Apple Kowtows to a Tyrant

Apple, politics, and China / macOS Catalina arrives

“Every once in a while I’ll go into one of their offices and say, ‘ah, what’s going on?’ And they’ll say, ‘OK OK OK, I didn’t know, I didn’t know’. It’s a big organisation, but we’re getting there.” - Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of environment, policy and social initiatives speaking to The Independent.

(Above: Apple CEO, Tim Cook attends The American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting at The White House)

Apple in 2019 - A Political Pinball

Last week I promised a detailed look at Tim Cook the lobbyist. Since he officially took the helm as Apple CEO in 2011 the political, economic, and technology landscape has transformed in-front of our eyes. In part technology companies have accelerated a rise in mistrust in the media, the spread of disinformation, and created the foundations of a more chaotic and diverse political landscape.

In the week since I set out to detail Cook’s influence on the US administration and his navigation of serious geo-political issues, Apple hit its rockiest patch yet and as of writing it shows no sign of abating. Apple has never been the quickest to respond to the fall-out of major events impacting the company, but with Cook already issuing internal memos defending his position on Hong Kong and his decision-making—it raises the question, is Apple stuck?

You’d have to be living in a cave to have avoided this week’s fall out, but let’s take a moment to reverse course and explore recent events.

2016 marked one of Apple’s first major kowtowing to the People’s Republic of China, a region that as of today makes up $44bn of Apple’s total annual sales and manufacturers and assembles the vast majority of its products. In that year, Apple followed demands from officials to shut down its iBooks and iTunes Movie store—a form of censorship for the population of mainland China.

In 2017, Apple moved its iCloud data from one state-run provider to another. This in itself is not shocking news, even in democratic states laws generally insist that data of its citizens is stored within the region they live and that it is not transmitted over the internet to and from the United States where it could reasonably be spied on. Apple was largely criticised for the move, although rightly defended itself with explanations that most of the data is end-to-end encrypted (two keys required to open the door) but critics argued that with data wholly stored in China then requests for access no longer need to flow through US courts. In Apple’s defence, it details requests of access by governments, providing data in more than 96% of requests.

Later in 2017, Apple publicly complied with a request from China authorities to remove VPN apps from the App Store in the country. Many of these VPN apps provided a vital way of Chinese citizens to circumvent the “Great Firewall” and access the open internet. At the time a debate raged about what options Apple had.

The kind of person that likes to get your AirPods or iPad engraved with memorable dates or events? Well, think again in China, at some point in the last couple of years Apple blocked many phrases from being engraved onto Apple products, including but not limited to: June 4, Taiwan Independence and Falun Gong or words like “dictatorship” and “human rights”.

As 2019 swings round and Apple continues to kowtow in small but meaningful ways; with recent updates to iOS and macOS it is no longer possible to view or use the Taiwan flag emoji (🇹🇼) if you’re in Taiwan or mainland China, and some report that it is hidden in Hong Kong and Macau.

At the end of August, Apple was once again embroiled in a China related nightmare. Although the overall impact was ignored by the company and by the media at large.

Following extensive work, Google researchers uncovered that a recently patched exploit in iOS had allowed unfettered access to devices. In a statement at the time, Apple accused Google of creating a “false impression of ‘mass exploitation’”, the Apple media applauded with glee and accused Google of some marketing ploy. In that same statement, Apple admitted that “The attack affected fewer than a dozen websites that focus on content related to the Uighur community”—a community that is being oppressed and imprisoned by China, for being muslim.

Apple’s bullish statement was used primarily to attack the work of Google researchers, who in their extensive blog detailed the exploit and how it worked (although conspicuously missed out the China Uighur part). Apple despite quoting statements like “all evidence indicates that these website attacks were only operational for a brief period, roughly two months” provided zero evidence, and most embarrassing of all never criticised the Chinese government.

Then Apple’s September event swung round and everyone forgot about it. Apart from those in the Uighur community who cannot even take safe solace in the privacy of their Apple devices.

That brings us to the week just gone. We’re now more than five months into the civil unrest in Hong Kong. The citizens of Hong Kong fear that the government of the mainland is on a slow path to complete takeover of the former British island, and that a proposed law to allow extradition of Hong Kong residents to the mainland would be a serious step in the wrong direction. As part of the organised unrest, an app was created to help local residents, protestors, and tourists be more aware of what is happening on the island’s of Hong Kong. The app, and website, known as HKmap.live crowdsource the location of protests and police, warning of areas of tear gas use and potentially violent outbursts, or MTR closures.

Initially on September 21st, Apple rejected HKmap from the App Store for issues with payment options, a second submission was also rejected despite the issue being fixed, this time the rejection was because it "facilitates, enables, or encourages an activity that is not legal" and that it "allowed users to evade law enforcement". The internet erupted in outrage, but many argued that this was probably some kind of bureaucratic error rather than a top down decision. It would not be the first time an app has been rejected multiple times at the hands of a rank and file reviewer following a rulebook.

On October 4th, Apple reversed its decision and HKmap was once again available on the App Store in Hong Kong.

In the last week, the Chinese government mouthpiece The People's Daily published a commentary saying that the app "incites illegal behavior," accusing Apple of "damaging its reputation and hurting the feeling of consumers." On October 10, Apple did an about turn and removed the app saying in an official statement to the media, “We have learned that an app, HKmap.live, has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong,” and “This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store.”

Following Apple’s move, Google on Thursday removed from its own app store a mobile game called The Revolution of Our Times that let people play as a Hong Kong protester, saying it violated a policy against cashing in on conflicts.

In a company wide memo Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook wrote: “Over the past several days we received credible information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present,” adding “National and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts. In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protects our users.”

It’s not a disaster for Hong Kong residents and visitors that this app is no longer available, the website HKmap.live lives on and remains a useful tool for staying safe in the city.

In an open letter to Tim Cook via Twitter (a service not immune to its own controversies), Charles Mok a Hong Kong legislative councilor and tech entrepreneur argued that: “HKmap.live in fact helps citizens avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in any criminal activities might be subjected to police brutality which many human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have observed.”

The fact that Cook quoted intelligence from the official Hong Kong authorities undermines his argument at the outset, and shows a naivety that is not the norm for Cook. That said, HKmap.live app is merely a sideshow for Apple’s larger issues in the region, its inconsistent approach of not banning similar apps, or removing apps like Twitter or WhatsApp that allow for easy organisation of large protests could be seen as its best attempt at simultaneously towing the line of China’s wishes and what is right.

(As of writing another controversy is building up, with Apple being accused of encouraging Apple TV+ show producers to show China in a positive light. Not unusual for any studio to do, but Apple should probably cling to whatever moral high ground it has left.)

This line is muddied, of course, by the ongoing tech cold war between the US and Chinese administrations, with Apple stuck right in the middle.

Since Trump’s election in 2016, Cook has avoided criticism for being close to the administration. Cook has attended and continues to attend sessions held at The White House with Trump and appears to even visit Trump privately for lunch. This evidently to be working in Cook’s favour. With the ongoing trade war, Apple is especially exposed to tariffs on consumer goods.

With this threat building in August, a potential several billion dollar blow to Apple’s quarterly profits ahead of a new iPhone release, Tim Cook reached out to one of his most important contacts in D.C., Jared Kushner. In the call between Cook and Trump that followed, Cook explained that the forthcoming tariffs would impact prices of the iPhone and prevent Apple from competing so aggressively against Samsung.

In the days that followed the tariffs were eased, in response Apple issued a press release about job growth, saying that since 2011 it had quadrupled the number of jobs its business supports in the States. In fact, in the past few months Apple has issued no less than three press releases about job creation in the U.S., including a press release about the future Mac Pro being manufactured in Texas (there was no way this was not going to be the case anyway).

So at home, Apple and Cook are playing the administration at their own PR driven games and arguably winning. Even using the influence to criticise and pace the administration, most notably of which is fighting the Trump administration on their stance on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. They have so far avoided being dragged into the same kind of furore that has surrounded other senior executives that have dared to engage with the administration or be seen sat next to Trump.

In China however, Cook and Apple remain as cornered as ever by their reliance on the supply chain of parts and the mass of cheap labour to assemble hundreds of millions of iPhones a year, as they do on China’s growing wealth and the populations desire to own expensive products. It’s not known what failing to kowtow to the Chinese administration’s requests would mean, but it doesn’t look like a game of chicken Tim Cook is willing to enter publicly.

For the consumer, and the media, sharp criticism is fair and should continue and I imagine some will show their dissent with their wallets. And whilst I, and many others hold Apple to a higher standard, it’s hard to avoid any company that hasn’t turned a blind eye to China’s behaviour or indeed flattered the administration by following commands.

We can hope that Apple marches forward and reduces its exposure to China more rapidly that maybe it intended. But would shifting assembly and manufacturing to India and Brazil mean that we have the same kind of outrages in another decades time?

macOS 10.15 ‘Catalina’ lands to a chorus of disappointment and frustration

Continuing with Apple’s oddly timed software releases for 2019, the latest version of macOS landed on Monday this week. Catalina’s primary feature set includes: the removal of iTunes and replacement with a set of three apps focused on Music, TV, and podcasts; Sidecar, a feature to use the screen of an iPad as a second display; removal of compatibility for 32-bit apps; and the introduction of Catalyst that enables developers to easily bring iPad apps to the Mac.

Amongst these headline features, Catalina has arrived to a chorus of disappointment. Don’t take my word for it, here’s what the reviews said:

The Verge:

More than anything, the potential changes to the app model are the main reason I’m recommending that you hold off on updating for a little bit. Do some Googling on your most important apps, and make sure they’re updated to support Catalina before installing it. I suspect that, for the vast majority of people and the vast majority of apps, it will be a nonissue, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

MacStories:

There’s a place for the Mac in Apple’s lineup, but the platform needs to change with the times, and Catalina is the first step of bridging the gap to its future.

ArsTechnica:

Apple's operating system releases have all seemed a bit rushed this year—go ahead and give the company a couple of months to patch Catalina before you install it, if you can.

CNET:

Don't put this on the machine you use to make money yet, but you can certainly load it on a secondary machine or an older Mac that you still keep around -- so you can get a taste of the Mac's future

What to catch up on...

Next week...

It’s crunch week to find out if Apple will deliver one more product event before the end of the year, read my roundup of what could happen. And the big question, will Apple roll back on its China position or stay quiet?

Another Apple Event to come?

Looking ahead to a possible October event and what Apple TV+ will deliver on day one

“That Steve Jobs was a genius, a giant influence on multiple industries and billions of lives, has been written many times since he retired as Apple’s CEO in August. He was a historical figure on the scale of a Thomas Edison or a Henry Ford, and set the mold for many other corporate leaders in many other industries.” Former The Wall Street Journal journalist, Walt Mossberg, reflecting on Steve Jobs’ death eight years ago

(Above: Andreas Gurksy's portrait Jony Ive will go on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London)


A Possible October Event?

As of writing, there are 89 days to go until the end of 2019, 55 days until Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Why does this matter? Well, Apple’s product marketing team needs the best possible foundation to launch any products Apple has left in its pipeline for the remainder of the year.

Let’s start with a brief analysis of dates, and whether this may or may not happen. We’re already at least two weeks through October, with invites to events usually issued anywhere between 10 and 14 days before the event itself. Looking at the event dates from previous six years (30th, none, 27th, 16th, 22nd, 23rd) we can see that Apple may have another week or so before it reveals such an event date. Some may take solace in Apple’s announcement that its next fiscal results call will take place on Wednesday 30th October—so mark your diaries for a special event on Tuesday 29th.

And what to expect?

With Apple dedicating its September event to iPhones, iPads, and services we can expect a slightly different approach to an October event—in previous years there has been a strong Mac focus and rumours this year include the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. 

This new 16-inch model will feature a similar footprint to the current 15-inch model but with smaller bezels around the display, and a higher resolution display. Much detail beyond that is not known but some have suggested that Apple will drop its controversial butterfly switch keyboards, and instead return to the scissor-switch of the old style.

Sticking with the Mac theme, Apple have already announced and shown us the the new Mac Pro, a behemoth of a computer starting at $6,000, suitable for the top top-end of pro users. Apple expects to deliver the Mac Pro, made in the USA, during the “fall of 2019”. So no doubt we’ll hear more about that.

Apple could continue with the Mac refreshing, and roll out new updates to the existing mid-range MacBook Pro. The smaller cousin MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro were both recently updated so expect nothing in that area.

Also possible is the appearance of Apple’s new Tag product, I covered the potential of this product and the oddness around Apple’s lack of announcement in September. If it’s finally ready for show time, then an October event would be a natural landing spot.

However, new Macs and a Tag product announcement probably aren’t enough to summon the press and run an event. But throw in a possible iPad Pro minor update, and an excuse to show off Apple TV+ for one last time before launch and we might have the makings of an October special event.

(Last minute bonus: maybe some new AirPods too, featuring active noise-cancelling and in-ear plugs)

Apple TV+ Approaches - What to expect?

Apple TV+ will launch next month in more than 100 countries, including most of Apple’s major markets (US, Canada, UK, India, Australia) at aggressive and localised pricing, with millions of users who have just snapped up new iPhones able to experience it free for a year.

As November 1st approaches we’ve got a better sense of Apple’s strategy, certainly in the UK they’re blitzing cinema, traditional broadcast TV, YouTube pre-rolls, and social media with mini trailers showing the “hero” shows, ending with the message “Watch on the Apple TV app”. This week we also learnt that Apple will not launch on November 1st with a full line-up of shows, with the freshly announced Servant coming to the service at the end of the month.

By my count Apple will launch with eight titles and one movie, with two series and two movies following in November/December and a further 32 without any firm dates but have been rumoured by various leaky Hollywood sources to be in the works.

From this we can see that Apple is not taking this launch lightly, and on the basis that the company appears to not be pitching for any existing shows, and is instead riding the coattails of excellent talent and pitching to a base of hundreds of millions of platform users. It would suggest that Apple’s not competing with the likes of Netflix (draws you in with Friends and bombards you with originals) but instead closer to competing with the movie and TV studios themselves.

Another way of looking at it is via the economics, I doubt anyone working under Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, is expecting Apple TV+ to exit the red for some years. But the benefit of a recurring revenue business is the incredible predictability of its future, assuming you understand your acquisition costs and your retention levels.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend to an expert of financial forecasting a product that hasn’t even been released, but Neil Cybart is, and has been doing some back of the envelope work. Cybart expects Apple to be pulling in $30 billion of revenue via all of its services by the end of FY22. To put that in context for those not 100% up to speed on Apple’s financials, revenue from “services” in FY18 topped $37bn, and growing at around 25% per year—but still only representing 13% of Apple’s total revenue for the year.

Going back to Neil’s work and looking just at Apple TV+, he expects that by the end of September 2022 Apple will have amassed 55m subscribers to the service, and that Apple has no revenue share agreements yet for its TV service, the revenue for FY22 will be $2.6bn. Compare that against stories that Apple has already spent in excess of $6bn and climbing on producing these shows, it could be some time before Apple enters positive territory.

What to catch up on...

Next week…

I’ll take a look at Tim Cook the lobbyist, from Apple’s flattery of the US administration to his direct criticism of how Dreamers are being treated, to the company’s failures in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China—Cook is arguably one of the most powerful CEOs and lobbyists in the world, and his influence is beginning to show.

New hardware and software - what’s the verdict?

Your reading and watching list for the weekend

(Above: Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City, re-opened today after almost three years of renovation)


“I believe that if Steve were still alive, we would have combined our companies, or at least discussed the possibility very seriously,” - An excerpt from Disney CEO Bob Iger’s forthcoming memoir


iPhone 11

iPhone release week is always a whirlwind of dense word reviews, hot takes, unboxings, and video reviews; so this week I’ll hand pick some of my favourites from the week about the iPhone 11, Apple Watch Series 5, and iOS 13.

MKBHD on YouTube - For the love of cameras

Halide app (a camera app for pros) gave a detailed run down of the output of the triple-camera system of the Pro, including the technical readouts:

It’s 2019, and your camera isn’t just a module that takes a photo anymore. Cameras compose images from dozens of exposures, mixing and matching pixels from various frames, changing the output creatively and intelligently to ensure you get an image that looks, ironically, more faithful to what we see. All of this means that with fairly modest changes in hardware (except for the new ISO ranges), the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro appear to deliver one of the biggest leaps in camera quality in iPhones yet.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Several times over the past few years, I’ve had conversations along the lines of, “I know they’re never going to do this, but wouldn’t it be cool if Apple made a real camera?” As the iPhone camera system evolves, I’m starting to think Apple is making a real camera, right under our noses — or perhaps better said, right in our pockets.

Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal takes an opposing view to Gruber:

After a week of testing, I can tell you that’s mostly just smoke-and-mirrors marketing, except for one thing many of us have wanted all along: phones that are a bit heavier and thicker — but work when we damn well need them to. Yes, longer battery life.

Panzarino’s review over at TechCrunch is mostly a visual affair (go check it out), but here’s a notable takeaway from an excellent photographer:

the iPhone 11 is going to sell really well. And it should, because it’s great. It has the best new lens, an ultra-wide that takes great family photos and landscape shots. It has nearly every software feature of iPhone 11 Pro. But it doesn’t have the best screen and it doesn’t have telephoto.

Photographer Austin Mann gives a stunning visual review of the iPhone 11 Pro:

One thing I love about Apple’s approach to Night mode is the strategic balance of solving a technical problem while also caring deeply about artistic expression.

The Verge, has an excellent video review too:

"[iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max] are some of the most well-balanced, most capable phones Apple -- or anyone -- has ever made.

Jonathan Morrison - Almost Pro!

And iJustine compares the iPhone 11 Pro to the original iPhone in a dose of lovely nostalgia.

Apple Watch Series 5

Hodinkee - A week on the wrist:

“A new metal and a new display make for a surprisingly revolutionary Apple Watch.”

Wired - always on time:

The Apple Watch Series 5 is an excellent smartwatch. You shouldn’t upgrade just for the always-on display, but if you do, you’ll be happy to have it.

Mashable - sidekick no more:

Like a baby learning how to walk and talk, the Apple Watch can finally stand on its own two feet and proudly say "Look world, I’ve arrived!"

And watch SuperSaf unbox the new titanium watch

iOS and iPadOS 13

As is tradition, Federico Viticci of MacStories has worked the Italian summer and produced another iOS review, this time clocking in at 76,000 words. That’s not easy to summarise into a paragraph, but if you can spare the time this review covers in detail the fresh changes in iOS 13 and details the forking of the operating system to serve the iPad, on that Viticci says: 

Here lies the core of Apple’s proposition with iOS and iPadOS though: semantics matter. Even if iPadOS is “just a name”, it means something. And taken at face value, iPadOS is exactly what its name implies: a literal expression of the fact that the iPad experience has become sufficiently distinct from the iPhone to justify having its own brand.

The former king of OS reviews, Ars Technica weighs in:

iOS 13 has a general focus on introducing new, more efficient ways for power users to get stuff done on their mobile devices—or at least on making methods that existed before more intuitive. 

And…

So you might want to wait for at least iOS 13.1. But whether you upgrade now or in a few days or weeks, your iPhone will get more powerful and useful—and that’s what most of us are looking for these days.

This desire to wait for iOS 13.1 is shared fairly universally, and Apple has pulled the release date of 13.1 forward to September 24th.

Some great reading, about other things, from this week...

Next week…

A week off for your author, this reading should keep you busy and you’ll be able to enjoy new devices and new software. In two weeks time, let’s look towards a possible October event and see how this might shape up.

By Innovation Only?

Innovation and pricing: a look at what Apple told us—and didn't tell us—this week

“We’ve always believed that by giving people wonderful tools, you enable them to do wonderful things.” - Tim Cook at Tuesday’s media event, following the opening video from the keynote


Innovation.

The outrage across the internet came swiftly following Apple’s keynote presentation on Tuesday. Apple’s invites to the media titled the event with the clever wordplay: ‘By Innovation Only’. But according to the sea of hot takes it was not innovative enough.

So what is innovation, what does it look like, can a company like Apple innovate on an annual cycle, and maybe most importantly, does it matter? Let’s explore.

If you look back over Apple’s 40 year history there is innovation woven amongst the successes, and non-successes. The innovations often come on the cusp of a sea change, where Apple may not be leading the pack (yet), but suitably kick starts a revolution of technological change. Of course, one of the firm’s most famous home runs is the original iPhone. No, it was not the first smartphone on the market. It was not even close to being the first touchscreen smartphone on the market—but boy did they innovate.

That innovation could be seen in primarily the multi-touch technology, something that has become a standard across all devices. And if you’re familiar with the history of the iPhone, you’ll know that in reality the iPad came first with prototypes at Apple being large multi-touch screens with the plan to release a tablet product. But upon realisation that the tech could be shrunk to a handheld device it was all hands on deck to bring the iPhone to the market. Since then Apple has blazed a trail of innovation in the iPhone, with cameras, silicon, and screen technology to name a few.

To illustrate a point, I was struck in the week by this chart (pictured above) produced by Daniel Tello using Mixpanel data, an analytics service for web and mobile, showing the active iPhones across their network of sites. I’m sorry, but what you’re about to read will break you out of your bubble and into reality. Older iPhones, namely the 2014 iPhone 6 and 2015 iPhone 6S remain popular and in use by many, and in fact this data shows strong adoption of the 2017 iPhone 8 and iPhone X cohort of phones (as noted, they were largely seen as a flop at the time). Of this cohort of popular devices the iPhone 6 is about to be dropped from iOS upgrades—that alone won’t push people to upgrade but when their apps stop working it will be a factor.

There is a bucketload of innovation to be had by someone who is upgrading from an iPhone made in 2016 to an iPhone 11 or 11 Pro.

Apple’s event on Tuesday showed other areas of innovation. Namely, a smartwatch with an always-on display but still retaining 18 hours of battery life. Sure, these kind of smart watches existed on the market and in my research fall into two categories. They are either watches that have a smart element and are therefore always-on, or they are smartwatches with always-on displays and half a days battery life.

A final word from me on this, many pundits have argued that the end of Apple’s event was odd. For those that didn’t watch, or are not regular watchers, there is a normal cadence to an Apple event. They’ll kick off with some numbers related to sales and performance, maybe throw in a retail store update, and use this to set the scene for the product updates ahead. Using this standard format, it was previously possible to predict how much to expect from a keynote. If Apple kicked off the show and went straight into a product—as it did on Tuesday—you know we’re in for a packed schedule, sometimes the presenters would jog on and off stage to try and speed things up.

On Tuesday, Apple wrapped up a relatively light schedule with a retail update. Not entirely oddly placed in the narrative but totally backwards and out of character—a bit like ending a movie with the beginning.

So what was missing? On the run up to Tuesday’s event, the rumour-mill was in overdrive about these so called Apple Tags. A device, to compete with Tile, to help find lost things. Stick them on your keys, wallet, pets, etc, and be able to find them using a low-energy Bluetooth connection and some proximity guessing.

There was no sign of these so-called ‘tags’ on Tuesday; but Apple has actually given us an insight into what it has planned, scroll down the iPhone 11 Pro product page and you’ll see a header “Can you be more precise? Yes.” Reading the description, Apple details a new technology invented—should I say innovated—in-house, which makes use of a custom piece of silicon called the U1 that “uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness” to help your iPhone “to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices”. Apple finishes by saying: “and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities.” So far, the only benefit is that an iPhone 11 can point at another iPhone 11 and experience faster file sharing with AirDrop…

But connect this detail with the rumours before the event and suddenly you have a set of technologies that allow iPhones to talk to iPhones and give them spatial awareness, and indeed “tags” to talk to iPhones (and other tags?) and allow items to be found in “space”. I suspect that when this all comes together it’ll mean that a ‘tag’ attached to your keys that have dropped down the back of the sofa will be able to be physically located by holding up your iPhone and scanning the room. Innovative.

This leaves the question, was this product cut from Tuesday’s presentation at the last minute and replaced with a short retail update? And thus, was the overall conclusion less innovative than intended. I suspect we’ll know more in October.

Pricing.

Have a conversation with anyone outside of the Apple ecosystem and you’ll pretty quickly stumble onto the subject of price. As someone said to me on Twitter yesterday “What really grinds my gears is the price tag they put on their stuff”. Since the release of the $1,000 iPhone (an innovation in pricing?), Apple has been on a price related journey and it is evident in three areas: price perception, competitive pricing in key markets, and value.

First, price perception. From both Tuesday’s event and the presentation on Apple’s website, it is clear that they are attempting to display the cost of expensive hardware like the iPhone in different ways. Visit the website and follow the customer journey to buy an iPhone and two things will strike home quickly. Apple will present a price option if you have an old device to trade in (a $400 discount at face value) and secondly present a finance option as a primary method of payment (pictured). You have to do a bit of clicking to finally be presented with the $1000 price tag. This was also true of how Apple presented the price during the keynote on Tuesday.

With this Apple ticks two perception boxes: Apple cares about recycling and the environment, and the $1000 iPhone no longer exists.

Second, competitive pricing in key markets. I was first alerted to this when reading about Apple TV+, Apple’s upcoming video streaming service, in the Indian publication Business Standard. Apple has done what it should do, and go price aggressive in important markets. India is exceptionally price sensitive, and not really into recurring subscriptions, and also dominated by big Asian brands like Jio and Hotstar. Apple is pricing Apple TV+ in India at 99Rs (equivalent to $1.50 per month). I was later made aware of Apple’s overall change in pricing strategy in key markets by this tweet, those prices may seem expensive ($1400USD starting for an iPhone 11 Pro) but they are compared to previous years very competitive and compared to the competition very competitive. As Prabhu Ram, head of intelligence group at Cybermedia Research said in The Economic Times: “It will push other players to take note, and cut rates as well”.

This competitive streak does not only apply to India, but also Apple’s home market. Scan across the list of leading smartphones and the iPhone 11 at $699 is exceptionally competitive (only the OnePlus 7 Pro at $669 beats it).

Additionally, Apple has begun to show some flexibility. For example, it is now possible to purchase an Apple Watch with a watch band of choice, rather than a default paring. The savings could be modest, but it’s a notable step. Not to mention, a continuation of Apple’s tactic of moving hardware down the line, this year we see the return of the 2017 Series 3 Watch and the iPhone 8 to fill a low-end price gap for the iPhones.

Third, value proposition. There’s a lot to say about Apple’s ongoing shifting value prop, including whether Apple is beginning to lean too heavily on the privacy element of that proposition. On Tuesday that privacy focus was less evident, and health and the human-factor came back into focus. Apple hit us all right in the feels with their video about the Apple Watch titled ‘Face to Face’ in which customers spoke of how the Watch helped them diagnose medical issues ahead of them becoming serious, or saved them from life-threatening situations.

Additionally, Apple announced a series of health research initiatives, including three research studies on hearing, women’s, heart health and movement.

Over the last few years Apple has begun to calcify a value proposition of health and wellbeing, privacy and security, and technology that works for all and enhances lives and the planet.

From Apple’s boilerplate:

Apple’s more than 100,000 employees are dedicated to making the best products on earth, and to leaving the world better than we found it.

The jury is out on whether Apple’s approach to these three elements of their pricing strategy will convince many that Apple’s pricing is fair and reasonable, but in the last 12 months it is clear that Apple has brought price and value into sharp focus.

Some further reading from this week…

Next week

The September event is behind us, and now come the products. MacStories have very helpfully broken down Apple’s software and hardware release schedules, which are bizarrely chaotic compared to previous years. The key software dates being:

  • iOS 13.0 on September 19th

  • iOS 13.1 on September 30th

  • iPadOS also on 30th (presumably it is 13.1 not 13.0)

  • watchOS 6 on September 19th

  • HomePod update also 30th but with a follow up later in the fall

  • iPadOS and iOS updates with many missing features from iOS 13 also later in fall

Next week I’ll look at Apple’s services strategy as we see it today and let’s look at some of those hardware reviews as they come in.

Apple’s September Spectacular

Just four days to go... Here's the rumour lineup

“Marunouchi has amazing energy and our teams can’t wait to welcome customers to our largest store in Japan for the first time on Saturday.” Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail + People on Apple’s new store in Japan

Apple gears up for its annual iPhone event - here’s what to expect:

Like clockwork Apple is hosting its September event next week, where we will undoubtedly see some new iPhones, of which we know a fair bit, but not everything. It’s fair to ask that in an era where Apple’s iPhone business is fighting tougher battles than ever before, can a slower cycle of innovation keep Apple relevant in the space?

Will we also hear more about Apple’s push into entertainment? How will Apple solidify its move into AR ahead of the long-rumoured “Apple Glasses”?

With those questions in mind and without further ado, here’s a rundown of what to expect on stage Tuesday:

iPhone

Three new iPhone models to replace the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Strongly rumoured to be named iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and the iPhone 11 (top marks to Apple for its continued streak of terrible naming).

We’re expecting similar designs as previous generations, with the Pro models gaining a third camera that takes wide angle shots and the lower-end model gaining a second camera for that 2x zoom.

In addition, on the hardware side it’s rumoured that FaceID will get better at picking up faces when laying flat on a surface, better waterproofing, and upgrades to the glass for more shatter resistance, and a reverse wireless charging feature for charging AirPods on the go.

The iPhone 11 (or maybe 11R?) will also pick up some new colours, green and orange are good bets, as well as continuing to pack Apple next system-on-a-chip (SoC)—the A13.

Watch

Apple’s wearable’s category, led by the watch and AirPods, continues to make big strides year-over-year. The Apple Watch, with no competition in sight, is having its emancipation moment. Last year it was unshackled from the iPhone with the addition of cellular, this year we know that goes further with watchOS 6 and over-the-air updates and downloads. But what will the hardware deliver?

Amongst rumours that the innards will not change at all, in other words remaining the Series 4, we see some hints of external tweaks. This is afterall a fashion device as well as a computer. There was a leak about titanium and the return of ceramic to the casings and some new straps.

Software wise, there are suggestions that Apple will continue to bolster the strength of its health offering with sleep tracking coming to the watch. Maybe a development of its acquisition of Beddit.

Apple TV

Now we’re straying into full on ‘maybe’ rumours. Many are arguing that Apple’s tiny TV box is overdue an update (last done 24 months ago), with an anonymous rumour pointing towards a modest update to the A12 SoC to help push graphics for Apple Arcade games. The current Apple TV features an A10X—the X indicating more graphics oomph—so the suggested move to the A12 will unlikely bolster the graphics performance much further than the current A10X.

Either way, the Apple TV will get stage time as an Apple Arcade platform.

Apple Tag

Another long-term swirling rumour, but signs are now pointing towards this one becoming a reality. The Tile-esque Bluetooth tracking devices are strongly alluded to in iOS 13 code, and the name change of Find my iPhone to simply ‘Find My’ suggests we’ll see this new hardware on Tuesday.

Apple’s revision of the item tracking tool will apparently use AR to help track items visually in the real world. It’s yet to be seen how this fits in Apple’s overall strategy, with many of their own devices already taking advantage of technologies to allow them to be tracked—especiallyMacBook Pros that can be tracked via Bluetooth by other nearby Macs. Will this really be designed for lost car keys, or something bigger?

Wildcard: Will AR glasses also debut?

Code digger extraordinaire Troughton-Smith isn’t betting his house on it, but has indicated that Apple’s AR glasses (goggles?) could be closer than we think. But, Tuesday close?

Tune in next week for my full analysis of the event.

Apple Music web interface

Earlier this week Apple revealed its card by unveiling a beta web interface for Apple Music—almost certainly the death knell for iTunes’ demise but also an important step in competing with Spotify.

Twitter immediately kicked into action showing off the slick interface, with many commenting on how this iTunes-esque style rivaled Apple Music on the iPad for ease of use.

So far a few features are missing compared to the Mac and iOS, notably ‘friends are listening to’, but with the inevitable culling of iTunes in our futures this is a solid step in the right direction.

China used iPhone vulnerabilities to target Uyghur Muslims

In last week’s issue we reported on the breaking news that Google researchers had discovered a series of vulnerabilities within iOS that exposed users by simply visiting a malicious website. TechCrunch has this week reported that the original attack was launched by a state, “likely China”, designed to target the Uyghur community in the country’s Xinjiang state.

It is suggested that the attacked formed part of an effort by the Chinese government to crack down on the minority Muslim community in recent history.

Forbes has followed up on the report to corroborate that the websites were indiscriminate in who they attacked, and the attacks also targeted Windows and Android platforms.

Apple is yet to comment on the vulnerability or its impact.

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