Company / division: Apple
Ford and Toyota Establish SmartDeviceLink Consortium to Accelerate Industry-Driven Standard for In-Vehicle Apps | Ford Media Center (Jan 4, 2017)
This announcement builds on an existing partnership between Ford and Toyota around in-car entertainment systems, and it’s hard to see it as anything but a concerted effort to bypass CarPlay and Android Auto. Ford supports both technologies after being a holdout early on, but Toyota never has. It’s likely that for most of the consortium members those options will be present in addition to their proprietary systems, but it’s clear these carmakers aren’t willing to cede the in-car UI to Apple or Google.
This is the cost of doing business in China – a cost other companies have decided they’re not willing to bear. Apple has already had to shut down elements of iTunes in China, and now this. It’s not a great look for Apple in China, but this kind of thing is likely to continue to be a thorn in Apple’s side as it seeks to do business there. Striking a balance between avoiding censorship and doing just enough to stay in business there is tricky, and likely to offend quite a few people in the process.
Most of the smart home coverage I’ve seen has given HomeKit short shrift, and rightly so – it took well over a year from the initial announcement for products to start shipping in any kind of numbers, and meanwhile Amazon’s Echo has grabbed lots of attention in the same space. However, HomeKit devices are now starting to emerge in larger numbers, and HomeKit as a platform is much smarter than Echo, which is essentially a dumb front end which merely passes through requests to the real brain, which lives elsewhere. HomeKit has some way to go, but it is finally starting to gain traction. However, see also this contrary take from the Verge.
Why Super Mario’s Run Was Short – WSJ (Jan 2, 2017)
The headline is overstating things – it’s not like Super Mario Run is done. But there are some good numbers in here – notably that 3% of the estimated 90 million downloads have converted to being paying users. At $10, that’s actually pretty high, and Nintendo will do just fine if it can keep converting new users at that rate. However, the poor reviews – many driven by the IAP model – may prevent Nintendo from continuously filling its funnel. Definitely some lessons here for future Nintendo mobile games.
A Magic Moment — Liss is More (Jan 1, 2017)
This isn’t news per se – it’s not even a normal review. But it is a personal experience someone had with an Apple product – specifically, AirPods. This is still the strongest kind of counter-evidence to the Apple is Doomed narrative – that Apple still knows how to make magical products. It’s just one user’s experience, but reviews of the AirPods have been almost universally positive, and my own experience with them reinforces this too. They’re not perfect, but they’re very good.
Apple’s 2016 in review – Chuq von Rospach (Jan 1, 2017)
This piece explicitly disclaims the Apple is Doomed narrative, but it’s in line with quite a number of critical pieces over the past year from those who have generally been supporters of Apple. And it still draws broad conclusions about the state of Apple from a series of individual events that did and didn’t happen in 2016. I suspect Apple in 2016 was viewed more negatively than it might have been because there wasn’t a single big-bang new launch – it felt like mostly an incremental year. The one big exception was the AirPods, but they launched so late, and were themselves one of the examples of the problems Apple has faced, that it made little difference.
Slower-than-expected iPhone 7 sales prompt Apple to cut production by 10%, report claims (Dec 30, 2016)
There are two problems with these reports – firstly, they come out every year in some shape or form, and have a far from perfect correlation with poor sales of iPhones; and secondly, the scale of the cuts is always ambiguous – is the 10% relative to last year at the same time, a cut from Q4 to Q1, or something else? The latter would obviously be expected given the usual cyclical drop from Q4 to Q1, while the former would be entirely unexpected. But as usual this Nikkei report drove lots of “poor iPhone sales” headlines despite all that.
Facebook and Google Dominate ‘Top Smartphone Apps of 2016’ List, While Apple Music Ranks 9th – Mac Rumors (Dec 30, 2016)
Facebook and Google absolutely dominate this list, and to my mind this dominance remains one of the biggest threats to Apple going forward: to the extent that people increasingly use their iPhones to access services and apps provided by other companies, those companies are in an increasingly strong position to usurp Apple’s position in devices. Apple Music is the only Apple app in the top 10, while Facebook and Google have 8 of the other 9, with Amazon scraping in at #10.
Apple plans to make iPhones in Bengaluru from April – ETtech (Dec 30, 2016)
One of the barriers to Apple opening a retail presence in India has been that its products are not made there, and although there has been talk about a temporary lifting of that ban, Apple likely still needs to make iPhones in India in order to solve this problem over the long term. I haven’t seen others confirming these reports yet, so let’s take this with a pinch of salt for now, but it certainly seems plausible.
Apple seeks tax benefits, label law waivers to build iPhones in India & boost local sales – AppleInsider (Dec 29, 2016)
India is a market Tim Cook talks about a lot, as if it had the potential of China over the long term, and yet Apple’s presence there is minuscule for a host of reasons, not least much lower disposable incomes and regulatory barriers to a retail presence. However, Apple continues to chip away at these challenges bit by bit in an attempt to grow its business in India. I suspect we’ll still see slow progress there over the short to medium term.
Much of this piece piggybacks off the Flurry data I linked to earlier, but there are some additional comments from an NPD analyst which form the basis of the headline. The point here is that Samsung did suffer from the Note7 recall, but not nearly as much as it might have, because most buyers stuck with Galaxy phones rather than switching to iPhone. This reinforces the point that Apple and Samsung (in that order) have the highest smartphone loyalty rates by far, which has certainly helped Samsung this year.
Music streaming hailed as industry’s saviour as labels enjoy profit surge | Technology | The Guardian (Dec 29, 2016)
The headline is right on here – streaming has been a boon for the music industry, arguably the second time the tech industry (and Apple in particular) has come to its rescue. But it doesn’t go far enough – it’s paid streaming that’s saving the industry, while the best that can be said for ad-supported streaming is that it provides a useful funnel for the services that really drive revenue. That tension between paid and free streaming and their respective economics is a key one to watch in the music industry over the next couple of years.
The Verge 2016 tech report card: Apple – The Verge (Dec 29, 2016)
I’ve seen lots of this sort of thing as we approach the end of the year – quite a number of Apple observers seem to see 2016 as an off year for the company. And yet so much depends on how you few key innovations – yes, the Watch changed relatively little, but those features will please runners, swimmers and wheelchair users, and the price drops that accompanied them created new markets. The same can be said for many of the other changes. Apple news continues to be something of a Rohrschach test for observers.
How China Built ‘iPhone City’ With Billions in Perks for Apple’s Partner – The New York Times (Dec 29, 2016)
The partner here is Foxconn, Apple’s largest manufacturing partner, and this is an in-depth story based on lots of leaked documents. There’s lots that’s interesting here, but the reason it’s relevant is the prospect of both pressure from the Trump administration to bring manufacturing home, and the potential for a US-China trade war. Apple and Foxconn would certainly be in the crosshairs under both scenarios.
Warm Takes on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 – Medium (Dec 27, 2016)
Part of the recent version of the Apple is Doomed narrative has Microsoft in the ascendant, ready to eat its lunch. As with the rest of the narrative, that’s overblown, and this piece does a nice job of highlighting the challenges for Microsoft in winning over Mac users. It’s also a good entry in another couple of narratives – Hardware is Hard, and Microsoft and Hardware, pouring some cold water on the plaudits for Microsoft’s recent hardware efforts.
Flurry Analytics: Apple devices were most popular mobile holiday gifts – Business Insider (Dec 27, 2016)
Until Apple reports its results for the December quarter, this kind of data is the best insight we’re going to get into how its quarter has gone. The answer appears to be pretty good, at least as it relates to iPad and iPhone sales, and taken together with other data on Mac, Apple Watch, and AirPods sales, it’s looking like a pretty healthy quarter overall.
Apple Publishes Its First Artificial Intelligence Paper (Dec 26, 2016)
Apple announced at a conference a few weeks ago that it would begin allowing its AI researchers to publish, a move intended to attract those in the field for whom this is standard practice. This is also part of Apple’s broader push to establish its AI credentials, countering the popular narrative that it’s behind big competitors like Google and Microsoft.
Apple Pulls All Withings Accessories From Apple Online Store Following Nokia Lawsuit – Mac Rumors (Dec 23, 2016)
Apple clearly doesn’t appreciate Nokia’s recent lawsuit over patents, and is choosing to let Nokia know by dropping its Withings products from its stores. This will have a minimal impact on Apple’s retail operation, but Apple retail is a great premium channel for Withings, so this is a nice way to put some minor pressure on while the lawsuit is underway.
Apple Adds Public Transport Maps for Great Britain (Dec 23, 2016)
It appears Apple now has public transit maps for the whole of Great Britain (but not the whole of the UK – Northern Ireland is missing). I’ve been seeing lots of cities and countries added recently – the public transit data seems to be getting more and more complete (my nearest big city, Salt Lake City, was added last week).
Apple’s iCloud website has been the solution for users of its products who don’t own a Mac, but it’s often been a poor second class citizen to the Mac experience (arguably deliberately). This is an interesting change in a key area, and it’s possible that it portends more robust iCloud.com offerings for other products and services.