyboard, and the more basic and low-end iPad. The iPad Pro is therefore not just the iPad for people who want to replace their laptop, but also the best iPad for everyone else. The iPad, then, becomes the low-cost alternative, the one for people with simpler needs, for giving to kids, and so on. That’s going to do interesting things to average selling prices, which had gone up slightly with the launch of the iPad Pro line and will now come down, but also to Apple’s competitiveness in a price band where it really hasn’t played before, expanding its addressable market. This new iPad is effectively the equivalent of the iPhone SE, taking older innards and wrapping them in new branding to bring the price down to a new level, and I suspect that – like the iPhone SE – it will indeed bring the device to new people. However, I suspect it’ll take quite a bit more share of the overall market than the SE has in iPhones.
The whole framing of this article feels very much driven by its subject, Duan Yongping, who runs the conglomerate which owns Oppo and Vivo, two of the world’s largest smartphone brands. The idea that these brands have somehow toppled Apple in China isn’t really borne out by the facts, and it appears the (unnamed) author rather took Duan’s word for it on this and other points. Apple has absolutely seen falling sales in China, but that’s as much about a saturating market and the drop-off from the huge iPhone 6 launch as about any local competitors. It’s also fairly clear that Oppo and Vivo compete in a very different segment of the market from the iPhone, though many who buy those devices plan to buy an iPhone next, per some recent Morgan Stanley research, suggesting that these are customers which aspire to buy iPhones rather than having switched from them. There’s no doubt Oppo and Vivo have achieved impressive market share in China, and therefore also globally, but it’s far less clear that their strategy is sustainable – after all, we’ve seen other Chinese brands (notably Xiaomi) do very well in the short term and then fizzle. In China in particular, the Apple brand is highly aspirational, and that will continue to drive a lot of sales.
Apple’s Next Big Thing: Augmented Reality – Bloomberg (Mar 20, 2017)
Yet more evidence that Apple sees a far more promising future in augmented than virtual reality, something Tim Cook has already affirmed several times. There’s little concrete in this article – lots of discussion on the people Apple has leading and working on its AR project, the kinds of technologies they’re working on, and some features they’re experimenting with, but really nothing about what Apple is actually likely to launch. I’ve often said that Apple tends to build up to new technologies slowly, and often subtly, incorporating the necessary hardware in devices like the iPhone long before it actually takes advantage of them, and I think the dual cameras in the iPhone 7 Plus are an example of that. The same technology that powers Portrait Mode and 2x optical zoom could easily be incorporated into some kind of AR technology on the iPhone, and I think it’s likely this fall’s iPhones will start to show some of what they’re capable of using these and other components. But Apple will probably also use the iPhone to build up to something separate over time, like glasses, something this article seems to confirm. For now, VR definitely has far more public attention than AR, and it’ll take someone like Apple getting into the business to change perceptions and raise awareness of the latter.
From a musical perspective, this is a little down in the weeds, but it’s relevant to how Apple and other streaming services are using exclusives to promote and differentiate their services, so it’s worth understanding at least some of those details. Chance the Rapper is a popular musician who famously has eschewed both a deal with a label and, for the most part, charging for his music, making much of it available through free streaming services like SoundCloud. However, he did have a brief exclusive with Apple Music a while back, which has led to some criticisms that he’s not truly an independent artist (neither the musician nor the articles covering this story today seem to be specific about that, but here’s a recent example). In his defense, Chance detailed his relationship with Apple today in a series of tweets in which he said that Apple had indeed paid him half a million dollars, which he says he needed at the time, for a two week exclusive on Apple Music before he released his album on SoundCloud. That’s a much smaller amount than Apple was reported to have paid fellow musician Drake, but highlights that Apple has been spending a decent amount on exclusives, though it’s possible that we’ll see less of this and more emphasis on its original content going forward. Meanwhile, it appears Drake’s next project (technically a mixtape and not an album) will be the first in quite a while not to be an Apple Music exclusive.
via New York Times
Six months in, iMessage App Store growth slows as developers lose interest – TechCrunch (Mar 17, 2017)
I think there are at least a couple of ways to read this data set, one of them not so good for Apple and one of them more neutral. The first is the one this article favors, which is to say that the slowing growth in iMessage apps is down to lack of user engagement with them, and I think that’s entirely reasonable. I downloaded one or two in the first day or two after they became available, thought they were fun, and have never either used them or downloaded more sense, and I would guess I’m not atypical. But I’m probably also not the target market for most of these little apps, which were always likely to be more popular among younger people and probably geographies other than the US, so I’m loath to extrapolate too much from my own experience. The other way to read this data is that iMessage apps are so ridiculously simple to create that anyone who wanted to create one did so very quickly after the tools became available, in marked contrast to Apple Watch or Apple TV apps, which required quite a bit of development time to create. And so now we’re seeing a low maintenance rate of growth from those who came to the market later or are making second or third apps. The Sensor Tower data itself doesn’t help identify which of these is the right explanation, and in reality I expect it’s a bit of both. The far more interesting data set would be revenue from these apps and how that’s changing over time.
Two things worth noting here. Firstly, another big commitment by Apple to China, following its billion0-dollar investment in ride-sharing service Didi last year, with the total of these R&D center investments reaching about half a billion dollars in their own right. That signals again that Apple is very serious about continuing to be a big force in China, and is in fact increasing its investment there rather than backing down. That’s important, because in this piece as in other recent ones on Apple in China, the prevailing narrative is that Apple is losing ground there. At a basic level, of course, there’s truth to that over the past year, with declining iPhone sales, though the picture in PRC as opposed to the Greater China region Apple reports as a segment is a little less clear cut. The reality is that the “super-cycle” driven by the iPhone 6 launch led to unprecedented sales everywhere, but nowhere more than in China, and so the comedown has been that much bigger too. But Apple is positioned to start growing in China again in the coming year, and it will continue to be a crucial market for Apple.
Amazon puts Alexa inside its main iPhone app – VentureBeat (Mar 16, 2017)
Alexa’s single biggest flaw today is that it’s a shut-in: for the most part, it can’t leave the house. That means competing in a broad-based way with Siri and the Google Assistant requires getting onto smartphones, and now we have Amazon putting Alexa into the Amazon shopping app on iOS. Job done? Well, no. Because just having an app on a phone doesn’t mean people will use it. And if it’s buried inside a shopping app, that’s a steep hill to climb relative to just holding down the home button to summon Siri. On the one hand, I get the logic of putting Alexa in the Amazon app – it’s an app many of the company’s most loyal users already have installed and likely use frequently, but it also means it’s going to be several clicks away. I can see some parents with kids using it to keep them quiet with jokes, but it’s hard to imagine people using an Alexa buried in a shopping app as their main assistant while away from home. Integration within the smartphone and its operating system is the key here, which will be impossible on iOS but more feasible on Android, as we’ve already seen with Huawei and Lenovo’s integration plans.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a claim like this – Apple has been hinting at dropping apps that haven’t made the switch to 64-bit from the App Store for quite some time. While it’s good to get some sense of how many apps might be affected – Sensor Tower says 8% or 187,000 apps – what’s missing from this analysis is whether any of those apps are actually ones people care about or use today. My guess is that there are very few apps in the App Store which haven’t been updated in years and still see significant usage – I can only think of one app I use today which would fall into this category, and that’s because it’s been superseded by a new version which dropped some features I use. So even though the number here sounds dramatic, my guess is that dropping these apps in iOS 11 – if that is indeed what’s going to happen – will have minimal negative impact on users, and potentially remove some dead wood from the App Store in the process.
This is a good follow-up to this morning’s item about the new Android Wear watch from Huawei, and argues much as I did that other smartwatch makers are largely failing to learn the lessons of or compete effectively with the Apple Watch. It frames the discussion in terms of the compromises and tradeoffs watchmakers choose to make, which seems a smart way to think about it, and has arguably always been one of Apple’s strengths.
via The Verge
Apple Joins Group of Companies Supporting Google in Foreign Email Privacy Case – Mac Rumors (Mar 14, 2017)
Given the way other big tech companies had weighed in on the related Microsoft case over the past few years, it was a little odd that more hadn’t sprung to Google’s defense in this one, but it’s good to see that they are now doing so. These cases have far-reaching consequences not just for user privacy but for the ability of US companies to do business in overseas markets, and those companies need to defend themselves vigorously. The final outcome of both cases is therefore worth watching closely.
via Mac Rumors