Company / division: iPhone
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.
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.
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.
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 piece reminds me of the analysis iFixit always does when a new iPhone comes out, giving each phone a “repairability” score and generally hammering iPhones and other similar devices for being hard for ordinary people to repair. Those always strike me as being so fixated on this one aspect of a device that they often sound as if they take it as a personal affront that these devices are tough to fix, as if Apple and other vendors had somehow set out to spite them. This piece has somewhat the same tone, and again acts as if Apple has no object in mind in designing its Touch ID and Secure Enclave than thwarting third parties’ attempts to repair iPhones. It’s worth noting that Apple doesn’t void warranties on devices fixed by third parties unlike lots of other manufacturers, which has to be the strongest possible indication that it doesn’t object in principle to the practice. Rather, it designs the Secure Enclave and Touch ID to be as secure as possible, a level of security which has risen over time and made it possible for earlier iPhones with Touch ID to be hacked in a way newer ones can’t be. This is central to Apple’s commitment to the privacy and security of its phones, and any impact on third party repair is purely incidental. Apple likely doesn’t even consider the impact on third party repair shops, but it certainly doesn’t deliberately set out to make their lives harder.
No, WikiLeaks Didn’t Just Reveal That The Government Has Access To Your Secure Messaging Apps – BuzzFeed (Mar 7, 2017)
This is one of those stories where lots of publications are rushing to publish the most frightening headline without doing their reporting first, so kudos for BuzzFeed here for debunking right away one of the big tropes that’s doing the rounds. There’s nothing about secure messaging apps being compromised in the documents – rather, devices have allegedly been compromised, and of course once a device is compromised everything on it is too. However, even those claims of devices being broadly compromised are being disputed by some security experts – see here, for example. And Business Insider also argues that those on the latest version of iOS (79% on iOS 10 and another 16% on iOS 9) are safe from all the exploits listed. I suspect there will be lots more to come here, and as usual being on the latest version of Android is a lot harder than on iOS so the same protections don’t necessarily apply, but everyone should be trying to understand first, publish second when it comes to this data dump. And of course all this just reinforces arguments Apple and others have made about not trusting the government with back doors for encryption and the like.
The link here is to the PDF of a report from Jamf, which makes Mac management software for enterprises and educational organizations. It naturally has an incentive to push Mac adoption in the enterprise, so it’s worth noting that context, but the findings are broadly in line with what I’ve seen elsewhere. Some key figures: 91% of enterprises use at least some Macs, while 99% use iPhones or iPads; 74% of organizations have seen an increase in Mac adoption; 44% of companies offer employees a choice of Mac or PC, and at IBM for example 73% of employees want to use a Mac as their next computer. The survey of IT decision makers also has majorities saying Macs are easier to manage, configure, secure, and support than PCs. The enterprise is critical to Apple’s future growth given increasing saturation of global smartphone and PC markets, and already accounts for around 10% of revenue. Enterprises providing Macs, iPhones, and iPads as options for employees is therefore a key enabler of future growth here, and Apple’s recent deals with IBM, Cisco, SAP, and Deloitte are all part of its push to make Apple device adoption by companies easier and better.
via Jamf (PDF)
This didn’t take long – Ming-Chi Kuo, who is the best-sourced Apple financial analyst out there, has debunked the report that the next iPhone will replace the Lightning port with USB-C. I said yesterday that this felt like a 50/50 report in the first place – logical as an eventual step, but not necessarily imminent, and it appears that we can now lay it to rest. Kuo does say that the other end of the cable might be USB-C, and that the new iPhones will support fast charging, something competing Android devices have had for some time.
Apple’s Next iPhone Will Have a Curved Screen – WSJ (Feb 28, 2017)
This report is written by a reporter in Tokyo rather than the US, suggesting that it’s a firm in the Japanese supply chain which is the source of the data. The headline doesn’t seem to be specifically supported by any of the actual reporting in the article, though – the article itself mentions that OLED can be bent into curved screens, but then only says that Apple has placed orders for OLED screens without confirming that it actually intends to use a curved screen. And of course, OLED screens have been reported for at least some of the new iPhones for ages now. I’m still very skeptical about the $1000 price point this article repeats, however. The other major point from the article is that Apple will replace Lightning with USB-C for the port on the new phones. I’m not as skeptical on this as some, but I don’t think it’s a certainty either. Between wireless for headphones and potential wireless charging, the port will just become a lot less important over the next few years, so at some point it doesn’t matter all that much what technology that port uses. There would be a certain symmetry, too, in abandoning the Lightning port after five years, just as Apple abandoned the old 30-pin connector after the first five years of the iPhone. Apple clearly isn’t wedded to particular ports or technologies for nostalgic or other reasons, and is willing to make changes where the upside outweighs the downside. And there’s a frustration right now to having to buy a whole new cable to charge your brand new iPhone from a brand new MacBook, which could be resolved somewhat by standardizing on USB-C. So I see the logic here, especially in making this change in the context of a big upgrade to the device, and I think this change may be inevitable in the long term, but it could easily be a year or two out still.
Cellebrite director says firm now doing ‘lawful’ extraction of data through iPhone 6 – AppleInsider (Feb 23, 2017)
This is the same firm that was recently hacked, supposedly exposing some of the tools it uses to crack iPhones, and now it’s boasting that it can crack iPhone 6 models in addition to the earlier models it has long been able to crack. I’ve still never seen any kind of official commentary on the hack of Cellebrite itself, but if that really did happen the fact that the company is getting ever better at hacking iPhones while leaving itself open to hacking should be worrying to lots of people. And if US law enforcement is still regularly paying Cellebrite to do this work without ensuring that it is able to keep the hacks secure, then it shares part of the blame by funding this work which ultimately puts regular users at risk.
Apple does, of course, have two products that use wireless charging today: the Apple Watch and AirPods, both of which charge exclusively without a conventional cable plug. However, neither of those products officially uses the Qi standard managed by the WPC, and of course iPhones don’t do wireless charging at all today. Given that wireless charging has been a staple of iPhone rumors for some time now, this certainly lends plausibility, but it’s also disappointing if this is the flavor of wireless charging Apple is going to implement. I’ve never been a fan of mat-based wireless charging, mostly because it’s actually less flexible than cable-based charging – you have to leave your device on the flat surface, which means no taking phone calls, no two-handed typing, no taking pictures, and so on. I’ve always felt that wireless charging over distance was a far more interesting and useful technology because it could eliminate the need to put a device in any particular spot to charge entirely, which would be particularly good for wearables. There have been rumors about Apple working with Energous, which makes that kind of technology, for some time too, but this WPC membership makes it look as though Apple is going a more traditional route.
via Business Insider
Here’s Why Apple’s 10th Anniversary iPhone Will Likely Cost More Than $1,000 – Fast Company (Feb 8, 2017)
The headline is focused on the price, but there’s some interesting detail in the piece that’s in some ways more important (and likely more accurate). Some of this confirms earlier reporting about OLED edge-to-edge screens, and a home button integrated into the screen. There’s some new information in there too, though, about an integrated 3D sensor, though it’s not clear what it’ll be used for (AR is one obvious bet given Tim Cook’s enthusiastic remarks about the technology). The point here is, though, that the $1000 price point is fully $230 above the base price for today’s 7 Plus, and so it would have to incorporate a lot of additional wizardry to justify that premium. I think it’s far more likely we see another roughly $100 step up from the Plus to $870, though of course with the right storage configurations that’ll easily rise over $1000.
via Fast Company
The Indian government shot down Apple’s previous attempt to sell refurbished phones in India, but it sounds like it’s giving it another try. That’s good, because these refurb phones are about the only way Apple is going to dramatically reduce the price of iPhones in India and break out of the niche premium market there and into the lower tiers of the market, where far more phones are sold. Between taxes and import fees, iPhones are actually typically more expensive in India than elsewhere in the world, even though what Apple really needs there is to sell cheaper phones, so re-selling used phones is the way to go. There’s still been no official confirmation from Apple of its plans to build iPhones in India, but if that really is on the table, it’s possible that Apple is using that investment as a carrot to persuade the government to allow it to pursue its other goals in India, including selling refurbished phones and opening its own retail stores. It’ll be fascinating to see if it succeeds in getting what it wants – the original reason for rejecting Apple’s earlier request was somewhat ridiculous, but the reasoning doesn’t matter as long as the government says no.
I haven’t seen any big US news outlets report this yet, and there’s been no official word from Apple, but several Indian publications are reporting that Apple has told officials in Karnataka that it intends to begin manufacturing iPhones through its partner Wistron in Bengaluru (Bangalore), in the province. Local manufacturing would help overcome some of Apple’s challenges in India, though certainly not all. They would help reduce prices by avoiding the import tax, and would allow Apple to permanently overcome the government’s ban on local retail for companies whose products aren’t made largely in India. That still leaves low incomes, tendencies towards thriftiness and favoring local brands, and other challenges for Apple in India, but it would be meaningful progress.
via Hindustan Times
Apple Tops Samsung in the Fourth Quarter to Close Out a Roller Coaster Year for the Smartphone Market, According to IDC (Feb 2, 2017)
Pick your poison here – most of the big names have put out similar releases this week crowning Apple the victor in the December quarter for smartphone sales, narrowly pipping Samsung. This is an entirely symbolic victory, but it’s the kind of thing that often causes the more negatives around Apple to die down temporarily (which isn’t to say there haven’t still been various articles this week warning that Apple’s next phone had better be be a big deal or else). Two other things worth noting here: Apple only ever comes in at number 1 in the December quarter, when it sells massively more iPhones than in any other quarter, and so for the year as a whole Apple will always be behind Samsung. Secondly, the IDC figures and others I’ve seen seem to have used Apple’s official iPhone sell-in figure for its first fiscal quarter – there are issues with using sell-in as opposed to sell through in these contexts, but I see the logic in using an official figure rather than an estimated one. However, there’s a problem with this approach of taking Apple’s number this quarter, because Apple’s quarter actually started in the last week of September this year, giving an extra week of sales very early in the iPhone 7 cycle. Without that extra week of sales, it’s very likely Apple wouldn’t have been ahead of Samsung, but I’ve seen none of these market share numbers acknowledge that fact or adjust Apple’s number downward to account for it.
iPhone 7, 7 Plus Grow US Installed Base – CIRP (Feb 2, 2017)
Consumer Intelligence Research Partners is often an interesting source of data, in particular on Amazon’s Prime base in the US, but also on other topics, in this case the US iPhone installed base. It suggests in this PDF press release that iPhone has a base of 132 million in the US, with the vast majority of devices in that base being models launched in the fall of 2014 or later, which puts the age of almost all of them at under 30 months. That’s striking at a time when upgrade cycles in the US have been lengthening, and Tim Cook was asked about that phenomenon on the Apple earnings call this week. The fact is that smartphone upgrade cycles have been lengthening, but the iPhone doesn’t seem to have been affected as much as other smartphones have. In part, that’s because iPhones have been the focus of both Apple’s own and carriers’ regular upgrade and leasing programs, and it’s partly the nature of the iPhone and those buying it. It’s also worth noting that the 132m figure is likely a tad high – it suggests a market share a little higher than most other sources I’ve seen. It also looks like the iPhone 7 sales cycle has kicked off faster than the 6S cycle, but more slowly than the 6 cycle, which is in line with evidence I’ve seen elsewhere.
via CIRP (PDF)
Apple Reports December 2016 Quarter Results – Apple (Jan 31, 2017)
This was an important quarter for Apple – it had predicted a return to growth, and it delivered on that promise, though the growth was helped by the extra week in the quarter due to Apple’s quirky reporting calendar. The highlights were iPhone, Mac, and Services growth, with the latter being by far Apple’s most consistent and fastest growing segment. The lowlights were the iPad, Other Products, and Greater China, all of which were down. Both total revenues and iPhone shipments (which are closely tied) have been within a remarkably narrow range the last three years in the December quarter, suggesting at least something about supply constraints and natural limits. The Mac had its best revenue quarter ever, helped hugely by the new MacBook Pros, which are more expensive than the average Mac Apple sells and boosted ASP a lot. Services was mostly driven by the App Store as usual, but music (Apple Music and iTunes combined) grew for the third straight quarter, and iCloud and AppleCare also helped. Apple Watch had a record unit and revenue quarter too, apparently, though we have to guess at the actual numbers. I’d guess it was marginal growth year on year, for around $2.1 billion in revenue and 6 million units. iPad dropped significantly both in unit shipments and revenue (and ASP), though some of that was down to channel depletion, and the large iPad Pro had launched a year ago, boosting that quarter. Overall, a pretty decent quarter for Apple, but no strong growth here yet (especially when you strip out the extra week). Foreign currency isn’t helping either unit sales or reported revenues or profits, and arguably roughly offset that extra week in several regions.
Behind Apple’s new campaign: One Night on iPhone 7 – Apple (Jan 30, 2017)
It really feels like Apple is doubling down on the iPhone as camera marketing strategy – its recent ad “Take Mine” was very effective, and it’s been working with lots of publishers and independent photographers to showcase the iPhone 7’s photo-taking skills. It looks like it did a project back in November 2016 in which it invited lots of photographers to take pictures with the iPhone 7 on the same day, and then combined these into a campaign around its “Shot on iPhone” theme. The camera is definitely one of the standout points of the new iPhone (as I said both in my main review and my subsequent mini-review of Portrait Mode), so this is a smart strategy by Apple. But other device makers are producing really compelling cameras and camera features now too, with the Pixel also majoring on its camera among other things, and producing very good results in the process. Apple can’t just focus on the camera, and that’s why you’re seeing AirPods ads and ads starring other features too – it’s always been about the complete package with the iPhone, and that’s the argument Apple is making here: this is a phenomenal camera on a phone that also does lots more besides.