Company / division: Services
One of the criticisms of Apple which has become loudest lately is that it is increasingly ignoring the professional creatives who use Macs to do their work, and I’ve seen this not just in relation to Apple’s Mac lineup but also a supposed neglect of Apple’s pro apps. However, at the MacBook Pro launch event a couple of months ago, Apple provided a big update to Final Cut Pro, which I’m told by video pros is a big deal, and now we’re seeing a big update to another of Apple’s big creative apps, Logic Pro. While I think some of the Mac criticism is reasonable (though I still think we’ll see an update on the desktops soon), this stuff about the pro apps clearly isn’t true – Apple is still investing in a big way here.
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.
Apple has been investing in video content for a while now, with the unusual strategy of pushing most of it to subscribers through a music service, rather than a dedicated video service. On the one hand, it’s a way to set Apple Music apart, and to the extent that there’s been something of a music theme to some of this video content, that makes sense too. But I still think this investment is really laying the groundwork for an eventual subscription video service from Apple, using the Music investments as cover. At this point, Apple has to get into the video subscription business if it’s to protect its ecosystem around content, much as it belatedly got into streaming music. The exact shape of that service – whether Hulu-, Netflix-, or DirecTV Now-like, is still unclear. I suspect it’ll launch by the end of this year, however, and this kind of original, exclusive content is increasingly essential for differentiation regardless of which of these models it pursues.
This has always struck me as one of the more implausible legal challenges to Apple, and it fended off the first round through a technicality. Now, however, a higher court has overruled the technical objection and the case can proceed on its merits. I would still think it was a long shot that Apple could be successfully sued for monopolizing app storefronts for its own devices, but you never know. One more Apple lawsuit to keep an eye on.
Is Amazon late to the mobile voice assistant game? – iMore (Jan 11, 2017)
This is satire and opinion, but it’s very relevant to two prevailing narratives – that Apple is behind in AI and that Amazon is ahead in voice. Rene’s piece here does a good job of framing the discussion, and the two essays on this site which I just linked to take a similar stance: Amazon is very good at what it does with Echo, but it does a very limited number of things, and for today still does them mostly in the home. Siri has two orders of magnitude more users, but also gives users a variety of other ways to interact with their device. Any analysis that doesn’t take into account those factors when comparing the two is insufficient.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Apple Music: Platform? Promoter? Both. – The New York Times (Dec 22, 2016)
Competition in the streaming music market is tough – everyone is offering roughly the same catalogs for roughly the same monthly price. So competition happens at the margins – in recommendations, user interfaces, and exclusive content, which is the subject of this interview with Apple Music execs.
Super Mario Run breaks records with 40 million downloads in its first 4 days | TechCrunch (Dec 21, 2016)
The numbers are huge, as expected – that’s a lot of downloads, but it’s worth remembering that this was a free download of a game with lots of nostalgia value. Unlike Pokemon Go, this year’s other big Nintendo-backed mobile game, Super Mario Run has eschewed the standard IAP business model, and reviews have been terrible as a result. What really matters is paying users and regular users after the initial hype dies down.