Revisiting the Pre-WWDC 2018 Thoughts

Below are the items I listed in my quickfire Pre-WWDC 2018 Thoughts along with how they shaped up through the keynote. Along with unsolicited commentary.

  1. Tucked or untucked?
    • Mostly tucked I think. but considering there were more women presenters than men on stage, I think this question will be shelved in future. Apple is making good on its promise to become more diverse.
  2. Big Siri improvements and announcements. (Will we see the new Siri chief?)
    • No Siri chief, probably too soon. Besides, he has far too much work to do!
    • Siri had some significant stage time, especially with Siri Shortcuts being demonstrated and mentioned several times through the keynote.
  3. Widespread improvements and announcements for AR, Machine Learning and photo/video features (paving the way for new iPhones coming out later this year).
    • Yes. Plenty of AR announcements on iOS. Some solid stage time spent on ML and plenty of announcements regarding Photos, photo sharing and FaceTime.
  4. Dejarik” AR demo – please! (The space chess game from Star Wars)
    • Sadly not…
  5. Increased security and encryption. As well as increased privacy controls and awareness (Trump/FBI and China proofing).
    • Security, check. Encryption, check. Privacy, double check!
    • Apple launched some shots across the Facebook and ad-tracking bows. Safari doubling down on privacy and making it increasingly difficult for ad tech to find a foothold.
    • Will be interesting to see how the App Limits and Activity Reports have an effect on apps that we waste time in.
    • I wonder what the effect will be on the Facebook apps if in-app usage lowers due to App Limits as well as the curtailing of tracking on the web? Being squeezed from two sides.
    • My guess – not much effect on the giants (likely severe on those in the middle-ground).
  6. Increased and improved Health features.
    • Many announcements here for the Apple Watch.
    • The new Workouts features look great! Especially in context of running with Target Pace, Cadence and Rolling Miles (I hope they have km too?).
    • The Competition features also look appealing for those who are holding each other accountable in their fitness goals.
  7. Will iTunes finally be split into multiple apps?
    • No… not just yet. But… Apple Books, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts… Apple Video? We are almost there if you squint at it.
  8. New apps and services to bolster the burgeoning “Apple Services” narrative.
    • Definitely a lot of focus on Apple apps such as News, Stocks and the all new Apple Books.
    • No mention of Clips though?
  9. Increased iCloud storage tiers and options (iCloud TimeMachine anyone?).
    • No and no.
    • I think iCloud Storage is likely making up a decent chunk of the revenue in the Apple’s service narrative and to increase the tier sizes and lower the price may have a negative effect on that story just as Wall Street is getting on board.
    • That being said, an iCloud based TimeMachine-like backup service would be additive, not subtractive. Is iCloud Storage not already doing this you say? I am speaking in the macOS context here, so no. Effectively it would be doing what a service like Backblaze already does.
  10. Improved/re-designed Mac App Store (not expecting Mac Pro updates just yet…)
    • Yes. Called it!
    • Will be interesting to see how this fares “second time around”. Big questions around sandboxing.
    • Certainly interesting to see Microsoft and Adobe on board. However, Lightroom is not, to my mind, one of the bigger Adobe apps. Adobe testing the water maybe?
    • Having bonafides such as Panic and BareBones in the store are a vote of confidence.
    • I believe Sketch is still missing?
  11. Apple TV news to lay foundations for whatever streaming plans Apple has.
    • Well… I don’t know the American cable market well enough to know whether Charter Spectrum is a big or small fish… but judging by the lack of crowd reaction it seemed like a very small fish. I think the number was 50 million subscribers? Which does not sound very big in comparison to the US market. It’s progress I suppose. Out of all the segments, it really felt like Apple had to wring as much as they could out this segment without much to work on.
    • Yes, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos are crowd pleasers, especially with the free upgrades (but we knew these were coming right?).
    • Apple spent an awful lot of time on what amounts to very expensive and very beautiful screensavers.
    • Out of all the segments, this section reminded me of John Gruber’s “how Apple rolls” column the most. Progress, no matter how slow it may seem in the moment, Apple keep plugging away at the features.
  12. Apple TV games announcements?
    • No. For a developer conference it seemed the Apple TV segment was devoid of any developer related news. Surely… surely this is coming? All Metal and no cigar.
  13. Incremental improvements for Apple Maps.
    • Not that I can remember. But the announcements that third party navigation apps will be available in CarPlay sure roused a cheer. (Louder than the Charter Spectrum one I think)
  14. Any mentions of this possible MacOS/iOS platform unification?
    • Yes! Big news!
  15. HomePod love? (Now that AirPlay 2 and audio-pairing just got released – what next for HomePod)
    • Well… Siri Shortcuts on HomePod, so yes.
  16. Fruits of the Workflow and Shazaam acquisitions?
    • No mention of Shazaam, maybe these integrations are coming with the iPhone announcements later this year?
    • As for Workflow, I suspect they had a hand in a lot of the Siri Shortcuts, but this is just speculation.
  17. China, China, and more China.
    • Didi mention! Claiming it.
  18. More diversity on stage.
    • Big yes! Never mind Tim and Craig running on and off stage, we had Jules cycling on stage!
  19. Everything faster and more battery efficient. (So that products later this year are as thin or thinner than ever).
    • YES!
  20. Extra points for every mention of security, privacy, machine learning, AR.
    • All of the above (but thematically, these were easy calls, so no kudos here.)

Out of 20 items listed, only 18 of which could really be said to be predictions: I score myself at 12/18. Not too shabby!

Pre-WWDC 2018 Thoughts

Just some quickfire thoughts before WWDC gets on the go. Broadly, I think (or is that hope?) some big themes will be:

  • Tucked or untucked?
  • Big Siri improvements and announcements. (Will we see the new Siri chief?)
  • Widespread improvements and announcements for AR, Machine Learning and photo/video features (paving the way for new iPhones coming out later this year).
  • Dejarik” AR demo – please! (The space chess game from Star Wars)
  • Increased security and encryption. As well as increased privacy controls and awareness (Trump/FBI and China proofing).
  • Increased and improved Health features.
  • Will iTunes finally be split into multiple apps?
  • New apps and services to bolster the burgeoning “Apple Services” narrative.
  • Increased iCloud storage tiers and options (iCloud TimeMachine anyone?).
  • Improved/re-designed Mac App Store (not expecting Mac Pro updates just yet…)
  • Apple TV news to lay foundations for whatever streaming plans Apple has.
  • Apple TV games announcements?
  • Incremental improvements for Apple Maps.
  • Any mentions of this possible MacOS/iOS platform unification?
  • HomePod love? (Now that AirPlay 2 and audio-pairing just got released – what next for HomePod)
  • Fruits of the Workflow and Shazaam acquisitions?
  • China, China, and more China.
  • More diversity on stage.
  • Everything faster and more battery efficient. (So that products later this year are as thin or thinner than ever).
  • Extra points for every mention of security, privacy, machine learning, AR.

These are all wild guesses. As always, it will be exciting to see what is coming down the Apple pipes!

Digital Subscriptions

With the recent annoucement that Bloomberg has moved behind a metered paywall, I am starting to wonder at which point these subscription businesses start to combine and consolidate?

One gets the feeling we are passing the early stage of the digital subscription era and may soon, if not already, be moving into the digital subscription consolidation era.

Currently, subscriptions fall into categories or buckets. Each category has several contenders. For example:

  • Video – Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, Disney (still to come), Showmax etc
  • Music – Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google/YouTube Music
  • Audio – Audible (and podcasts)
  • Education – Pluralsight, Lynda, Udacity, Udemy, MOOCs, The Great Courses etc
  • News – The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Guardian (donation based)
  • News niches – For example, in tech you have subscription newsletters such as Stratechery, Above Avalon and a few others.

The challenge for the contenders is that not all categories are equal and ultimately, all subscriptions are competing for share of pocket. Some categories likely have space for a few subscriptions, while others have space for only one or two.

Video

A cutomer could foreseeably have space for 3 or 4 video services if you can/want to bear the cost. Since the content on the different channels subscriptions is highly differentiated and typically have block-buster halo titles which are exclusive (i.e. Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Grand Tour etc) – there is more chance that people could justify a few video subscriptions. One could see the market settling into a pattern such as: Netflix as the de facto subscription, Amazon Prime Video in the second spot since it comes bundled with Prime and then possibly a slot or two for HBO or Disney since they have the blockbuster, must-see content. Beyond that, niches may emerge to cater to specific interests such as anime or horror films. Even as I write this however, I suspect that 3 or 4 is likely too many. Maybe it will settle at only 1 or two?

(It should be noted that the video space could be augmented by a purchase/rental model like iTunes – there are situations where someone may not want to subscribe monthly when they only want to watch one or two movies/titles once-off.)

Music

In music, there can be only one. I doubt there are many people willing to pay for multiple music services (since the content is mostly identical – give or take a few “exclusives”), unless it was particularly niche – for example Primephonic for classical music. However, if you are a classical music fan, you may still only pay for one – the classical one! Music services do not have the same dynamics as the video subscriptions. If anything, the music subscriptions seem to be moving towards consolidation with a video service which may indicate many people do not want multiple subscriptions – they only want one for all their needs (TV bundle anyone?). For example, the Spotify/Hulu bundle as well as Apple’s coming video entry which may or may not be bundled with Apple Music. From that perspective you could see a customer having their direct Netflix subscription for video, their Amazon Prime Video because it comes with Prime and then possibly Hulu because it is bundled with Spotify. As such, a customer has access to multiple video channels subscriptions while not necessarily paying directly for 3 video subscriptions.

Audio (Audiobooks/podcasts)

Similar to music, I think subscribers will only have space for one provider in the audiobook space (that is to say – if they even listen to audiobooks!). While there is currently a surge in the podcast industry, to date, podcasts are free and advertising supported. To my knowledge, there are not (yet?) subscription-specific podcasts. (The structure of the podcast industry seems most akin to the TV industry – in that they have networks hosting a variety of content in their stable, all supported by advertising)

Education

When it comes to education, this depends heavily on what someone’s interests or needs might be and whether that person values ongoing education. If they do value direct education, the next big question is whether they like to learn via video? In my own case, I think there will be more shifting or churn from one provider to another based on your specific work or education needs at the time. Similar to the video category (and it should be said – all these education sites are heavily focused on video), most providers are subscription based, while there is still a space for players like Udemy which sell individual courses (usually through sale pricing and 2 for 1 deals). This works nicely for my needs as I have a specific interest in programming (Pluralsight) and where I cannot find a topic on that platform, I can supplement it with a course or two from Udemy that deals with that specific topic. What is interesting to note here, is that popular teachers on Udemy are able to launch their own subscription based businesses off the back of the popularity/success on Udemy.

It should be noted – niches are very strong in this field – Udacity is heavily pushing AI and machine-learning courses. A Cloud Guru is, as the name indicates, focused specifically on Amazon Web Services (and more recently Azure). There are smaller providers that focus on an even smaller niches for JavaScript libraries such as Angular (Ultimate Angular) or React (Tyler McGinnis) for example.

News

Then it comes to news. If we look back on the “old model” of paper-based subscriptions, people tended to subscribe to one or two newspapers. Typically their local paper and then possibly another national or even international paper. On top of that, someone may subscribe to a handful of magazines (maybe). I get the feeling there will be a similar trend for the news bucket. While subscription numbers will likely be good for the big brand names, this is not a business model many publications will be able to follow – especially because the customer’s budget is spread between all of these services regardless of category. Keep in mind, these same people are already paying for their other existing subscriptions in other categories. I might read Bloomberg articles quite frequently, however, I would not pay $39,99 a month for their content. As such, I am not their customer and that is OK for me, and OK for them. 120 articles a year (10 free articles a month) is likely more than enough for my own reading habits. The difficulty is that news cycles are not regular, news happens as it happens and thus 10 articles a month means little as a result. Someone may end up wanting to read more than 10articles in a particular month and then that same person may not read any at articles from the publication at all for months on end depending on where else they get their news (more on this below). While these big brand news outlets typically cover all areas, over time they are going to have to specialise in order so that customers can justify the cost of the subscription – especially if they have numerous subscriptions. Customers will not want to see the same stories and content rehashed across publications. The interesting thing will be to see how these focuses and niches start to play out between the big names.

News Niches

Then you get the specialised news and commentary. These publications are usually focused on a particular niche or a particular view/commentary on a niche. It is likely, that attention will be directed by these niches towards certain of the larger big name brands. For example, a tech publisher may direct traffic to particular sources based on their own subscription or reading habits. These publications usually act as filters or editorial on the news or what someone needs to know in their particular niche. In the tech space, one can get quite far in terms of knowing what events of importance are happening by following Stratechery (subscription) and a handful of (free) websites such as Daring Fireball. This means that possible subscriptions may be based on the subscription habits of your own upstream subscriptions – for example, if Ben Thompson subscribes to publications X, Y, Z and frequently links to them – it is likely that his own readership may be moulded by his own subscriptions over time. How these moulds are set will be based on how the larger subscriptions themselves focus on or cover niches. In essence, there will be a doubling down on niches.

This is all a long-winded way of saying, as much as niche and digital subscriptions are unbundling the news/media bundle – this unbundling is inevitably leading to a re-bundling a little farther down the line.

The Duplex Demo

Google CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated an impressive and somewhat creepy version of a new feature coming to Google Assistant at Google I/O. Google Duplex, as the feature is called, is able to make a phone call and book an appointment at a hair salon and a table at a restaurant on behalf of the user.

  • The impressive part of this demonstration was how real the Google Assistant sounded as well as how well it handled the call.
  • The creepy part of this was that the person on the receiving end of the phone call did not seem to notice that the caller was not a real person. (Had I answered that phone, I would not have thought it was a computer on the other side).

This has raised several questions over the possible use and deployment of this technology. As is often the case, despite Sundar Pichai saying that Google wants to “get this right” in terms of the user experience for both customers and businesses – the demonstration displayed little attempt to address what many in the tech press feel should be required from this technology. Namely, transparency.

In Google’s defence, they have said as much on the accompanying blog post announcing the technology. Yaniv Leviathan and Yossi Matias writing at the Google AI Blog:

“The Google Duplex technology is built to sound natural, to make the conversation experience comfortable. It’s important to us that users and businesses have a good experience with this service, and transparency is a key part of that. We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context. We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months. “

Looking at this situation it is easy to see both Google and the tech press’s positions on the demonstration – particularly, what Google means by transparency is that the receiver understands the intent of the call. What the press means by transparency is that the receiver knows who/what is making the call.

“The Google Duplex technology is built to sound natural”

Some commenters (myself included) feel that the Google Assistant should identify itself. Especially because it sounds natural and real. However, I sympathise with Google here because in order for a conversation to sound natural, the person on the receiving end needed to feel comfortable. Had the person been told they were speaking to Google Assistant or a robot, the conversation may have gone a lot differently and not demoed well. (Turing Test anyone?)

As for whether these kinds of assistants should even sound like humans at all, again, this would not have demoed well for Google because, it is likely that the person would have hung up the phone. Again, I sympathise with Google here because, from personal experience, when I get called by automated systems, I hang up immediately. The reality is that this is a demo and Google is demonstrating the prowess of their technology to both consumers and to competitors. What is being demonstrated is:

  1. Look how natural it sounds!
  2. Look how well the assistant handles the call and the intricacies of it!
  3. Look how far we have come!

Google are aware of the impact such technology would have – the use cases are rather compelling:

  • As a business, I would certainly appreciate having to answer less calls during holiday periods and customers will appreciate having more up to date information.
  • As a customer, yes, I can see the benefit of an assistant making a call on my behalf when I am in a rush as being useful.

What Google completely missed in the demo however, is that much of the subsequent negative commentary around the demonstration could be (at least somewhat) addressed by being more specific in terms of what is being experimented with. For example, would it not have made a difference to the tone of the subsequent reporting had Sundar Pichai said something along the lines of:

“We understand this technology sounds like a real person and has progressed to the point at which it raises several questions in terms of usage. Some of the topics we are considering in our experiments are how to announce to the receiver of the call who is calling? Which voice should the assistant speak with in order to put the person on the on the receiving end at ease? And since this technology makes it possible to make many calls without humans making the actual calls, what large scale use cases are we going to enable so that customers are not spammed? We will be experimenting with this technology in the coming weeks.”

I do not work in PR, so I have no idea whether a statement such as the above would work. However, it does attempt to address the possible concerns raised by the use of this technology. Tech companies are going to be running into these situations more frequently as technology increasingly moves into more personal and ‘real’ interactions. The tech press have their scopes locked in on these companies and their announcements. Executives should be able to effectively address the issues around their technologies before, during and after release in order to ensure success. Effective communication on these topics is important as these companies come under ever more scrutiny.

Parting thought:

If Google Assistant can make the calls on behalf of the customer, can the business/customer not use the Google Assistant in the same way to answer them?

If so, why is a call even necessary if there is an Assistant on both sides?

Watched in January

Films

The Last Jedi

I enjoyed it! I felt some of the parts were greater than the whole, but will withhold further thoughts until the customary second viewing. That fight scene though! The sequences on the salt planet were also a highlight!

Coco

Amazing! Such an entertaining, emotional and enjoyable film! One of Pixar’s best to my mind. The film deals with some serious topics in a very mature and adult manner. Fun and adventurous. One of the most colourful and visually impressive films in ages.

Dunkirk

An intense, visceral experience. There is very little dialogue and a lot of slowly building tension. There are no real heroes or villains. No real story or characters telling us how it is. Dunkirk just unfolds in front of you without reasons or conclusions. Highly recommended.

Bright

I love the idea for this film – a fantasy setting, in modern Los Angeles. Humans, orcs, elves and fairies. I even thought I saw a centaur in the background. I am surprised the concept has not been done on film before (to my knowledge). It is a cop-buddy movie. Think “Bad Boys Meets 16 Blocks in Middle Earth LA” (but not as fun). Smith and Edgerton keep it fun and the banter is entertaining and at times hilarious. The film is quite uneven though, and in the end, does not live up to the promise of the premise.

Series

Ozark

This is a great show! I started it in December, but only finished it this month. It builds slowly, and gripped me from the start. Think “Breaking Bad via The Big Short”. The comparison to Breaking Bad doesn’t end there though. Several of the episodes have those holy-shit, that escalated really quickly moments. I enjoyed the cinematography, and the acting is solid. I cannot wait for Season 2!

Documentaries

What the Health

A difficult documentary to watch as it cuts right to the heart at the centre of daily life and culture. Food. It reveals disturbing practices in the food industry and reminds us, that we cannot trust the big, corporate household brands we take for granted. This movie makes me think that the mass-market food industry is the “big tobacco” of this age. Corruption, legal/governmental/legislative skullduggery and prioritising profits before people by any means. In many ways, these companies are worse than big tobacco because they are mistreating animals, misinforming and actively harming humans on a scale tobacco companies could only dream of. All the while pretending to be your best friend. Scary.

Incremental Amazon

While Amazon does not have the presence in South Africa that it has overseas, personally, I have felt Amazon’s presence beginning to expand in my day to day. This got me thinking of the incremental nature in which Amazon seem able to build its business. Slowly chipping away at the whole, adding to my monthly spend bit by bit.

Audible

I listen to Audible almost every day. Twice a day during the workweek to and from work and then on the weekend if I find myself driving somewhere on my own. Recently I have also started listening in between other things, like when getting ready for work, or when washing dishes and so forth. I am on the Gold monthly subscription which is $14.95 per month. I have been listening prolifically of late and have upped the speed of my listening to 1.25x. This has led me to start thinking about upgrading my subscription. We will see.

Regarding 1.25x speed – I find this speed does not distort the reading much and after a few minutes sounds just right. Switching back to 1x speed I hardly notice the difference.

IMDB

I love the IMDB app! It is on the home screen of my iPhone (as is Audible) and it sees a lot of usage. Despite this, there does not seem to be a pull into further Amazon activity like purchasing films. This is likely a barrier of delivery in that Amazon is not willing to sell via the App Store due to Apple’s 30% cut and cannot link directly into their own store. And now, due to Amazon Prime Video being bundled with Prime, I suppose the push would only result in a one time purchase regardless.

While on the topic, I have recently been dying to see links, similar to the “Cast and Crew” links for both:

  • The network that runs the show such as Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu etc to get a list of all the available shows.
  • The production houses behind the films to get a list of the string of films they produce.
  • Links to where to watch as I have recently struggled to find certain titles.

Goodreads

I recently started recording my reading activity in Goodreads. I really enjoying taking a look through my Audible history and seeing what I have listened to in the past. I wanted a similar experience for my reading. Now, Goodreads does not seem able to provide the same stats that Audible does, but it at least keeps a measure of progress. I imagine there will be a much tighter coupling in Goodreads between what I browse and what I might purchase in future.

  • I do wish I could log a start and end time of my reading session.
  • I do not yet see a space with stats? It would be great to see stats on daily pages, average speeds etc.

Amazon Prime Video

I am not a Prime subscriber, so to date, I have not watched any Amazon Prime Video content nor have I subscribed. However, I have installed the Apple TV app, and have browsed through it a few times. Recently, I have checked Amazon Prime Video on four separate occasions to see whether there was content available that I could not find on Netflix and iTunes. Had the films in question been available there, it is likely I would have signed up. As such, it is just a matter of time.

For the record, the three films I was looking for were:

  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Cabin in the Woods
  • Escape from New York

Amazon

Up until a few weeks ago I had never bought anything on Amazon. However, as a result of some resolutions I made, I was looking to buy some programming books. I had made an attempt at reading them online, but while I read a lot online, long form content is not something I do well with on my phone. It almost all exclusively RSS feeds, blog posts and articles. Since these books were not available in Exclusive Books or on Takealot, I figured I should try Amazon. The waiting period has been about 2-3 weeks due to international shipping, but if you plan your purchasing ahead, it works out really well. So far I have bought 3x programming books, 3x cookbooks, a non-fiction book as well as a book for my father. The ease of this process and the way the Amazon app keeps you right up to date with the detailed progress of your order has made it a really good experience. One that I am already planning on repeating soon. Now, it is only a matter of time until that Amazon Prime subscription raises its head.

To date: 1 delivery was late by about 2-3 days. The other was a week early!

Amazon Web Services

Lastly, and maybe not least, is Amazon Web Services. To date, I have never used Amazon Web Services in a development capacity. However, since using Azure at work, I have become a keen learner on the topic of cloud services for development and I imagine that, once again, it is only a matter of time until I dip my toe in the AWS waters to try it out.

Conclusion

Amazon, despite not having much of a direct presence in my life (until recently) is slowly, but surely carving out niches in my day-to-day usage as well as my month-to-month spend. No doubt this effect has been a lot more drastic for many years in markets such as the USA, UK and Europe, but it does bear thinking about. That the long, slow game, with the right products and strategy can shave off more and more of the share of wallet.

Audible Sidenote:

I love Audible, however the more I think about it, the Gold/Platinum structure of the membership levels seem positively outdated. Paying $14.95 a month for a single credit seems almost archaic in comparison to today’s Netflix-style all you can eat subscriptions. I subscribe to the Netflix Dual Screen subscription as well as the Apple Music Family Plan and both of these offer unlimited use on multiple devices. It seems to strange to have a relatively “expensive” subscription which allows you only 1 credit and (what amounts to) 1 device.

Granted, I still believe Audible is fair. Even listening as much as I do, one credit a month more or less works out perfectly. I do not find myself without credits, and more often than not, I find myself playing catch-up. The thing is, a lot of thought goes into that credit. I actually look forward to browsing, evaluating, planning and choosing my purchase this way. I tend to be calculated and measured in my selections.  Though I hate to say it, listening time definitely has a big impact on my choices. I seldom select a book under 15 hours of listening time. The reality is that, while there may be thousands of really good short books out there that I want to listen to, but with only 1 credit a month, it a waste to spend it on a short book. I think this is where, I wish Amazon had a little more play in their Audible offering since the only options are 12 or 24 titles on subscription. In the same breath, it is great that a book that is 80 hours can be had for the same amount as a book of 6 hours. But still, going short feels like missing out, and as a result, there are many quality titles that I likely will not listen to as a result. I get the feeling that had Amazon not had such a firm grip on the audiobook market, this “restrictive” approach to subscriptions may have proven to be a potential weak spot to be used as an attack mechanism. Alas, this does not seem to be the case. I have started to look around at alternatives to Audbile however, the search is early and my decisions are slow to build when it comes to purchasing.

That being said, two of those alternatives, not surprisingly are from Amazon itself. Bundled Audible as a benefit of Amazon Prime as well as the Kindle Unlimited deal which bundles Kindle books along with their Audible companions with Whispersync. Both fall short (by design I am sure) since the selections in both are so limited. Having experienced, what I find to be, quite uninspired selections in the Audible 2 for 1 sales, I have no intention of limiting my choices to either 50 rotating titles from Audible or to the large, but still limited set of audio titles available on Kindle Unlimited. (On that note, I have never used a Kindle and when I have read books on my iPhone, that has been via iBooks)

Uber and UberEats:

I have had a similar feeling when it comes to Uber. For quite some time, Uber had been slowly increasing in usage in my own life. Then when UberEats launched, my girlfriend and I started using it now and then to order in. This also got me to thinking about how companies, by satisfying jobs to be done, slowly start shaving off pocket share in other markets and from competitors. Personally, I think it is a hugely effective approach for companies with the kind of scale that makes the approach viable.

Pre-HomePod

It seems that the anticipation surrounding the soon to be released HomePod is more centred around a desire to tear it down and declare Amazon Echo or Google Home to be the winner in the expanding voice assistant category than it is for the actual anticipation of the product. Once the reviews drop, we can expect plenty of:

  • It is too expensive.
  • Siri is worse than Alexa/Assistant/Cortana.
  • I cannot do X, Y or Z on HomePod.
  • The sound isn’t as good as X, Y, Z.
  • Apple is doomed.

In the meantime, I will be looking forward to reading about (and eventually hearing) how good of speaker it is.

2 years ago I bought a JBL Charge 3 for my girlfriend. It is one of the best purchases I have ever made. It sounds good, it’s portable, the battery lasts a good while and it is even waterproof. One thing it is not, is smart or have a voice. While the JBL Charge 3 is great, I am looking for something a little more permanent to pair with the Apple TV in the lounge while the JBL Charge 3 can go in the bedroom or go with us on holiday. As far as I am concerned, any smart/voice features are all upside. The jobs to be done in my case are:

  • Music
  • Audio for video
  • Podcasts

I would not underestimate the value of a good speaker. The real test will be to see how HomePod compares to higher end speakers and audio systems. It is interesting to consider HomePod not as an over-priced, under-featured voice assistant, but rather as a low-end entrant to the high-end audio market.

 

About Those iPhone X Supply Chain Rumours

Mike Wuerthele wrote an article at AppleInsider about a KGI Securities research note regarding the iPhone X titled:

“If iPhone X demand is less than expected, analyst expects it to be ‘end of life’ when replacements ship”

The “internet” then decided that this meant the iPhone X would be cancelled due to weak sales.

My advice is to read Wuerthele’s article from bottom to top for a better understanding of what KGI Securities analyst Ming Chi Kuo is actually saying.

Here is my summary:

  • Analyst expects trio of iPhone models in 2018 with possible launch of iPhone X Plus.
  • Current iPhone X is unlikely to be retained in line-up once replaced.
  • Notch may be affecting impact in China.
  • Shipments of 18 million iPhone Xs expected in Q1.
  • No comment on holiday sales.
  • Analyst expects 10% iPhone growth in 2018.
  • Firm remains positive on the Apple and the iPhone supply chain.

Don’t believe the clickbait.

Apple 2018

In the spirit of some speculative fun, here are my guesses at what Apple may or may not do in 2018:

iPhone

It is going to be fascinating to see what Apple does with the iPhone line in 2018. 2017 introduced 3 models: iPhone X, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. What happens with the traditional ‘S’ cycle upgrade since being upturned by the latest release cycle?

Generally Apple does not introduce new form factors in the ‘S’ cycle (last year being the exception) and this cycle is traditionally focused on software-based introductions and improvements. Does this mean we will see:

  • iPhone XS.
  • iPhone 8S.
  • iPhone 8S Plus.
  • iPhone SE (with iPhone 7 internals).
  • New battery case (Has anyone noticed Marty Bird’s continual use of the battery case in Ozark?)

It will be fascinating to see what Apple does in 2019 to the “old” iPhone form factor. Depending on how the iPhone 8/X sales go, might we see the “old” form factor kept as the low-cost option, or will it fall away completely? On that note, I suspect 2019 will see the release of:

  • iPhone X (What will it be called? iPhone X2?).
  • Will we see a dual-camera iPhone X?
  • iPhone X Plus.
  • Apple Pencil integration for iPhone X Plus.
  • What will happen to the notch?
    • The race to a fully-full-screen phone is on and there are big questions around how to solve for the front-facing camera and sensors in order to achieve this.

AirPods

  • New AirPods.
  • New colours.
  • Pricing of new vs old AirPods.
  • Another interesting AirPods question is when will we see “low-end” AirPods in the box with new iPhones? (Could this be on the cards as the product line matures and the components move down the cost curve making EarPods-level AirPods ‘Lite’ possible?)
  • I suspect the AirPods serve as a successful up-sell, so providing AirPods in the box might cannibalise “high-end” AirPods so we may see the form factor remain constant for a while. Maybe there is space to incorporate the AirPods price into the iPhone as iPhone price pushes upwards?
  • Do AirPods remain a single form-factor product line? Does Apple widen the product offering to include on or over-ear headphones that compete with Beats?
  • When we will see cellular connectivity in the AirPods?

iPad

  • After the raft of iPad updates in 2017, will Apple continue this story in 2018?
  • iPad with iPhone X-like bezel-less design.
  • iPad with FaceID.
  • New (smaller) Apple Pencil.
  • Improved iPad keyboards/cases.
  • What of these MacOS/iOS combination rumours?

Apple Watch

  • Always-on time (‘Finally’ becoming a ‘real’ watch.)
  • I suspect there will be one more year of the current form-factor before a thinner Apple Watch in 2019.
  • Or do we see a new form-factor this year and always-on remains a hanging fruit? (Apple must be itching to get a thinner Watch out there! Would likely be a good push on the upgrade cycle. Especially considering all those health-insurance subsidised watches out there.)
  • When (if ever) does Apple breakout Apple Watch numbers?

HomePod

  • Release within Q1?
  • And what of Siri integration?

Siri

  • Looking forward to many improvements as Siri is now under Craig Federighi (along with iOS, MacOS, TvOS and WatchOS)
  • Multi-lingual support is an area Apple can claw back on the “Amazon Echo” lead. The presence of smart speakers in non-English markets is still in the very early to non-existent stages it seems.

Mac Pro

  • Will the Mac Pro see the light of day in 2018 as announced?
  • And what about those external monitors?
  • Big questions around form factor? (To avoid thermal corners)

MacBook and MacBook Pros

  • Will we see regular spec bumps in order to avoid the very long upgrade cycles and ever-rising (but currently relatively dormant) Mac criticisms?
  • What happens to the TouchBar? (Does Apple keep it (surely?) and continue to maintain two lines of MacBook Pro?)
  • What more will we find out about the MacOS/iOS combination? ARM-based Macs? LTE Macs?
  • Increased usage of T-series processors (and other Apple silicon) across the Mac range.

The HomePod, Mac Pro and MacBook/Pro release and upgrade cycles will come under scrutiny. Apple has made announcements and commitments to these and already the HomePod is slipping. Will be keeping an eye here to see if the others slip too.

Mac App Store

  • Phil Schiller’s leadership of the App Store has resulted in great improvements to the iOS App Store. When will we see the fruits of his leadership come to the Mac App Store?

Apple TV

  • Dolby Atmos.
  • Improved remote (Likely only in 2019 with new Apple TV hardware).
  • Game controller? (Likely only paired with new hardware. If ever.)
  • Anyone other than Gene MApple TV TV.

Apple Video and Music

  • Launch of first batch of Apple streaming video series.
  • Improvement of Apple Music interface and recommendations.
  • Shazam integration.

iCloud

  • Improved iCloud free and paid tiers.
  • Streamlining of iCloud features – the iCloud authentication and password flows still seem horribly touchy and strange to me.

Project Titan

  • What happens with CarPlay?
  • More rumours… leaks? (Likely that those leaks will only start in earnest once the supply chain comes into play.)

Other areas of interest will be:

Now that the majority of the work on Apple Campus and the Apple Stores seems to be done, where will Jony Ive be exerting his focus?What will be revealed about Apples US plans in terms of campuses, hiring, cash and tax repatriation?What effect will moving to the new campus have on the employees and their work?Will Apple be able to batten down the hatches in terms of public and somewhat embarrassing bugs?Come what may, it is going to be an exciting year!

Update 23/01/2018

Apple have announced that HomePod will be available in Apple Stores in US, UK and Australia on 9 Feb. Multi-room audio, stereo pair and AirPlay2 will however only be added in future software updates.

News of Interest

Xiaomi and Huawei to Enter US Market

Mark Gurman, Yuan Gao, Scott Moritz and Selena Wang writing for Bloomberg:

“Huawei Technology Co. and Xiaomi Corp. are in talks with U.S. wireless operators about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The handset makers are negotiating with carriers including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Talks are still fluid and it’s possible no agreements will materialize, they said.”

Firstly, I am surprised Huawei and Xiaomi have not entered the US market via carrier channels already.

Secondly, and this is purely in my own observation, the people I know using Huawei or Xiaomi phones are generally people who used to buy Samsung phones. The iPhone has never been the market leader by market share. Samsung has. Clearly Apple is doomed.

App Store Pre-orders

Following on the developer bad news from the banning of template generated apps from the App Store some good news! Apple has introduced pre-ordering of apps to all developers along with the option to provide discounted pricing. This will certainly be boon in terms of drumming up interest and pre-orders.

App Store Introductory Pricing (and Free Trial Periods) for Subscriptions

Apple have also added introductory pricing to auto-renewable subscriptions. This option allows the developer to offer the app for free or at a lower price for a defined amount of time. While this is not “trial period” leading to a once off purchase. It is a step in the right direction and will certainly help developers nudge would-be customers over the purchasing line.

200 – 300%

Vincent Laforet writing about his experience with the new iMac Pro:

“Whether you’re editing 8K RED video, H.264 4K Drone footage, 6K 3D VR content or 50 Megapixel RAW stills — you can expect a 200-300% increase in performance in almost every industry leading software with the iMac Pro.

I’ve seldom seen a jump this dramatic before on any new generation of Macs — 20%-30% speed increases are the norm … NOT 200%-300% increases. That’s SIGNIFICANT.”

That performance increase really does seem significant – was the jump in performance from iPhone 7 -> 8 -> X that much?

More Uber Underhandedness

Andrew J Hawkins writing for The Verge:

“At first glance, the Jacobs letter an incredibly detailed accounting of multiple unlawful actions by the ride-hail company. He alleges that Uber’s secretive Strategic Services Group (SSG) “frequently engaged in fraud and theft, and employed third-party vendors to obtain unauthorized data or information.” He also accuses Uber security officers of “hacking” and “destruction of evidence related to eavesdropping against opposition groups.” And he says Uber’s ex-CEO Travis Kalanick knew about a lot of it.”

Seems to me Uber under Kalanick invested an awful lot of time, effort and money into areas other than actually improving their service and product.

At least it seems like new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will not be putting up with any of it:

“With regard to the allegations outlined in Ric Jacobs’ letter, I can tell you that we have not been able to substantiate every one of his claims, including any related to Waymo. But I will also say that there is more than enough there to merit serious concern. As I hope you’ve seen over the past 2.5 months, I will always be fair when people admit mistakes or bring hard problems to me. But let me be clear: I have drawn a line. I will not tolerate misconduct or misbehavior that was endorsed or excused in the past. Period.”

CDC Gets List of 7 Forbidden Words

Lena H. Sun and Julia Eilperin writing for The Washington Post:

“Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.”

I have another 7 words as a suggestion for a response to this list.