Company / division: iPhone
KGI Reports High-End 2017 iPhone Production May Be Delayed (Apr 24, 2017)
Apple Enables Web Embedding of Live Photos for Developers (Apr 20, 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.
Apple Said to be Working on its Own Power Chips – Bloomberg (Apr 11, 2017)
Apple is apparently working on its own power-chip technology, and has hired 80 people in this area, according to a financial analyst firm’s report. Even that report says that Apple won’t be ready to make its own before 2019, and yet its current primary supplier Dialog has seen its stock drop significantly today as a result of this story. On top of last week’s Imagination Technologies news (and arguably the ongoing Qualcomm lawsuit too) it’s easy to draw the conclusion that being a supplier to Apple is tough. I’m sure that wouldn’t be news to any of Apple’s existing suppliers, who have always been pushed hard and squeezed for margins, but I’m also sure no company would turn down the opportunity to be part of Apple’s supply chain over these worries. However, these recent events certainly suggest that customer diversity is warranted for those serving Apple, because it has a stated intention of controlling the key elements of its technology stack, and that trend only goes one way over time.
This piece is sadly short on details and on comment from Apple, so we have to read between the lines a little bit to see what’s happening here. My guess is that this lawsuit from the Australian competition commission concerns Apple’s practice of disabling phones which have had their screens tampered with when that process involves the Touch ID sensor and its associated secure enclave. Apple does this in order to preserve the security of that system, but to an end user or repair shop it just looks like Apple is trying to keep the repair business to itself. Some US states have been pushing right-to-repair laws to deal with this kind of situation, and Apple has been pushing back, arguing that there are security issues at stake. The problem is that Apple often charges a lot more for either AppleCare or the repair itself than third parties, so the optics are bad even if the reasoning is sound. I suspect Apple is going to be dealing with a lot more of this kind of thing, and this Australian case will be an important test of how effectively Apple is able to fight its corner.
Apple fans, Android world scramble to patch Broadcom’s nasty drive-by Wi-Fi security hole – The Register (Apr 6, 2017)
There are two interesting things here, both worth discussing briefly. Firstly, Broadcom, which provides chips for many popular smartphones including the iPhone, has a vulnerability in its WiFi element which can be hacked, allowing a way into the device. Apple issued a patch this week to deal with the issue, and Android vendors will be working to close the vulnerability too, though there’s no specific timeframe yet, highlighting yet another challenge with Android’s fragmented ecosystem. The second thing that’s interesting here is that the vulnerability was discovered by Google’s Project Zero team, which is set up to discover and fix vulnerabilities like this, and has been doing great work lately doing just that, including on non-Google devices like the iPhone. Vulnerabilities like this are always worrying, and it’s great to have Google out there with what seems like a strong team detecting these and notifying vulnerable vendors so they can patch the issues.
via The Register
Apple just made a historic and risky change to all iPhones — and you probably didn’t even notice – Business Insider (Mar 28, 2017)
Apple this week pushed iOS 10.3 to iPhones and iPads, and although there were various other headline features, the big under-the-hood change was the upgrade from Apple’s historical HFS+ file system to the new Apple File System trailed a while back at WWDC. That this upgrade went off seemingly without a hitch is remarkable given just how disruptive it might have been to devices and the apps that run on them, and given that Apple has had one or two buggy iOS releases in the last couple of years, including one that bricked a lot of phones. I suspect Apple deliberately rolled this update out off the usual big annual schedule because people tend to adopt these point releases more slowly, so that if something did go wrong it could pull it before it did too much damage. But Apple is also benefiting these days from the extensive developer and public beta programs, which get its releases into many more hands (and onto a wider range of devices used for a wider range of tasks), which likely helps iron out some bugs before they ever get to wide release. But it’s arguably been underappreciated this week just how big a change this was and how flawlessly Apple seems to have executed on it. That’s a good counterpoint to some recent suggestions that Apple’s quality control around its software has suffered lately.
via Business Insider
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.