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PayPal Partners with Google around Android Pay (Apr 18, 2017)
Bloomberg Confirms Existing Reports about Next iPhone (Apr 18, 2017)
Bloomberg has a report out today which basically just confirms all the existing reporting on the iPhone. Given that the Samsung Galaxy S8 goes on sale this week, this may be coming off the back of leaks from Apple itself, though the byline includes at least one reporter in Asia, suggesting there are supply chain sources too. There’s really nothing new here – the new iPhone is to come in three variants, with the high-end one getting an edge to edge OLED screen, with the glass but not the screen itself curved, and two other models similar to the existing sizes. At this point, this isn’t a surprise, but it’s good for Apple to have this news out there in the week the S8 goes on sale, because it’s been working on this shift to much smaller bezels for some time but has been beaten to the punch by several Android vendors, and needs to ensure that iPhone buyers are aware something similar is coming this fall. The big questions, which go unanswered in this piece, are about pricing and design differences between the new top-tier iPhone and the others. I continue to expect just another $100 or so price difference between the Plus model and the premium model rather than the $1000 iPhone many seem to think we’re going to get. But I’m curious to what extent the design of the two regular models evolves and how similar or different it is from the new high-end one.
Uber Exec in Charge of Pittsburgh Self-Driving Test Quits (Apr 18, 2017)
Note: this is my first piece of commentary on Q1 2017 earnings. The Q1 2017 tag attached to this post will eventually house all my earnings comments for this quarter, just as the Q4 2016 tag does for last quarter and the earnings tag does for all past earnings comments. Netflix is also one of the dozen or so companies for which I do quarterly slide decks as part of the Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service. See here for more.
Netflix today reported its earnings for Q1 2017, and the results were mostly good, with a few possible red flags. This year, the new season of House of Cards will debut in Q2 rather than Q1, and that makes some of the year on year comparisons tough. One of the results was much weaker Q1 subscriber adds this year than a year ago in the US, worsening what’s already been a trend of slowing growth for several years. Netflix is projecting something of a recovery next quarter, however. In some ways, the biggest news was the first quarterly profit for the international business, which has neared profitability in the past but been plunged deeper into the red by market expansions every time it did so. Now that Netflix is in essentially every country it can be, that won’t be the case anymore, so although it’s projecting a return to small losses next quarter, it’s now saying it wants to be judged partly on growing revenue and margins globally over time, which is a big shift (previously it wanted to be judged on sub growth and domestic margins only).
There were a couple of mild admissions of failure: customer satisfaction in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is not what it could be, and the company’s Crouching Tiger sequel didn’t achieve its goals for original content. Marketing spend will be up at least a little in 2017, and content obligations continue to grow. The company also made clear that the big free cash flow losses caused by its investment in original content will continue for “many years”, though it also said that it will eventually throw off significant cash when it hits a “much larger revenue base”, giving I think the clearest indication yet of what a long-term project positive free cash flow will be. In the meantime, it will continue to borrow to fund that growth. Domestically, profits are growing very rapidly, and the theory continues to be that eventually the International business will reach that level of maturity too and deliver decent margins. But in the meantime, a bet on Netflix continues to be a bet on continued high growth, something which certainly isn’t guaranteed in the US and may end up being tough long term internationally too.
Intel Kills its Developer Forum, its Big Annual Event (Apr 17, 2017)
Instagram Adds Folders for its Bookmarking Feature (Apr 17, 2017)
Google Forced to Unbundle Services from Android and Open to Search Competitors in Russia (Apr 17, 2017)
The EU is currently taking action against Google over what it sees as anticompetitive practices including bundling of its own services and blocking competing ones from being pre-installed in Android. As such, this Russian case takes on more importance than it might otherwise have, because it presents one possible outcome of the EU case, which is forcing Google to unbundle its own services from Android and allow competing search engines like Yandex to be pre-installed. That’s certainly a possibility in the EU case too, and would mirror the action taken years ago against Microsoft over browsers in Windows. If that were to happen, I’m skeptical many people (or OEMs) would choose alternative search engines on an Android phone, but it would potentially threaten Google’s Android business model, which is entirely about the apps and services it runs on the device (and the advertising they enable). For what it’s worth, as I wrote in this piece at the time the EU action was announced, I still think it’s misguided.
LeEco Suspends Shares on Chinese Exchange Before Wednesday Restructuring Announcement (Apr 17, 2017)
Facebook Takes 3 Hours to Remove Video of Murder (Apr 17, 2017)
A Facebook user apparently committed a murder on Sunday and claimed to be in the process of committing several more while streaming on Facebook Live video, but Facebook failed to take the video down for three hours afterwards. This certainly isn’t the first time something gruesome has been live streamed on Facebook, and the company has dealt with past situations both poorly and inconsistently. On the one hand, it’s clearly against its policies to broadcast something as disturbing as this, so taking the videos down should be simple from a policy perspective. But in some cases, it’s been accused of taking down videos which – despite their content – were enormously newsworthy, and therefore engaging in censorship. In this case, it seems baffling that Facebook didn’t take the video down much sooner, but it raises much bigger issues about how to police live video, which by definition has often done its damage before anyone at Facebook is even aware of it. Given YouTube’s recent struggles with monitoring non-live video for inappropriate content, one can only imagine the challenges involved in monitoring video in real time. Certainly, Facebook needs better tools for flagging such content and faster response times when videos are flagged, at the very least.
Update: Facebook has now responded, and says it’s going to do exactly what I said in that last line: that is, improve its flagging tools and shorten response times. It also posted a complete timeline. Worth a read.
Uber’s financial results frequently leak through various online publications, and this year it seems to have decided to shortcut the process and speak directly to Bloomberg, which of course also gives it the opportunity to present the most flattering version of the numbers along with commentary. The highlights are that Uber grew revenues significantly year on year, but losses also grew. Uber emphasized that revenue growth outpaced growth in losses, but of course what you really want is for revenue growth to outpace cost growth, because that’s how you eventually become profitable, but that isn’t happening yet. Uber’s revenue growth was also helped by the different accounting treatment of UberPool rides (for which Uber records the full revenue as net revenue) versus other rides (for which it only reports its cut) which has the effect of making losses seem smaller in comparison to revenues, but is really just financial jiggery pokery. The headline financials shared with Bloomberg also exclude both the Chinese business, which was hugely loss-making for Uber, and various other items including car purchases (presumably as part of its autonomous technology testing operation). So these really are a pretty sanitized set of results, which nonetheless show significant and even growing losses.