Company / division: iPhone
Qualcomm Seeks iPhone Sales and Manufacturing Ban in China (Oct 13, 2017)
Qualcomm has announced that it’s filed lawsuits in China seeking a ban on iPhone sales and manufacturing in the country, the latest salvo in the ongoing dispute between the two over patent royalty payments. Qualcomm previously requested the International Trade Commission to ban the import of Intel-based iPhones into the US, and importantly the Chinese government earlier fined Qualcomm on antitrust grounds, so it’s not necessarily disposed to siding with it in this case. However, Qualcomm has been among a set of companies looking to curry favor with the Chinese government, so it’s possible that the Chinese government might look more favorably on such a request. On balance, though, I think it’s unlikely that Qualcomm will prevail here given its history not only in China but elsewhere around these antitrust issues, though of course a successful ban would be a huge blow to Apple in China, so it’s understandable why Qualcomm would seek it as a way to gain leverage in the case.
SensorTower, an app analytics firm with a misleading name, reports that over 3 million apps which require support for the ARKit augmented reality toolset have been downloaded from Apple’s iOS App Store since the launch of iOS 11, and that over half of those downloads were of games. Importantly, this excludes apps which have ARKit-based features as optional extras and only focuses on those apps which require ARKit compatibility to run at all, which is obviously a narrower set of apps. Around a third of the apps available in this category are games, so they’re being downloaded disproportionately more than apps in other categories. Overall, I have to say that I’ve been surprised by how few really compelling or big ARKit-based apps there have been so far – even some of the apps demoed by Apple at WWDC and the iPhone launch seem to be missing in action so far, including an updated Pokemon Go game. That’s a little disappointing given how much noise Apple made about ARKit ahead of its launch and the high expectations many of us had for the platform. I still think more games and apps will come in time, but things are definitely taking off more slowly than I would have expected.
A developer named Felix Krause has surfaced an issue that’s been present in Apple’s iOS for a long time and which I’ve often wondered about myself, which is that the operating system periodically pops up what appear to the user to be random dialog boxes asking users to supply their Apple ID passwords. Because of the seemingly random times and places these dialogs show up, they train users to enter their passwords when using apps, which means that apps could at least theoretically recreate these dialogs with their own and thereby phish users’ Apple ID details, creating a security vulnerability. The post Krause wrote about this suggests several fixes, the most of obvious of which is that these dialogs should direct users to the Settings app rather than prompting for a password directly. In my opinion, it would also be nice if the dialogs explained why the user suddenly had to re-enter their password – the lack of explanation is another long-standing niggle I have with these dialogs. But this feels like a rare goof by Apple, which is normally so strong on privacy and security but has here created a situation which could easily be exploited by malicious parties. It’s easily fixed, though, and hopefully Apple will do so soon.
via Felix Krause
This issue has been covered in various places over the past couple of weeks, but this is the first bit of real criticism I’ve seen of Apple’s approach here, and I thought it was worth diving into briefly. In iOS 11, the Control Center users reach by sliding up from the bottom of the screen on most iPhones has what appear to be on/off toggles for Bluetooth and WiFi, but in reality these toggles don’t actually turn those radios all the way off. Rather, they leave both radios in a more limited mode in which they still operate in certain ways and in fact will reactivate each morning at 5am. This is a change Apple hasn’t communicated proactively to users in any way, and represents a fairly big shift from how things have worked in the past.
The EFF piece linked below suggests this presents security risks given past Bluetooth vulnerabilities, though it doesn’t actually suggest any specific vulnerabilities Apple might be exposing users to in iOS, which like most mobile operating systems handles Bluetooth pairing requests pretty carefully. Apple’s reasoning for the change is sound – leaving these radios in this in-between state enables key Apple functions like Handoff of activity between devices, the Instant Hotspot feature, and others – but the implementation of the change feels un-Apple-like, in that it’s unintuitive and overrides user preferences in a couple of different ways. Apple could have made similar changes in a more transparent and user-friendly way, and avoided some of the criticism it’s now getting.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai has called for Apple to “activate the FM chip” built into at least some iPhones as a way to help with disaster relief in places hit by recent natural disasters. Others have also made similar calls over the last couple of years, including industry groups with obvious interests in Apple doing so, such as the National Association of Broadcasters. But of course to suggests that this is as simple a matter as activating a chip in a device is to ignore the fact that without some kind of app to tune the radio, it would be useless. So in fact Apple would need to create an SDK for developers to use to create apps, it would need to release an iOS version that incorporated the new functionality and turned on the FM radio functionality, app developers would need to create apps using the SDK, and then Apple would need to approve those apps to be distributed through the App Store. So this is a far from simple process, and not one that could be implemented overnight. It’s also unclear whether FM radios are actually in all iPhones, given that Apple recently switched some of its modems to Intel. The idea that FM radios in existing devices should simply be switched on is obviously an appealing one, especially in a place like Puerto Rico where communication infrastructure is currently in poor shape following the hurricane, but the practicalities of trying to force such a solution in the short term seem unfeasible. The broader issue of whether Apple should enable such uses in general rather than in response to a particular current situation is rather different – Apple has never said why it won’t do so, and I’ve never heard a good reason why it shouldn’t, but that is very different from suggesting there’s some sort of immediate fix to the current problem.
Also worth reading: this piece from PC Mag’s Sascha Segan, which talks about one potential hurdle, which is that FM radio functions in phones typically require wired headphones, something Apple is moving away from in its newer iPhones.
Update: Apple has now issued a formal comment, which among other things says that its newer iPhones (the 7 and 8 models) don’t even have FM radios to turn on, making much of this moot.
This Financial Times piece seems like as good a hook as any to round up the week’s Apple news and to talk about perceptions of weak demand for the iPhone 8. The FT points out that Apple’s stock has had its worst week in 17 months, falling over 5%, as a result of some mixed reviews of its new products and perceived weak demand for new iPhones. As I said earlier in the week, the Apple Watch LTE reviews were particularly problematic, but I think much of the rest of the worry this week is overblown. It has been clear that overall demand for the iPhone 8 during the preorder period and in today’s first day on sale has been a little weak, but it’s also been clear that Apple has still sold out its first week or two of preorder inventory and that there were still lines in major stores despite the years-long decline in retail sales on the first day given the success of online pre-sales. From a financial perspective, all that really matters is that Apple sells a few more iPhones in the first ten days or so than it did last year, and that it has a strong December quarter, which will combine ongoing sales of the iPhone 8 line and the iPhone X line from about a month into the quarter onwards. It certainly seems to be the case that iPhone X interest has dampened early iPhone 8 sales somewhat, but as long as Apple has the X in decent supply in November and December, that needn’t be a problem, and it’s certainly not the case that the iPhone 8 isn’t selling at all. As such, I think Apple will be fine even if overall demand for the 8 line isn’t as strong as for the 7 line last year, but the big wrinkle will be supply of iPhone X models. If those are very constrained throughout the December quarter, that will be a bit more problematic.
via Financial Times
The embargo on iPhone 8 and 8 Plus reviews lifted this morning and in its wake came a flurry of reviews from many major tech publications. Rather than link to any one of them, I’m linking below to Techmeme’s roundup, which as usual will give you every possible angle you could want. As is often the case with smartphone reviews, many make the mistake of asking the question of whether it’s worth upgrading from the previous year’s model, which is something very few people ever do. The better question is whether these phones are good upgrades from the models people are still using from two or three years ago. For those upgrading from an iPhone 6 or 6s, the change will be significant: better screens, better audio, much faster chips, longer battery life and wireless charging, better camera performance, and on the Plus model dual cameras with Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting, and 2x optical zoom, among other things.
The reviews do suggest that the improvements to the cameras are particularly noteworthy, and the TechCrunch review focuses on that aspect in depth, something I think more smartphone reviews should do. Otherwise, there are some complaints about a too-familiar hardware design (although there are all new materials and finishes this time around in contrast to the last two years), and there’s still some griping about the lack of a headphone jack and the “camera bump”. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the 8 Plus later this week and spending some time testing it myself, but my guess is the iPhone 8 line is a really solid upgrade for many people considering one this year and will be the devices many of this year’s upgraders will end up picking. However, as I said in yesterday’s item about preorders, there will be many waiting to take a closer look at the iPhone X, an approach certainly endorsed by at least some of the reviewers of the 8.
iPhone Pre-Order Wait Times Remain Short After First Weekend (Sep 18, 2017)
Like others, I was up at the local equivalent of midnight on Friday to place preorders for a couple of Apple devices as they went live, and it’s now been four days since that window opened. What was apparent as early as Friday was that most of the devices were still in pretty decent supply for delivery on day 1 – September 22 – or shortly thereafter, and on the following Monday pretty much every device I’ve checked in the US is available within “1-2 weeks” on Apple’s site. There are two ways to interpret this pretty decent supply four days in: either fewer people than usual are ordering devices, or Apple has got better at making enough to fulfill early demand. Given Apple’s guidance for the September quarter, it’s been clear for some time that it certainly believed it would sell plenty of devices in the first week and a half or so, and likely more than last year. With the prices for the iPhone 8 line being slightly higher than last year’s iPhone 7, the amount by which sales need to grow is smaller, but they likely do still need to grow year on year, which means at least part of the explanation for the shorter wait times is more devices being available for shipping in time for the launch.
But I also think it’s almost certainly the case that at least some who might otherwise have ordered an iPhone 8 are waiting for the iPhone X, depressing early demand somewhat. That will all come out in the wash during the December quarter, with the X available for nearly two months, but it does mean we could see some interesting things happen in the September quarter. Despite those higher overall prices, if a disproportionate number of those who might otherwise have ordered an 8 Plus opt instead for an X, then ASPs in the first week and a half or so might actually be down on last year, requiring rather stronger unit sales. There are so many moving parts here, but I come back to Apple’s guidance, which at the very least suggests that it was very confident of having more devices available to sell. The earnings call this coming quarter is going to be a fascinating one when it comes to this topic.
via Business Insider
Though the headline on the Recode piece linked below says Apple is facing questions from the US Senate on its new Face ID feature, the reality is that the questions are coming from one Senator: former comedian Al Franken, who’s always taken an interest in tech issues and tends to use them to raise his public profile. A number of the questions he’s posing have already been addressed by Apple (including in its public announcement of the feature) while others suggest Franken thinks Apple is Google or some other company which regularly uses data on its customers to target advertising. All of which suggests he either hasn’t taken time to understand the feature properly, or is simply grandstanding, which frankly feels more likely. Apple’s stance on privacy and security is abundantly clear at this point, as demonstrated by its approach to the Touch ID feature (which Franken previously investigated in a similar way). None of that will stop people freaking out about the feature, and coincidentally or not the Economist magazine’s cover story this week is about the dangers of companies collecting facial data. But Apple is storing this data on the device in ways inaccessible to anyone but the user or for purposes other than those intended by Apple and approved by the user.
★ Apple Announces iPhone 8 and X (Sep 12, 2017)
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