Company / division: Apple
Following on the heels of yesterday’s iPhone 8 reviews, today the reviews for the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE came out, and they were rather different in tone, in at least some cases. Whereas yesterday’s reviews were largely positive with some misgivings around the edges, today’s Watch reviews were bifurcated between those that were almost entirely positive and those that noted significant connectivity issues, notably those at the Wall Street Journal and The Verge (once again, I’m linking to the Techmeme roundup here). All seemed to agree that the faster processors and watchOS 4 combine for significantly better performance across multiple areas including fitness and heart rate tracking, app use, and music, but the differences occurred around LTE/WiFI connectivity.
It appears (there’s a good explainer here) that the Watch tends to try to hop onto so-called captive WiFi networks – those that allow devices to connect without a password but require going through an interstitial or popup before allowing internet access – but can’t progress beyond the interstitial, putting the Watch in an awkward in-between state where it’s connected to WiFi but can’t actually reach the internet. That, in turn, stops the Watch from trying to connect to LTE, which is what you really want it to do in that situation. That should be a relatively easy software fix for Apple, and it’s suggested that’s the case, but it’s baffling that this issue didn’t come up during all the testing that must have gone on over recent months, and as such is an embarrassing slip-up for Apple when the new connectivity options are the key selling point for this device.
It is notable that not all reviewers experienced the problem, which may be indicative of either their differing use during the review period or their differing earlier use, with some perhaps more prone to hop onto captive WiFi networks with their iPhones (and thereby inadvertently setting up their Watches for failure) than others. At any rate, many regular users likely won’t see those issues either, especially if using the Watch out in the wild rather than in busy urban areas, while those who do will hopefully see the problem fixed very quickly in a software update. Regardless, this clearly wasn’t what Apple was hoping for from these reviews, and it’s likely that the glitches will color perceptions of the Watch at least until Apple does issue a fix and that gets some decent coverage.
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
Wired reports on a third party study which claims that Apple’s approach to differential privacy – the method Apple says it uses to obfuscate individuals’ data when uploading it to the cloud – is inadequate to really protect those users’ privacy. That study dug into Apple’s code and on that basis makes claims about the degree to which Apple has added noise to the data, that degree being the single biggest factor in determining how obscured the individual’s private information is. The authors claim that Apple’s differential privacy approach adds far too little noise to data to preserve privacy, while Apple has pushed back, saying that the approach used assumed that it treats all data the same way and that aggregating data across multiple categories would reveal more about users than looking at single data points, assertions Apple disputes.
One of the most telling lines in the article has one of the researchers saying that the DP approach is based on the assumption that companies will always behave badly, something Apple would clearly dispute too – it prides itself on protecting users’ privacy, generally doesn’t use business models which require it to collate data about users to target advertising, and requires users to opt in to any of this data gathering in the first place. As such, some of the assumptions being made by the researchers may be reasonable in general but not as applicable to Apple as to other companies. The fundamental issue here, though, is that Apple isn’t transparent about its approach, something I would guess it would attribute to competitive sensitivity, but which – like all company claims about privacy – requires users to take many of their privacy claims on trust. Whether you’re OK with Apple’s approach should therefore depend less on claims like those made by these third party researchers and more on whether you trust Apple overall when it comes to privacy. Surveys I’ve been involved with have generally shown high levels of trust on that point among Apple users and the population in general.
★ Apple Reportedly Siding with Bain in Toshiba Memory Bid (Sep 14, 2017)
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.
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 Announces Upgraded Watch and TV Devices (Sep 12, 2017)
★ Apple Announces iPhone 8 and X (Sep 12, 2017)
Spotify and Apple Make Video Content Hires (Sep 6, 2017)
This is a minor thing, but nevertheless an important one in several ways. Apple has updated the executive bios on its website to reflect a few changes, notably the change in responsibility for Siri from Eddy Cue (generally responsible for online services) to Craig Federighi (responsible for software), and Eddy Cue’s ownership of Apple’s original video content push. That’s notable for two reasons: one is that Eddy Cue has lost other areas of responsibility recently, notably the App Store to Phil Schiller, and Siri is an area where Apple can ill afford to be seen to be falling behind the competition. Taking it away from Cue is likely a sign that Apple wants to see the same rapid improvements there as it did in the App Store when Schiller took over, but also a recognition that the content push is going to take more of Cue’s attention going forward.
Also worth noting: though there’s still only one woman among Apple’s top-tier leadership of SVPs and CXOs as shown on its executive leadership page, the next tier of VPs is now half women, with three of the four women of color. Diversity in the top ranks at Apple has been poor and slow to change, in part because the senior leadership team has been so stable for so long, but it’s clear that Tim Cook is using the more frequent changes happening at the next tier down to increase diversity there.
via Mac Rumors