Company / division: App Store
As is often the case, various details are dribbling out today about the many announcements Apple made yesterday, so here’s a quick roundup. Firstly, CNBC reports that Apple quietly hiked iPad Pro prices by $50 yesterday without making any changes to the hardware – that’s likely because flash memory prices have been rising dramatically recently, putting pressure on both smartphone and PC makers (but driving Samsung’s highest ever profits).
Secondly, MacRumors reports that the new desktop version of iTunes drops the iOS App Store entirely, meaning it’s now just for buying and consuming content that can actually be used on a Mac or PC, further untethering the iPhone from the computer. I would guess very few purchases were made this way in recent years anyway given how many people likely sync and backup to iCloud.
Thirdly, the Wall Street Journal confirms a detail I pointed to during yesterday’s keynote: Disney is a holdout from the 4K movies that will be available through the iTunes Store, likely because it wouldn’t go along with the pricing Apple wanted. In the end, there was no clean answer on the pricing question I posed in my earlier piece on the negotiations: Apple won with some studios and lost with others, notably Disney, but they may still come around eventually.
Fourth, MacRumors confirms a rumor that wasn’t confirmed on stage yesterday – the new iPhones will support fast charging if charged with MacBook rather than iPhone power adapters, charging to 50% in half an hour, which will be a nice bonus for those that own MBP chargers but won’t affect most others (I find that an iPad charger already generally does a pretty good job with faster charging).
Lastly, Business Insider reports on Apple Watch LTE battery life, which is one hour for calls or four hours for exercising using the GPS and LTE while untethered from an iPhone. That should be perfectly adequate for the most likely use cases, which are exercising without an iPhone or taking the odd call while the phone is out of range while at home, for example. The Watch with LTE certainly isn’t intended to be used all day without a phone, and battery life certainly won;’t support that use case.
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.
I’m seeing this change generally being reported as a clarification (including in the piece I link to here) but this is a change from the original wording here, which explicitly said the cut in affiliate fees announced a couple of weeks ago applied to both “app and in-app content” and didn’t include apps in the list of content types to which the change would not apply. Unless that was just really terrible wording, it does seem as though there has been a change in policy here. Applying the change just to in-app purchases again makes me wonder whether there might be some change to Apple’s cut of App Store revenue in this category, announced at WWDC in a few weeks. We don’t know quite how much of Apple’s App Store revenue comes from IAP, but games dominate total revenues, and IAP is the dominant model for games, so there’s a good chance that it’s 30% or more. As such, any cut to Apple’s share of revenues would dent overall App Store growth and Apple’s ambitions to double its overall Services revenues over four years from 2016 to 2020. So I’m somewhat skeptical, but changing the cut for IAPs would certainly go a long way to addressing the long-standing complaint from content companies like Spotify that Apple takes too much of their fees, given that those are charged through IAPs. And it would potentially open the door to Amazon’s arrival on the Apple TV too.
Apple Provides Better Source Insights to App Developers (May 4, 2017)
Apple has been criticized for not giving developers good enough insights on how their apps perform and especially for not allowing developers to know where new users come from. That’s now changing with an update to Apple’s analytics platform for developers, which will be particularly useful in light of the paid ads which now run in Apple’s App Store search function. Developers need to know whether those ads are being effective in gaining new users and downloads, and how they measure up relative to other lead generation methods. The incremental steps Apple has taken to expand the range of business models open to developers, to share more of the revenue with those developers, and to improve analytics over the past couple of years are all checking important boxes in the wish lists of developers and cementing the status of iOS as the platform to develop for, despite Android’s larger user numbers.
Apple’s results for calendar Q1 (its fiscal Q2) were out today, and they largely continued the trends from the December quarter. Revenue growth continued and actually accelerated despite the lack of the extra week which made last quarter’s numbers slightly harder to parse, but the connection between iPhone growth and revenue growth was broken as iPhone shipments dipped slightly (though a change in inventory patterns from last year eliminates some of the dip). Notably, Tim Cook said Apple is starting to see a pause in iPhone buying ahead of a big anticipated upgrade this Fall, which is bad news in the short term but potentially feeds the super-cycle narrative that’s become so popular lately if Apple is able to deliver. Other things worth noting: continued rapid iPad declines, though entirely in the Mini size (revenues from the rest of the lineup grew); strong Apple Watch sales, up nearly double year on year (likely around 3.2-3.5m), with total wearables (Watch, AirPods, and Beats sales) likely around $6 billion for the last four quarters combined. Services continues to be the strongest growth driver by far, up 18% for the second straight quarter driven by 40% App Store growth and likely strong Apple Music revenue growth too. Overall, this is a solid quarter for Apple, with nothing out of the ordinary or too unexpected – all the existing trends are ticking over nicely, with the iPhone roughly flat (up slightly on revenue, down slightly on shipments), and some of the growth drivers delivering well, while the iPad and China continue to be a drag. Next quarter’s guidance is going to be fascinating because it will have to address the issue of what new devices will launch, when, and at what prices without explicitly mentioning any of that!
via Apple (as usual, I live tweeted earnings with tons of charts which you can see in this thread, and I’ll have my earnings deck on Apple up for Jackdaw Research Quarterly Decks Service subscribers in the next little while)
Apple Watch Loses Google Maps, Amazon, eBay Apps (May 1, 2017)
This piece does a good job digging up the news that several iPhone apps from high-profile names have quietly ditched their Apple Watch companion apps. I’m seeing some spin this as a sign that the Apple Watch isn’t working for people, but the reality is that we’re seeing two rather different things at play here. Firstly, apps on the Apple Watch were one of the big misjudgments on Apple’s part: as a group, they really haven’t taken off, not least because in their first couple of iterations they were painfully slow to use. Performance of apps has improved markedly in watchOS 3 and on the Series 2 hardware, but that leaves us with problem number two: many of the apps launched for the Watch simply don’t provide enough utility either on a standalone basis or as alternatives to the iOS versions to be worthwhile. And what we’re seeing now is some of those failed experiments going by the wayside.
We’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t on the Watch, although a glance at the official App Store for the Watch gives you some idea of what Apple thinks: health and fitness apps dominate the first screen, followed by games, news, sports, and finally utilities. Apple obviously has its own play for navigation, which works particularly well for walking directions, and the Amazon and eBay apps were always a bit of a stretch. The eBay app is a great example of a use case that doesn’t actually need its own app but can work perfectly fine with interactive notifications or a widget on the iPhone. So we’re likely to continue to see apps come and go from the Watch, not least because developers now have many possible areas of investment around iOS apps, including watchOS, tvOS, iPad support, support for the unique hardware features on the iPad Pro line, and so on. As such, some are likely very wise to prioritize other features and platforms over the Apple Watch, while others will do well putting their investment on people’s wrists.
via Apple Insider
I noted this change myself this morning as I’m part of the affiliate program at Apple (we’ve very occasionally linked to the App Store and iTunes Store from the Beyond Devices Podcast site). The change affects app and in-app purchases, and represents both a short notice and significant reduction to the commissions affiliates have been paid in the past, without any kind of explanation or justification from Apple. There are several possible explanations: Apple could be adjusting this cut downward ahead of a reduction in its cut on apps and in-app purchases to be announced at WWDC in just over a month; it could have decided that too many companies are gaming the system, e.g. by linking to their own apps on the store and taking a bigger cut; it may have decided that it would rather foster better discoverability on the App Store than have third parties do it; or it could be something else entirely. Hopefully the other shoe will drop at WWDC – whether in the way I’ve suggested above or in some other way – but it’s entirely possible that we’ll never know. This isn’t a great signal to send people trying to build a business around the App Store, though, because it suggests capriciousness and unpredictability. And especially because it hurts those businesses which – like Apple – have eschewed advertising as a business model largely or entirely because of the tradeoffs it entails.
This App Annie analysis is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the first times I’ve seen anyone attempt to quantify the whole Android app ecosystem including the third party app stores, which are a factor globally but particularly important in markets like China, where Google Play basically doesn’t exist. That provides a much better view of the whole ecosystem, but of course Google only benefits directly from the part it controls, which is Play. Secondly, though, the forecast that this ecosystem combined will surpass Apple’s app ecosystem by the end of the year is striking because the Android user base has been much larger than the iOS user base for years, and only now is the app ecosystem (on this more inclusive basis) starting to rival Apple’s. That, in turn, is a symptom of just how completely Apple has dominated the premium users within the smartphone market, those who are more likely to pay for content and apps. But all of this is also a great refutation of the idea that apps are somehow dying or about to be replaced with something else – the sheer growth numbers here are astonishing.
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.
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.
Making More Outside The Mac App Store – Rogue Amoeba (Feb 10, 2017)
Some interesting data points here from Rogue Amoeba, one of the medium-sized Mac app developers which has recently pulled the last of its apps from the official Mac App Store, and has seen roughly similar unit sales and slightly higher total revenues as a result. Although the iOS App Store continues to be the only way to get apps onto an iPhone or iPad, that’s not the case with the Mac, and frustrations over sandboxing, limited business model options, and the lack of formal upgrade mechanisms among other things have driven a number of prominent developers to eschew the MAS for direct sales. It continues to be fascinating how Apple’s approach to the Mac App Store has been so much less successful, in part due to the longstanding existence of alternatives, but in part also due to Apple’s inflexibility and lack of support for key developer requests. For all Apple’s strength and success with developers broadly, its Mac developer story is a lot less compelling.
via Rogue Amoeba
App downloads up 15 percent in 2016, revenue up 40 percent thanks to China – TechCrunch (Jan 17, 2017)
Two things are worth noting about all the data presented here: firstly, apps are still growing massively, putting the lie to the idea that native mobile apps are somehow dead, to be replaced by some combination of better web apps, bots, or something else. The number of apps being downloaded is growing rapidly each year rather than stagnating or slowing down. The second point is that there continues to be a massive disparity between usage and spending when it comes to Android and iOS. See the first and fourth charts in this article – the first shows massively more Android apps downloaded than iOS apps, while the fourth shows double the spending on those iOS apps relative to Android. It continues to be far more profitable for developers to make apps for iOS, even with a smaller user base and far fewer apps downloaded. That, in turn, seems likely to reinforce the pattern that the vasty majority of big new apps get launched on iOS first, and Android second (if ever). That continues to be one of Apple’s big ecosystem advantages.
App Store Shatters Records on New Year’s Day – Apple (Jan 5, 2017)
These new numbers from Apple reinforce the sense that Service revenues, driven largely by the App Store, continue to be the company’s most consistent growth driver. Payments to developers were up 40% on 2015, for a total of $20 billion, while subscription billings alone were up 74% to $2.7 billion, or almost 10% of the total. That 40% year on year growth rate is fairly consistent over the past year or two, as the rise of IAP accelerated growth above levels in 2012-2013. All of this also reinforces Apple’s argument to Wall Street that Services will grow even as device sales falter.