Company / division: Apple
CNBC reports that Apple has recently held discussions with insurance company Aetna about providing Apple Watches on a subsidized basis to at least some of its 23 million customers. Aetna already has a program to provide Apple Watches to its employees, and both Apple and Fitbit have been talking to a variety of healthcare companies about partnerships to get wider distribution of their devices. This is the first real sign that Apple might do a deal which would be much larger in scale than anything that’s been contemplated so far. For context, Apple has likely sold just over 30 million Watches in total so far, so getting Watches to even half of Aetna’s members would be a massive boost to the business. Such a deal would likely see Apple supplying Watches at less than the usual retail price, both as a bulk discount and because the cost of acquisition would be much lower than a typical retail purchase, while Aetna would subsidize the remaining cost for its members on the basis that fitness trackers tend to improve health and fitness and therefore lower the odds of a medial issue that requires insurance coverage. The rationale there would be much the same as for insurers providing discounted gym memberships. Partnerships like this with medical providers probably have more potential than anything else to boost the addressable market for fitness-centric wearables, including the Apple Watch, because they substantially lower the cost of entry for consumers while providing strong incentives to make use of the devices. There’s obviously no guarantee any of this gets done, but it’s the kind of thing I’m sure we’ll see at least on a small scale in the near future, whether with Aetna and Apple or other pairings.
I saw an article pop up this morning from Mashable about Apple and its repairs policy, and then saw another this afternoon from the Verge (linked below) on the same topic, which made me wonder why, and it turns out that the answer is a new report from the Repair Association. The Repair Association is an industry body made up of device repair companies and environmental and other organizations, and as such has a clear point of view on device repairs: they’re a good thing, and any limitations on repairability are a bad thing. I had a long Twitter exchange this morning with the author of the Mashable article about this topic, and the thrust from my side of the conversation was that the framing here is all wrong. Yes, Apple does place restrictions on who can repair its devices and how, and it also increasingly designs its devices in ways which make them harder for third parties to repair, but as I’ve said before in the context of iFixit and other repair companies’ reviews of Apple devices, this isn’t done to thwart repair companies or customers, and it isn’t a money grab.
The big shift in Apple’s design over recent years has been increasingly tight integration of components, which has been a key enabler of making devices smaller and more powerful, something that’s been a part of iPhone and iPad design from the start but which has more recently spread to the Mac line as well. This definitely makes repairs harder, and Apple also places restrictions on how screens can be repaired because they’re integrated with the Touch ID sensor that controls device unlocking and Apple Pay among other things, and repairing them without access to special tools stops Touch ID from working. Again, that’s a side effect of Apple’s security-centric design and not a deliberate strategy to frustrate would-be repairers or customers. Apple opposes some of the stricter standards and regulations proposed by states and various bodies because they’re often designed to prioritize repairability over functionality, sometimes in ways which seem directly aimed at the way Apple designs its products. Meanwhile, Apple has made enormous strides in its environmental efforts over the last few years under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, formerly head of the EPA and therefore no slouch when it comes to environmental protection. That’s extended from using sustainable energy to better recycling of parts with Apple’s Liam disassembly machines and so on. Apple is moving in the right direction here, and as the Verge piece at least acknowledges, none of what Apple is doing here is actually environmentally unfriendly, as the Mashable piece suggests.
via The Verge
New smartphone shipment and market share numbers are out for Q2 from various analyst firms, and they all show the same broad pattern: somewhere between a modest decline and modest growth year on year for the market as a whole, modest growth for Apple and Samsung, and strong performances by three Chinese vendors, with Huawei making significant gains in the number three spot. IDC, Strategy Analytics, and Canalys among others differed slightly on the exact shipment numbers, while Strategy Analytics seems to find another 20 million or so shipments somewhere compared with the others. The top four spots have now remained unchanged for over a year, with the exception of Q4 last year, when Apple briefly pipped Samsung for the number one spot, though this quarter Xiaomi’s resurgence squeezed Vivo barely out of the top five. Huawei got within a few million of Apple’s sales total for the first time off the back of pretty strong growth, but Xiaomi had by far the fastest growth (which you already know if you’ve read two earlier pieces on Huawei and Xiaomi). The broader picture has Chinese vendors dominating the top ten, though these firms only report the top five in their public releases: by my count, Chinese vendors take seven of the top ten spots, with Apple, Samsung, and LG the only exceptions. And those Chinese vendors rely enormously on the Chinese market for their sales, while several have no presence in the US at all, meaning that the smartphone market is increasingly fragmented globally, with different players taking the lead in different parts of the world.
via Android Police
Apple reported its fiscal third quarter / calendar second quarter results today, and they came in at the high end of its guidance and beat analyst estimates. One of the biggest surprises was strong iPad unit growth year on year after four years of declines, and just the second quarter of revenue growth for iPads during that period, thanks largely to sales of the lower-priced $329 iPad introduced earlier this year. But Apple said all its product categories saw year on year revenue and unit growth, with Apple Watch reportedly growing 50% year on year, and Mac and iPhone unit growth up modestly, while the Services business continued on its recent tear, driven largely by the App Store, but also to an extent by Apple Music and iCloud storage plans. iPhone ASPs were up modestly year on year driven by stronger sales of the latest Plus models, and would have been up more if not for the fact that the company sold down its inventory significantly, with almost all the reduction being made up of more expensive phones.
Perhaps more significantly for the longer term outlook, the company provided guidance for the September quarter which essentially guarantees new iPhone hardware in September. I would guess that at the very least Apple will have the successors to the current phones on sale in the usual timeframe and in the usual volumes, while my hunch is that the new higher-end model will also go on sale at the same time but be even more heavily supply-constrained than new iPhones usually are.
Apple continued to talk up performance in mainland China as distinct from the Greater China region it reports, where sales were down 10% year on year, the best result in nearly two years, but still a drag on overall results with other regions all growing, all but Japan at double digit rates. Tim Cook also addressed the issue of VPNs in China which I wrote about yesterday, and defended Apple’s stance, which is a combination of following the law in each country where it operates, and believing that it’s better to engage and stay in a country than leave, even where it disagrees with policy (my notes on this portion can be seen here).
Overall, Apple’s management on the call seemed as bullish as they have for some time, clearly looking forward to what they expect to be a strong finish to the year in both product and financial terms. Tim Cook wasn’t drawn the slightest bit on new iPhones, but did hint at new products this fall, talked about the role of autonomy beyond vehicles and Apple’s big project in this area, raved about ARKit and the potential of AR, among other things. There’s clearly a good mix of products coming to market in the near term and investment for the long term which Apple’s management is also happy about. That’s no guarantee of a strong performance in the September or more importantly the December quarter, but I continue to be pretty bullish on what’s coming over the next few months from Apple.
Apple Removes VPN Apps from Chinese Version of App Store (Jul 31, 2017)
Apple has removed VPN apps from the Chinese version of its App Store for iOS devices, in compliance with the Chinese government’s edict that VPNs have to be licensed to be able to operate. This is yet another example of the difficult line foreign tech companies have to walk in China, complying for the most part with local regulations, even those designed to enable censorship, while preserving freedom of speech in other markets around the world. This is a gray area that Apple hasn’t had to deal with as much as content-centric companies like Facebook and Google, both of which eventually exited China (one forced out, the other choosing to leave rather than submit to censorship requirements), but that’s been starting to change. In the past year and a half, we’ve seen some of Apple’s content offerings like iBooks, individual apps like the New York Times, and now categories such as VPNs blocked, while the government has also forced cloud service providers to work through local companies for data centers. As I’ve said before, so far Apple can simply say it’s complying with local laws and regulations as it does elsewhere, and that will provide some cover, although it hasn’t insulated it entirely from criticism over this latest move. This move in particular further reduces the ability of users with Chinese App Store accounts to get access to otherwise blocked news and information, but a recent crackdown on VPN use makes that challenging anyway. But so far the Chinese government hasn’t forced Apple to break any of its own cardinal rules, including protecting user privacy and security. If and when the Chinese government ever does cross that line, that will be the real test for Apple and could end up being very bad for its business in China. So far, thankfully, it hasn’t come to that. Also worth noting in this context: Russia has just passed legislation that bans the use of VPNs in the country, and although it’s a far less important market for Apple than China, the company will have to deal with some of the same issues there once the law kicks in this November.