Apple finally launches a Screen Time API for app developers

Just after the release of iOS 12 in 2018, Apple introduced its own built-in screen time tracking tools and controls. In then began cracking down on third-party apps that had implemented their own screen time systems, saying they had done so through via technologies that risked user privacy. What wasn’t available at the time? A Screen Time API that would have allowed developers to tap into Apple’s own Screen Time system and build their own experiences that augmented its capabilities. That’s now changed.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, it introduced a new Screen Time API that offers developer access to frameworks that will allow parental control experience that also maintains user privacy.

The company added three new Swift frameworks to the iOS SDK that will allow developers to create apps that help parents manage what a child can do across their devices and ensure those restrictions stay in place.

The apps that use this API will be able to set restrictions like locking accounts in place, preventing password changes, filtering web traffic, and limiting access to applications. These sorts of changes are already available through Apple’s Screen Time system, but developers can now build their own experiences where these features are offered under their own branding and where they can then expand on the functionality provided by Apple’s system.

 

Developers’ apps that take advantage of the API can also be locked in place so it can only be removed from the device with a parent’s approval.

The apps can authenticate the parents and ensure the device they’re managing belongs to a child in the family. Plus, Apple said the way the system will work lets parents choose the apps and websites they want to limit, without compromising user privacy. (The system returns only opaque tokens instead of identifiers for the apps and website URLs, Apple told developers, so the third-parties aren’t gaining access to private user data like app usage and web browsing details. This would prevent a shady company from building a Screen Time app only to collect troves of user data about app usage, for instance.)

The third-party apps can also create unique time windows for different apps or types of activities, and warn the child when time is nearly up. When it registers the time’s up, the app lock down access to websites and apps and perhaps remind the child it’s time to their homework — or whatever other experience the developer has in mind.

And on the flip side, the apps could create incentives for the child to gain screen time access after they complete some other task, like doing homework, reading or chores, or anything else.

Developers could use these features to design new experiences that Apple’s own Screen Time system doesn’t allow for today, by layering their own ideas on top of Apple’s basic set of controls. Parents would likely fork over their cash to make using Screen Time controls easier and more customized to their needs.

Other apps could tie into Screen Time too, outside of the “family” context — like those aimed at mental health and wellbeing, for example.

Of course, developers have been asking for a Screen Time API since the launch of Screen Time itself, but Apple didn’t seem to prioritize its development until the matter of Apple’s removal of rival screen time apps was brought up in an antitrust hearing last year. At the time, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company’s decision by explaining that apps had been using MDM (mobile device management) technology, which was designed for managing employee devices in the enterprise, not home use. This, he said, was a privacy risk.

Apple has a session during WWDC that will detail how the new API works, so we expect we’ll learn more soon as the developer info becomes more public.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

#api, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #ceo, #computing, #ios, #mach, #mobile-device, #mobile-device-management, #operating-systems, #screen-time, #technology, #tim-cook, #web-traffic, #wwdc-2021

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Apple’s App Store facilitated $643 billion in commerce, up 24% from last year

In its antitrust trial with Epic Games, which has just adjourned, Apple argued it doesn’t evaluate its App Store profit and loss as a standalone business. But today, the company put out new figures that indicate it does have a good understanding of the money that flows through its app marketplace, at the very least. The company has now released an updated version of a study performed by the economists at the Analysis Group, which claims the App Store ecosystem facilitated $643 billion in billings and sales in 2020, up 24% from the $519 billion seen the year prior. The new report focuses on the pandemic impacts to apps and the small business developers the App Store serves, among other things.

It also noted that about 90% of the billings and sales facilitated by the App Store actually took place outside its walls, meaning Apple took no commission on those purchases. This is up from the 85% figure reported last year, and is a figure Apple has been using in antitrust battles to paint a picture of an App Store that facilitates a lot commerce where it doesn’t take a commission.

The study then broke down how the different categories of App Store billings and sales were distributed.

Apple takes a commission on the sales of digital goods and services, which were $86 billion in 2020, or 13% of the total. But another $511 billion came from the sale of physical goods and services through apps — think online shopping, food delivery, ride hailing, etc. — or 80% of the total. These aren’t commissioned. And $46 billion came from in-app advertising, or 7% of the total.

The larger point being made with some of these figures is that, while the dollar amount flowing through apps being commissioned is large, it’s much smaller than most of the business being conducted on the App Store.

The report also noted how much of that business originates from China, which accounted for 47% of total global billings and sales ($300B) versus the U.S.’s 27% ($175+B).

Apple app store iOS

Image Credits: TechCrunch

The study additionally dove into how some App Store categories had been heavily impacted by the pandemic — particularly those apps that helped businesses and schools move online, those that offered ways to shop from your phone, or helped consumers stay entertained and healthy, among other things.

This led to an over 40% increase in billings and sales from apps offering digital goods and services, while sales in the travel and ride hailing sectors decreased by 30%. While the latter may gradually return to pre-pandemic levels, some of the acceleration driven by the pandemic in other categories — like online shopping and grocery delivery — could be here to stay.

To break it down further, general retail grew to $383 billion in 2020, up from $268 billion last year. Food delivery and pickup grew from $31 billion in 2019 to $36 billion in 2021. Grocery shopping jumped from $14 billion to $22 billion. But travel fell from $57 billion in 2019 to $38 billion in 2020, and ride hailing dropped from $40 billion to $26 billion. (None of these categories are commissioned.)

The study then continued with a deep dive into how the App Store aided small businesses.

Highlighting how smaller businesses benefit from a tech giant’s ecosystem is a tactic others have taken to, as well, in order shore up support for their own operations, which have similarly been accused of being monopolies in recent months.

Amazon, for example, raves about the small businesses benefitting from its marketplace and its sales event Prime Day, even as it stands accused of leveraging nonpublic data to compete with those same small business sellers. Facebook, meanwhile, pushed the small business impact angle when Apple’s new privacy protections in iOS 14 allowed customers to opt out of being tracked — and therefore out of Facebook’s personalized ads empire.

In Apple’s case, it’s pointing to the fact that the number of small developers worldwide has grown by 40% since 2015. This group now makes up more than 90% of App Store developers. The study defines this group of “small” developers as those with fewer than 1 million downloads and less than $1 million in earnings across all their apps. It also excludes any developers that never saw more than 1,000 downloads in a year between 2015 and 2020, to ensure the data focuses on businesses, not hobbyists. (This is a slightly different definition than Apple uses for its Small Business Program, we should note.)

Among this group, more than 1 in 5 saw at least an increase in downloads of at least 25% annually since their first full year on the App Store. And 1 in 4 who sold digital goods and services saw an earnings increase of at least 25% annually.

The study also connected being on the App Store with growing a business’s revenue, noting that only 23% of large developers (those with more than $1 million in earnings in 2020) had already earned more than $1 million back in 2015. 42% were active on the App Store in 2015 but hadn’t crossed the $1 million threshold, and another 35% were not even on the App Store — an indication their success has been far more recent.

The research additionally identified over 75 businesses in the U.S. and Europe, where iOS was essential to their business, that went public or were acquired since 2011. Their valuation totaled nearly $500 billion.

Finally, the study examined how apps transact outside their home market, as around 40% of all downloads of apps from small developers came from outside their home countries and nearly 80% were operating in multiple storefronts.

Image Credits: Apple WWDC 2021 imagery 

While the antitrust scrutiny may have pushed Apple into to commissioning this type of App Store research last year, it’s interesting to see the company is now updating the data on an annual basis to give the industry a deeper view into the App Store compared with the general developer revenue figure it used to trot out at various events and occasions.

Like last year’s study, the updated research has been released in the days leading up to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. It’s a time of the year when Apple aims to renew its bond with the developer community as it rolls out new software development kits (SDKs), application programming interfaces (API)s, software and other tools — enhancements it wants remid developers are made possible, in part, because of its App Store fees.

Today, Apple notes it has more than 250,000 APIs included in 40 SDKs. At WWDC 2021, it will host hundreds of virtual sessions, 1-on-1 developer labs, and highlight App Store favorites.

“Developers on the App Store prove every day that there is no more innovative, resilient or dynamic marketplace on earth than the app economy,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a statement about the research. “The apps we’ve relied on through the pandemic have been life-changing in so many ways — from groceries delivered to our homes, to teaching tools for parents and educators, to an imaginative and ever-expanding universe of games and entertainment. The result isn’t just incredible apps for users: it’s jobs, it’s opportunity, and it’s untold innovation that will power global economies for many years to come,” he added.

#app-ecosystem, #app-store-research, #app-stores, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apps, #developers, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-apps, #tc, #tim-cook, #wwdc, #wwdc-2021

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Apple CEO faces tough questioning as Epic Games trial wraps up

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the WWDC 2020 keynote.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the WWDC 2020 keynote. (credit: Apple)

Apple CEO Tim Cook faced pointed questioning from Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers during his long-awaited testimony in the Epic Games v. Apple trial Friday.

Following hours of questioning and cross-examination from Apple’s and Epic’s lawyers, Rogers wrapped up nearly three weeks of witness testimony with an extended back-and-forth with Cook. She began by asking about a hypothetical situation in which Fortnite‘s in-game V-Bucks currency was available for a lower price on the web than through the iOS app itself. What would be wrong with the app presenting users with the option to make that more affordable purchase—or at least providing that information to the users in the app?

Cook responded that “if you allow people to link out like that, you would essentially give up the total return on our IP.” Earlier in his testimony, Cook said by way of analogy that letting apps direct consumers to commission-free purchase options outside of the App Store “would be akin to Apple going out to Best Buy, putting a sign there where we advertise you can go across the street to the Apple Store to buy an iPhone. If the effort goes into transacting with the customer [in the app], it seems like it ought to happen in the app.”

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#apple, #epic, #gaming-culture, #lawsuit, #tim-cook, #trial

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Tim Cook plays innocent in Epic v Apple’s culminating testimony

Apple CEO Tim Cook took his first turn in the witness chair this morning in what is probably the most anticipated testimony of the Epic v. Apple antitrust case. But rather than a fiery condemnation of Epic’s shenanigans and allegations, Cook offered a mild, carefully tended ignorance that left many of the lawsuit’s key questions unanswered, or unanswerable.

This anticlimax may not make for exciting reporting, but it could serve to defang the dangerous, if somewhat dubious, argument that Apple’s App Store amounts to a monopoly.

After being called by Apple’s own attorneys, Cook took the stand, Law360’s Dorothy Atkins, one of two media members allowed in the court, reported in her comprehensive live tweeting of the testimony. The quotes from Cook are as reported and not to be considered verbatim; the court transcript will follow when the document is compiled and public. Incidentally, Atkins’ stage-setting descriptions are appealing and humanizing, though Epic CEO Tim Sweeney comes off as a bit weird:

The questioning of Cook by his own company’s counsel was gentle and directed at reiterating the reasons why Apple’s App Store is superior and sufficient for iOS users, while also asserting the presence of stiff competition. He admitted to a handful of conflicts with developers, such as differing priorities or needing to improve discovery, but said the company works constantly to retain developers and users.

The facade of innocent ignorance began when he was asked about Apple’s R&D numbers — $15-20 billion annually for the last three years. Specifically, he said that Apple couldn’t estimate how much of that money was directed towards the App Store, because “we don’t allocate like that,” i.e. research budgets for individual products aren’t broken out from the rest.

Now, that doesn’t sound right, does it? A company like Apple knows down the penny how much it spends on its products and research. Even if it can’t be perfectly broken down — an advance in MacOS code may play into a feature on the App Store — the company must know to some extent how its resources are being deployed and to what effect. The differences between a conservative and liberal estimation of the App Store’s R&D allocation might be large, in the hundreds of millions perhaps, but make no mistake, those estimations are almost certainly being made internally. To do otherwise would be folly.

But because the numbers are not publicly declared and broken down, and because they are likely to be somewhat fuzzy, Cook can say truthfully that there’s no single number like (to invent an amount) “App Store R&D was $500 million in 2019.”

Not having a hard number removes a potential foothold for Epic, which could use it either way: If it’s big, they’re protecting their golden goose (enforcing market power). If it’s small, they’re just collecting the eggs (collecting rent via market power). Apple’s only winning move is not to play, so Cook plays dumb and consequently Epic’s argument looks like speculation (and, as Apple would argue, fabulation).

He then deployed a similar strategy of starving the competition with a preemptive shrug about profits. He only addressed total net sales, which were about $275 billion at a 21 percent profit margin, saying Apple does not evaluate the App Store’s income as a standalone business.

Certainly it is arguable that the App Store is very much a tightly integrated component of a larger business structure. But the idea that it cannot be assessed as a standalone business is ludicrous. It is again nearly certain that it, like all of Apple’s divisions and product lines, is dissected and reported internally in excruciating detail. But again it is just plausible that for legal purposes it is not straightforward enough to say “the income and profits of the App Store are such and such,” thus denying Epic its datum.

However, the point is important enough that Epic thought it warranted independent investigation. And among the first things Epic’s attorney brought up, when the witness was turned over to him, was the testimony from earlier in the trial by an expert witness that Apple’s App Store operating margins were around 79 percent.

It was not in Apple’s interest to confirm or deny these numbers, and Cook again pleaded ignorance. The mask slipped a tiny bit, however, when Epic’s attorney asked Cook to break down the confidential income numbers that combined the Mac and iOS App Stores. While Apple objected to this, saying it was privileged information and could only be divulged in a closed court, Cook offered that the iOS numbers are “a lot larger” than the Mac numbers.

What we see here is another piece of financial sleight-of-hand. By mixing the iOS and Mac income Apple gets to muddy the waters of how much money is made and spent in and on them. Epic’s attempt to unmix them was not successful, but the judge is no fool — she sees the same things Epic does, but just as dimly. Apple is attempting to deny Epic a legal victory even at the cost of looking rather shadowy and manipulative.

This was further demonstrated when Cook was asked about Apple’s deal with Google that keeps the search engine as the default on iOS. Cook said he didn’t remember the specific numbers.

If the CEO of one of the biggest tech companies in the world told you they forgot the specifics of a multi-billion dollar, decade-long deal with one of the other biggest tech companies in the world, would you believe them?

Little of the remaining testimony shed light on anything. Cook discussed the complexities of operating in places like China where local laws have technical and policy repercussions, and minimized the assertion that Apple had expanded the scope of in-app purchases and what transactions the company gets a 30% cut from. A bit more testimony will take place in a closed court, but we likely won’t hear about it as it will concern confidential information.

The trial, which is winding down, has held few surprises; both sides laid out their arguments at the start, and much of this will come down to the judge’s interpretation of the facts. There were no dramatic surprise witnesses or smoking guns — it’s simply a novel argument about what constitutes monopolistic behavior. Apple is adamant that competition is present and fierce in Android, and that in the gaming world it competes with Windows and consoles as well.

It seems almost inevitable that whatever the judgment is, the case will be appealed and brought to a higher court, but that judgment will also be a strong indicator of how well Epic’s arguments (and Apple’s obfuscations) have been received. That said, Epic and other critics of Apple’s App Store fees, which are immensely profitable however the company chooses to obscure it, have arguably already accomplished their goals. Apple’s lowered 15% fee for the first million dollars is plainly a response to developer unrest and bad press, and now it is put in the position of defending how the sausage gets made.

Tarnishing Apple’s anodized aluminum tower was always at least partly the intent, and win or lose Epic may feel it has gotten its money’s worth. Besides, the rematch in Europe is yet to come.

#app-store, #apple, #apps, #epic, #epic-v-apple, #lawsuit, #tim-cook

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Apple CEO Tim Cook to take stand in Epic/Apple trial today

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks to a crowd.

Enlarge / Tim Cook speaks during an event at Lane Technical College Prep High School in Chicago on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (credit: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tim Cook will on Friday be confronted with allegations that Apple is operating an illegal monopoly, in a high-stakes case brought by Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, where the verdict could have far-reaching consequences for 1 billion iPhone users and thousands of developers.

Cook will be among the final witnesses in the month-long trial, scheduled to end on Monday, in which Epic argues that Apple abuses its allegedly dominant position by forcing developers to distribute applications through the App Store, where it takes a commission of 15–30 percent.

Apple expelled Fortnite from its App Store last year when Epic tried to get around the fees by giving the game’s players a zero-commission way to make in-app purchases.

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#apple, #epic, #epic-vs-apple, #fortnite, #gaming-culture, #policy, #tech, #tim-cook

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Europe charges Apple with antitrust breach, citing Spotify App Store complaint

The European Commission has announced that it’s issued formal antitrust charges against Apple, saying today that its preliminary view is Apple’s app store rules distort competition in the market for music streaming services by raising the costs of competing music streaming app developers.

The Commission begun investigating competition concerns related to iOS App Store (and also Apple Pay) last summer.

“The Commission takes issue with the mandatory use of Apple’s own in-app purchase mechanism imposed on music streaming app developers to distribute their apps via Apple’s App Store,” it wrote today. “The Commission is also concerned that Apple applies certain restrictions on app developers preventing them from informing iPhone and iPad users of alternative, cheaper purchasing possibilities.”

The statement of objections focuses on two rules that Apple imposes in its agreements with music streaming app developers: Namely the mandatory requirement to use its proprietary in-app purchase system (IAP) to distribute paid digital content (with the Commission noting that it charges a 30% commission fee on all such subscriptions bought via IAP); and ‘anti-steering provisions’ which limit the ability of developers to inform users of alternative purchasing options.

“The Commission’s investigation showed that most streaming providers passed this fee [Apple’s 30% cut] on to end users by raising prices,” it wrote, adding: “While Apple allows users to use music subscriptions purchased elsewhere, its rules prevent developers from informing users about such purchasing possibilities, which are usually cheaper. The Commission is concerned that users of Apple devices pay significantly higher prices for their music subscription services or they are prevented from buying certain subscriptions directly in their apps.”

Commenting in a statement, EVP and competition chief Margrethe Vestager, added: “App stores play a central role in today’s digital economy. We can now do our shopping, access news, music or movies via apps instead of visiting websites. Our preliminary finding is that Apple is a gatekeeper to users of iPhones and iPads via the App Store. With Apple Music, Apple also competes with music streaming providers. By setting strict rules on the App store that disadvantage competing music streaming services, Apple deprives users of cheaper music streaming choices and distorts competition. This is done by charging high commission fees on each transaction in the App store for rivals and by forbidding them from informing their customers of alternative subscription options.”

Apple sent us this statement in response:

“Spotify has become the largest music subscription service in the world, and we’re proud for the role we played in that. Spotify does not pay Apple any commission on over 99% of their subscribers, and only pays a 15% commission on those remaining subscribers that they acquired through the App Store. At the core of this case is Spotify’s demand they should be able to advertise alternative deals on their iOS app, a practice that no store in the world allows. Once again, they want all the benefits of the App Store but don’t think they should have to pay anything for that. The Commission’s argument on Spotify’s behalf is the opposite of fair competition.”

Spotify’s founder, Daniel Ek, has also responded to the news of the Commission’s charges against Apple with a jubilant tweet — writing: “Today is a big day. Fairness is the key to competition… we are one step closer to creating a level playing field, which is so important for the entire ecosystem of European developers.”

Vestager is due to hold a press conference shortly — so stay tuned for updates.

This story is developing… 

A number of complaints against Apple’s practices have been lodged with the EU’s competition division in recent years — including by music streaming service Spotify; video games maker Epic Games; and messaging platform Telegram, to name a few of the complainants who have gone public (and been among the most vocal).

The main objection is over the (up to 30%) cut Apple takes on sales made through third parties’ apps — which critics rail against as an ‘Apple tax’ — as well as how it can mandate that developers do not inform users how to circumvent its in-app payment infrastructure, i.e. by signing up for subscriptions via their own website instead of through the App Store. Other complaints include that Apple does not allow third party app stores on iOS.

Apple, meanwhile, has argued that its App Store does not constitute a monopoly. iOS’ global market share of mobile devices is a little over 10% vs Google’s rival Android OS — which is running on the lion’s share of the world’s mobile hardware. But monopoly status depends on how a market is defined by regulators (and if you’re looking at the market for iOS apps then Apple has no competitors).

The iPhone maker also likes to point out that the vast majority of third party apps pay it no commission (as they don’t monetize via in-app payments). While it argues that restrictions on native apps are necessary to protect iOS users from threats to their security and privacy.

Last summer the European Commission said its App Store probe was focused on Apple’s mandatory requirement that app developers use its proprietary in-app purchase system, as well as restrictions applied on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of apps.

It also said it was investigating Apple Pay: Looking at the T&Cs and other conditions Apple imposes for integrating its payment solution into others’ apps and websites on iPhones and iPads, and also on limitations it imposes on others’ access to the NFC (contactless payment) functionality on iPhones for payments in stores.

The EU’s antitrust regulator also said then that it was probing allegations of “refusals of access” to Apple Pay.

In March this year the UK also joined the Apple App Store antitrust investigation fray — announcing a formal investigation into whether it has a dominant position and if it imposes unfair or anti-competitive terms on developers using its app store.

US lawmakers have, meanwhile, also been dialling up attention on app stores, plural — and on competition in digital markets more generally — calling in both Apple and Google for questioning over how they operate their respective mobile app marketplaces in recent years.

Last month, for example, the two tech giants’ representatives were pressed on whether their app stores share data with their product development teams — with lawmakers digging into complaints against Apple especially that Cupertino frequently copies others’ apps, ‘sherlocking’ their businesses by releasing native copycats (as the practice has been nicknamed).

Back in July 2020 the House Antitrust Subcommittee took testimony from Apple CEO Tim Cook himself — and went on, in a hefty report on competition in digital markets, to accuse Apple of leveraging its control of iOS and the App Store to “create and enforce barriers to competition and discriminate against and exclude rivals while preferencing its own offerings”.

“Apple also uses its power to exploit app developers through misappropriation of competitively sensitive information and to charge app developers supra-competitive prices within the App Store,” the report went on. “Apple has maintained its dominance due to the presence of network effects, high barriers to entry, and high switching costs in the mobile operating system market.”

The report did not single Apple out — also blasting Google-owner Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook for abusing their market power. And the Justice Department went on to file suit against Google later the same month. So, over in the U.S., the stage is being set for further actions against big tech. Although what, if any, federal charges Apple could face remains to be seen.

At the same time, a number of state-level tech regulation efforts are brewing around big tech and antitrust — including a push in Arizona to relieve developers from Apple and Google’s hefty cut of app store profits.

While an antitrust bill introduced by Republican Josh Hawley earlier this month takes aim at acquisitions, proposing an outright block on big tech’s ability to carry out mergers and acquisitions. Although that bill looks unlikely to succeed, a flurry of antitrust reform bills are set to introduced as U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle grapple with how to cut big tech down to a competition-friendly size.

In Europe lawmakers are already putting down draft laws with the same overarching goal.

In the EU, the Commission recently proposed an ex ante regime to prevent big tech from abusing its market power. The Digital Markets Act is set to impose conditions on intermediating platforms who are considered ‘gatekeepers’ to others’ market access.

While over in the UK, which now sits outside the bloc, the government is also drafting new laws in response to tech giants’ market power. It has said it intends to create a ‘pro-competition’ regime that will apply to platforms with so-called  ‘strategic market status’ — but instead of a set list of requirements it wants to target specific measures per platform.

#alphabet, #android, #antitrust, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-pay, #competition, #digital-markets, #epic-games, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #google, #ios, #ios-app-store, #ipad, #iphone, #lawsuit, #margrethe-vestager, #mobile-devices, #operating-system, #policy, #spotify, #tc, #tim-cook

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Apple sales bounce back in China as Huawei loses smartphone crown

Huawei’s smartphone rivals in China are quickly divvying up the market share it has lost over the past year.

92.4 million units of smartphones were shipped in China during the first quarter, with Vivo claiming the crown with a 23% share and its sister company Oppo following closely behind with 22%, according to market research firm Canalys. Huawei, of which smartphone sales took a hit after U.S. sanctions cut key chip parts off its supply chain, came in third at 16%. Xiaomi and Apple took the fourth and fifth spot respectively.

All major smartphone brands but Huawei saw a jump in their market share in China from Q1 2020. Apple’s net sales in Greater China nearly doubled year-over-year to $17.7 billion in the three months ended March, a quarter of all-time record revenue for the American giant, according to its latest financial results.

“We’ve been especially pleased by the customer response in China to the iPhone 12 family,”
said Tim Cook during an earnings call this week. “You have to remember that China entered the shutdown phase earlier in Q2 of last year than other countries. And so they were relatively more affected in that quarter, and that has to be taken into account as you look at the results.”

Huawei’s share shrunk from a dominant 41% to 16% in a year’s time, though the telecom equipment giant managed to increase its profit margin partly thanks to slashed costs. In November, it sold off its budget phone line Honor.

This quarter is also the first time China’s smartphone market has grown in four years, with a growth rate of 27%, according to Canalys.

“Leading vendors are racing to the top of the market, and there was an unusually high number of smartphone launches this quarter compared with Q1 2020 or even Q4 2020,” said Canalys analyst Amber Liu.

“Huawei’s sanctions and Honor’s divestiture have been hallmarks of this new market growth, as consumers and channels become more open to alternative brands.”

#apple, #asia, #china, #gadgets, #honor, #huawei, #iphone, #oppo, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tim-cook, #vivo, #xiaomi

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Tim Cook drops hints about autonomous tech and the Apple car

Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped a few hints in an interview released Monday about the direction of the much-anticipated Apple car, including that autonomous vehicle technology will likely be a key feature.

“The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view,” Cook told Kara Swisher in an interview on the “Sway” podcast. “If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we’ll see what Apple does.”

Cook was careful not to reveal too much, declining to answer Swisher’s question outright if Apple is planning to produce a car itself or the tech within the car. What clues he did drop, suggests Project Titan is working on something in the middle.

“We love to integrate hardware, software and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs,” said Cook. “And we love to own the primary technology that’s around that.”

To which Swisher responded: “I’m going to go with car for that, if you don’t mind. I’m just going to jump to car.”

We are, too.

Many people in the micromobility industry like to say that e-scooters are basically iPhones on wheels, but it’s more likely that the Apple car will actually be the iPhone on wheels. Apple is generally known for owning all of its hardware and software, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Apple engineers working closely with a manufacturer to produce an Apple car, with the potential to one day cut out the middle man and become the manufacturer.

The so-called Project Titan appeared at risk of failing before a car was ever seen by the public with mass layoffs in 2019. However, more recent reports suggest that the project is alive and well with plans to make a self-driving electric passenger vehicle by 2024.

Earlier this year, CNBC reported that Apple was close to finalizing a deal with Hyundai-Kia to build an Apple-branded self-driving car at the Kia assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. Sources familiar with Apple’s interest in Hyundai say the company wants to work with an automaker that will let Apple hold the reins on the software and hardware that will go into the car.

The two companies never reached a deal and talks fell apart in February, according to multiple reports. That hasn’t stopped the flow of rumors and reports about Apple and its plans, which have previously been linked to other suppliers, automakers such as Nissan and even startups.

It’s still unclear what the Apple car will look like, but as a passenger vehicle, rather than a robotaxi or delivery vehicle, it will be going up against the likes of Tesla.

“I’ve never spoken to Elon, although I have great admiration and respect for the company he’s built,” said Cook. “I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keeping the lead for such a long period of time in the EV space. So I have great appreciation for them.”

Project Titan is being led by Doug Field, who was formerly senior vice president of engineering at Tesla and one of the key players behind the Model 3 launch.

#apple, #apple-car, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #elon-musk, #project-titan, #tesla, #tim-cook, #transportation

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Zuckerberg: Facebook could be in “stronger position” after Apple tracking change

Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage during an Apple event in September 2018.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage during an Apple event in September 2018. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

With Apple’s big app-tracking policy change just around the corner, Chinese companies drew a warning from Cupertino that their efforts to circumvent the change will not be successful. At the same time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared to shift his messaging about the change.

Several months ago, Apple announced that it will require user opt-in for IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers), a tool that advertisers use to identify and track users across apps and websites. If users opt in, it will be business as usual. But if they decline, the app in question will not be able to use that tracking method. The change will apply to all iPhone and iPad apps, and it will take full effect in iOS 14.5, which is due out sometime in the next few weeks.

ByteDance, Baidu, and others push back

Press coverage so far has focused on US and European countries grappling with the change, particularly Facebook, which ran ads and looked into the possibility of an antitrust lawsuit to battle Apple’s decision. Several reports over the past few days have indicated that some major Chinese tech companies are no less determined to fight or get around Apple’s new policy.

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#app-tracking, #app-store, #apple, #china, #id-for-advertisers, #idfa, #mark-zuckerberg, #privacy, #tech, #tim-cook, #tracking

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Zuckerberg responds to Apple’s privacy policies: “We need to inflict pain”

Facebook co-founder, chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg departs after testifying before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018, in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Facebook co-founder, chairman, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg departs after testifying before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees close to him, “we need to inflict pain” on Apple for comments by Apple CEO Tim Cook that Zuckerberg described as “extremely glib.”

This and other insights into an ongoing rift between the two companies appeared in a report in The Wall Street Journal this weekend. The article indicates that based on first-hand reports, Zuckerberg has taken Cook and Apple’s public criticisms of Facebook’s privacy policies, whether direct or indirect, as personal affronts.

For example, Cook publicly responded to Facebook’s 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal by saying such a scandal would never happen to Apple because Apple does not treat its customers like products. When asked what he would do in Zuckerberg’s position, he said, “I wouldn’t be in this situation,” calling Facebook’s approach “an invasion of privacy.” This was one of the comments that has led Zuckerberg to see Apple as an opponent.

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#apple, #facebook, #idfa, #mark-zuckerberg, #privacy, #tech, #tim-cook

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Institutional trust is the real meme

Hello friends, this is Week in Review.

Last week, I dove into the AR maneuverings of Apple and Facebook and what that means for the future of the web. This week, I’m aiming to touch the meme stock phenomenon that dominated American news cycles this week and see if there’s anything worth learning from it, with an eye towards the future web.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox every Saturday morning from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The big thing

This week was whatever you wanted it to be. A rising up of the proletariat. A case of weaponized disinformation. A rally for regulation… or perhaps deregulation of financial markets. Choose your own adventure with the starting point being one flavor of chaos leading into a slightly more populist blend of chaos.

At the end of it, a lot of long-time financiers are confused, a lot of internet users are using rent money to buy stock in Tootsie Roll, a lot of billionaires are finding how intoxicating adopting a “for-the-little-guy!” persona on Twitter can be, and here I am staring at the ceiling wondering if there’s any institution in the world trustworthy enough that the internet can’t turn it into a lie.

This week, my little diddy is about meme stocks, but more about the idea that once you peel away the need to question why you actually trust something, it can become easier to just blindly place that faith in more untrustworthy places. All the better if those places are adjacent to areas where others place trust.

The Dow Jones had its worst week since October because retail investors, organized in part on Reddit, turned America’s financial markets into the real front page of the internet. Boring, serious stocks like Facebook and Apple reported their earnings and the markets adjusted accordingly, but in addition to the serious bits of news, the Wall Street page was splashed with break neck gains from “meme stocks.” While junk stocks surging is nothing new, the idea that a stock can make outrageous gains based on nothing and then possibly hold that value based on a newly formed shared trust is newer and much more alarming.

The most infamous of these stocks was GameStop. (If you’re curious about GameStop’s week, there are at least 5 million stories across the web to grab your attention, here’s one. Side note: collectively we seem to have longer attention spans post-Trump.)

So, Americans already don’t have too much institutional faith. Looking through some long-standing Gallup research, compared to the turn of the century, faith in organized religion, the media, most wings of government, big business and banks has decreased quite a bit. The outliers in what Americans do seem to trust more than they did 20 or so years ago are small businesses and the military.

This is all to say that it’s probably not stellar that people don’t trust anything, and me thinking that the internet could probably disrupt every trusted institution except the military probably only shows my lack of creative thinking when it comes to how the web could democratize the Defense Department. As you might guess from that statement, I think democratizing access to certain institutions can be bad. I say that with about a thousand asterisks leading to footnotes that you’ll never find. I also don’t think the web is done disrupting institutional trust by a long shot, for better or worse.

Democratizing financial systems sounds a lot better from a populist lift, until you realize that the guys users are competing against are playing a different game with other people’s money. This saga will change plenty of lives but it won’t end particularly well for a most people exposed to “infinite upside” day trading.

Until this week, in my mind Robinhood was only reckless because it was exposing (or “democratizing access to” — their words) consumers to risk in a way that most of them probably weren’t equipped to handle. Now, I think that they’re reckless because they didn’t anticipate that OR how democratized access could lead to so many potential doomsday scenarios and bankrupt Robinhood. They quietly raised a $1 billion liquidity lifeline this week after they had to temporarily shut down meme stock trading, a move that essentially torched their brand and left them the web’s most hated institution. (Facebook had a quiet week)

This kind of all feeds back into this idea I’ve been feeding that scale can be very dangerous. Platforms seem to need a certain amount of head count to handle global audiences, and almost all of them are insufficiently staffed. Facebook announced this week in its earnings call that it has nearly 60,000 employees. This is a company that now has its own Supreme Court; that’s too big. If your institution is going to be massive and centralized, chances are you need a ton of people to moderate it. That’s something at odds with most existing internet platforms. Realistically, the internet would probably be happier with fewer of these sweeping institutions and more intimate bubbles that are loosely connected. That’s something that the network effects of the past couple decades have made harder but regulation around data portability could assist with.

Writing this newsletter, something I’m often reminded is that while it feels like everything is always changing, few things are wholly new. This great NYT profile from 2001 written by Michael Lewis is a great reminder of that, chronicling a 15-year-old who scammed the markets by using a web of dummy accounts and got hounded by the SEC but still walked away with $500k. Great read.

In the end, things will likely quiet down at Robinhood. There’s also the distinct chance that they don’t and that those meme traders just ignited a revolution that’s going to bankrupt the company and torch the globals markets, but you know things will probably go back to normal.

 

Until next week,
Lucas Matney


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things

SEC is pissed
I’ll try to keep these updates GameStop free, but one quick note from the peanut gallery. The SEC isn’t all that happy about the goings ons in the market this week and they’re mad, probably mostly at Robinhood. They got pretty terse with their statement. More

Facebook Oversight Board wants YOU
Zuckerberg’s Supreme Court wants public comment as it decides whether Facebook should give Trump his Instagram and Facebook accounts back. I’m sure any of Facebook’s executives would’ve stopped building the platform dead in its tracks in the years after its founding if they knew just how freaking complicated moderation was going to end up being for them, but you could probably have changed their mind back by showing them the market cap. More

Apple adtech-killing update drops in spring
After delaying its launch, Apple committed this week to the spring rollout of its “App Tracking Transparency” feature that has so much of the adtech world pissed. The update will force apps to essentially ask users whether they’d like to be tracked across apps. More

Robert Downey Jr. bets on startups
Celebrity investing has been popular forever, but it’s gotten way more common in the venture world in recent years. Reputation transfer teamed with the fact that money is so easy to come by for top founders, means that if you are choosing from some second-tier fund or The Chainsmokers, you might pick The Chainsmokers. On that note, actor Robert Downey Jr. raised a rolling fund to back climate tech startups, we’ve got all the deets. More

WeWork SPAC
Ah poor Adam Neumann, poor SoftBank. If only they’d kept their little “tech company” under wraps for another couple years and left that S-1 for a kinder market with less distaste for creative framing. It seems that WeWork is the next target to get SPAC’d and be brought onto public markets via acquisition. I’m sure everything will go fine. More

Tim Cook and Zuckerberg spar
Big tech is a gentlemen’s game, generally big tech CEOs play nice with each other in public and save their insults for the political party that just fell out of power. This week, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg were a little less friendly. Zuckerberg called out Apple by name in their earnings investor call and floated some potential unfair advantages that Apple might have. Them’s fighting words. Cook was more circumspect as usual and delivered a speech that was at times hilariously direct in the most indirect way possible about how much he hates Facebook. More


Extra things

Tidbits from our paywalled Extra Crunch content:
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
“I and the rest of the leadership team would work 12-hour days, seven days a week. And that trickled down into many other employees doing the same. I didn’t think twice about sending emails, texts or slacks at night and on weekends. As with many startups, monster hours were simply part of the deal.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021
“For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.”

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
“What is driving generally positive venture capital results for Africa in recent quarters? Giuliani told TechCrunch in a follow-up email that ‘investment in Africa is being driven on the one hand by a broadening base for early-stage ecosystem support organizations, including accelerators, seed funds, syndicates and angel investing,” and “consolidation,” which is aiding both “growth-stage deals and a burgeoning M&A market.’”

 

#adam-neumann, #africa, #america, #apple, #apple-inc, #banking, #computing, #department-of-defense, #facebook, #gamestop, #lucas-matney, #mark-zuckerberg, #mike, #robinhood, #softbank, #supreme-court, #tc, #technology, #the-social-network, #tim-cook, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #week-in-review, #wework

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Why Facebook and Apple are going to war over privacy

Tim Cook

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers a speech on privacy at a virtual conference. (credit: CPDP)

Today, Apple announced plans to finally roll out its previously delayed change in policy on apps’ use of IDFA (ID for Advertisers) to track users for targeted advertising. The feature will be in the next beta release of iOS 14 (the company just rolled out the public release of iOS 14.4 this week) and will reach all iOS devices supported by iOS 14 “in early spring.”

Apple made the announcement with a white paper and Q&A targeted at its users. To illustrate the benefits Apple claims the change will offer to users, the document describes in detail a typical scenario where a father and daughter would have data about them tracked and updated while doing normal, everyday things in the current digital ecosystem.

Apple’s document goes on to explain Apple’s stated philosophy on user data protection and privacy, and it announces the release window for this upcoming change. The document explains the change this way:

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#advertising, #apple, #facebook, #idfa, #ios, #ios-14, #ios-14-5, #iphone, #mark-zuckerberg, #tech, #tim-cook

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Apple’s Tim Cook warns of adtech fuelling a “social catastrophe” as he defends app tracker opt-in

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has urged Europe to step up privacy enforcement in a keynote speech to the CPDP conference today — echoing many of the points he made in Brussels in person two years ago when he hit out at the ‘data industrial complex’ underpinning the adtech industry’s mass surveillance of Internet users.

Reforming current-gen adtech is now a humanitarian imperative, he argued in a speech that took a bunch of thinly-veiled swipes at Facebook.

“As I said in Brussels two years ago, it is certainly time, not only for a comprehensive privacy law here in the United States, but also for worldwide laws and new international agreements that enshrine the principles of data minimization, user knowledge, user access and data security across the globe,” said Cook.

“Together, we must send a universal, humanistic response to those who claim a right to users’ private information about what should not and will not be tolerated,” he added.

The message comes at a critical time for Apple as it prepares to flip a switch that will, for the first time, require developers to gain opt-in user consent to tracking.

Earlier today Apple confirmed it would be enabling the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature in the next beta release of iOS 14, which it said would roll out in early spring.

The tech giant had intended to debut the feature last year but delayed to give developers more time to adapt.

Adtech giant Facebook has also been aggressively briefing against the shift, warning of a major impact on publishers who use its ad network once Apple gives its users the ability to refuse third party tracking.

Reporting its Q4 earnings yesterday, Facebook also sounded a warning over “more significant advertising headwinds” impacting its own bottom line this year — naming Apple’s ATT as a risk (as well as what it couched as “the evolving regulatory landscape”).

In the speech to a data protection and privacy conference which is usually held in Brussels (but has been streamed online because of the pandemic), Cook made an aggressive defence of ATT and Apple’s pro-privacy stance in general, saying the forthcoming tracking opt-in is about “returning control to users” and linking adtech-fuelled surveilled of Internet users to a range of harms, including the spread of conspiracy theories, extremism and real-world violence.

“Users have asked for this feature for a long time,” he said of ATT. “We have worked closely with developers to give them the time and resources to implement it and we’re passionate about it because we think it has great potential to make things better for everybody.”

The move has attracted a competition challenge in France where four online advertising lobbies filed an antitrust complaint last October — arguing that Apple requiring developers ask app users for permission to track them is an abuse of market power by Apple. (A similar complaint has been lodged in the UK over Google’s move to depreciated third party tracking cookies in Chrome — and there the regulator has opened an investigation.)

The Information also reported today that Facebook is preparing to lodge an antitrust lawsuit against Apple — so the legal stakes are rising. (Though the social media giant is itself being sued by the FTC which alleges it has maintained a social networking monopoly via years of anti-competitive conduct… )

In the speech Cook highlighted another recent pro-privacy move made by Apple to require iOS developers to display “privacy nutrition” labels within the App Store — providing users with an overview of their data collection practices. Both the labels and the incoming ATT apply in the case of Apple’s own apps (not just third parties), as we reported earlier.

Cook said these moves align with Apple’s overarching philosophy: To make technology that “serves people and has their well-being in mind” — contrasting its approach with a rapacious ‘data industrial complex’ that wants to aggregate information about everything people do online to use against them, as a tool of mass manipulation.

“It seems no piece of information is too private or personal to be surveilled, monetized and aggregated into a 360 degree view of your life,” Cook warned. “The end result of all of this is that you are no longer the customer; you are the product.

“When ATT is in full effect users will have a say over this kind of tracking. Some may well think that sharing this degree of information is worth it for more targeted ads. Many others, I suspect, will not. Just as most appreciated it when we built this similar functionality into Safari limiting web trackers several years ago,” he went on, adding that: “We see developing these kinds of privacy-centric features and innovations as a core responsibility of our work. We always have, we always will.”

Apple’s CEO pointed out that advertising has flourished in the past without the need for privacy-hostile mass surveillance, arguing: “Technology does not need vast troves of personal data stitched together across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.”

He also made some veiled sideswipes at Facebook — avoiding literally naming the adtech giant but hitting out at the notion of a business that’s built on “surveilling users”, on “data exploitation” and on “choices that are no choices at all”.

Such an entity “does not deserve our praise, it deserves reform”, he went on, having earlier heaped praise on Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for its role in furthering privacy rights — telling conference delegates that enforcement “must continue”. (The GDPR’s weak spot to date has been exactly that; but 2.5 years in there are signs the regime is getting into a groove.)

In further sideswipes at Facebook, Cook attacked the role of data-gobbling, engagement-obsessed adtech in fuelling disinformation and conspiracy theories — arguing that the consequences of such an approach are simply too high for democratic societies to accept.

“We should not look away from the bigger picture,” he argued. “At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement, the longer the better. And all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.

“Too many are still asking the question how much can we get away with? When they need to be asking what are the consequences? What are the consequences of prioritizing conspiracy theories and violent incitement simply because of the high rates of engagement? What are the consequences of not just tolerating but rewarding content that undermines public trust in lifesaving vaccinations? What are consequences of seeing thousands of users join extremist groups and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends even more,” he went on — sketching a number of scenarios of which Facebook’s business stands directly accused.

“It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t come with a cost. Of polarization. Of lost trust. And — yes — of violence. A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe,” he added, rebranding ‘The Social Network’ at a stroke.

Apple has reason to appeal to a European audience of data protection experts to further its fight with adtech objectors to its ATT, as EU regulators have the power to take enforcement decisions that would align with and support its approach. Although they have been shy to do so so far.

Facebook’s lead data protection supervisor in Europe, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), has a backlog of investigations into a number of aspects of its business — including its use of so-called ‘forced consent’ (as users are not given any choice over being tracked for ad targeting if they wish to use its services).

That lack of choice stands in stark contrast to the change Apple is driving on its App Store, where all entities will be required to ask users if they want to be tracked. So Apple’s move aligns with the principles of European data protection law (which, for example, requires that consent for processing people’s data be freely given in order to be legally valid).

Equally, Facebook’s continued refusal to give users a choice stands in direct conflict with EU law and risks GDPR enforcement. (The kind Cook was urging in his speech.)

2021 looks like it could be a critical year on that front. A long running DPC investigation into the transparency of data-sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook is headed for enforcement this year — after Ireland sent a draft decision to the other EU data protection agencies at the back end of last year.

Last week Politico reported WhatsApp could be on the hook for a fine of between €30M and €50M in that single case. More pertinently for the tech giant — which paid a $5BN fine to the FTC in 2019 to settle charges related to privacy failings (but was not required to make any material changes to how it operates its ad business) — WhatsApp could be ordered to change how it handles user data.

A regulatory order to stop processing certain types of user data — or mandating it ask users for consent before it can do so — could clearly have a far greater impact on Facebook’s business empire.

The tech giant is also facing a final verdict later this year on whether it can continue to legally transfer European users’ data out of the bloc.

If Facebook is ordered to suspend such data flows that would mean massive disruption to a sizeable chunk of its business (in 2019 it reported 286M DAUs in the region in Q1).

So — in short — the regulatory conditions around Facebook’s business are certainly ‘evolving’.

The data industrial complex’s fight back against the looming privacy enforcement at Apple’s platform level involves ploughing legal resource into trying to claim such moves are anti-competitive. However EU lawmakers seem alive to this self-interested push to appropriate ‘antitrust’ as a tool to stymie privacy enforcement.

(And it’s notable that Cook referred to privacy “innovation” in the speech. Including this ask: “Will the future belong to the innovations that make our lives better, more fulfilled and more human?” — which is really the key question in the privacy vs competition regulation ‘debate’.)

Last month Commission EVP and competition chief, Margrethe Vestager told the OECD Global Competition Forum that antitrust enforcers should be “vigilant so that privacy is not used as a shield against competition”. However her remarks had a sting in the tail for the data industrial complex — as she expressed support for a ‘superprofiling’ case against Facebook in Germany.

That case (which is continuing to be litigated by the German FCO) combines privacy and competition in new and interesting ways. If the regulator prevails it could result in a structural separation of Facebook’s social empire at the data level — in a sort of regulatory equivalent of moving fast and breaking things.

So it’s notable Vestager dubbed that piece of regulatory innovation “inspiring and interesting”. Which sounds more of a vote of confidence than condemnation from Europe’s digital policy and competition chief.

#antitrust, #apple, #data-protection, #facebook, #gdpr, #privacy, #tc, #tim-cook

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Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature will be enabled by default and arrive in ‘early spring’ on iOS

Apple has shared a few more details about its much-discussed privacy changes in iOS 14. The company first announced at WWDC in June that app developers would have to ask users for permission in order to track and share their IDFA identifier for cross-property ad targeting purposes. While iOS 14 launched in the fall, Apple delayed the tracking restrictions until 2021, saying it wanted to give developers more time to make the necessary changes.

Now we’ve got a slightly-more-specific timeline. The plan is to launch these changes in early spring, with a version of the feature coming in the next iOS 14 beta release.

This is how Apple describes the new system: “Under Settings, users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track, and make changes as they see fit. This requirement will roll out broadly in early spring with an upcoming release of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14, and has already garnered support from privacy advocates around the world.”

And here are the basics of what you need to know:

  • The App Tracking Transparency feature moves from the old method where you had to opt-out of sharing your Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) to an opt-in model. This means that every app will have to ask you up front whether it is ok for them to share your IDFA with third parties including networks or data brokers.
  • The feature’s most prominent evidence is a notification on launch of a new app that will explain what the tracker will be used for and ask you to opt-in to it.
  • You can now toggle IDFA sharing on a by-app basis at any time, where previously it was a single toggle. If you turn off the “Allow apps to request to track” setting altogether no apps can even ask you to use tracking.
  • Apple will enforce this for all third-party data sources including data sharing agreements, but of course platforms can still use first party data for advertising as per their terms of service.
  • Apple expects developers to understand whether APIs or SDKs that they use in their apps are serving user data up to brokers or other networks and to enable the notification if so.
  • Apple will abide by the rules for its own apps as well and will present the dialog and follow the ‘allow apps to request’ toggle if its apps use tracking (most do not at this point).
  • One important note here is that the Personalized Ads toggle is a separate setting that specifically allows or does not allow Apple itself to use its own first party data to serve you ads. So that is an additional layer of opt-out that affects Apple data only.

Apple is also increasing the capabilities of its Ad attribution API, allowing for better click measurement, measurement of video conversions and also — and this is a big one for some cases, app-to-web conversions.

This news comes on Data Privacy Day, with CEO Tim Cook speaking on the issue this morning at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels. The company is also sharing a new report showing that the average app has six third-party trackers.

While this seems like a welcome change from a privacy perspective, it’s drawn some criticism from the ad industry, with Facebook launching a PR campaign emphasizing the impact on small businesses, while also pointing to the change as “one of the more significant advertising headwinds” that it could face this year. Apple’s stance is that this provides a user-centric data privacy approach, rather than an advertiser-centric one.

 

#advertising-tech, #apple, #facebook, #ios, #mobile, #privacy, #tc, #tim-cook

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Apple reports double-digit sales booms for every product category in Q1 2021

Apple's global headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Enlarge / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California. (credit: Sam Hall/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The last 24 hours have been flooded with stock market news, from the normal to the nutty. But based on Apple’s performance in recent quarters, the earnings the Cupertino company reported today for its first quarter of 2021 were very much on the normal side. And by that, we mean big numbers yet again.

According to the report, Apple crossed the threshold for $100 billion in revenue in a single quarter for the first time, and the company posted double-digit sales increases for every single one of its defined product categories. Overall, sales were up 21 percent year-over-year, despite many consumers’ struggles in the pandemic-stricken economy.

iPhone revenue was $65.6 billion, surpassing analysts’ expected $59.8 billion, and beating the same quarter last year by 17 percent. This coincides with the introduction of the iPhone 12 lineup (iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max), which was the most substantial redesign and upgrade to iPhones since the iPhone X three years earlier.

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#apple, #q1-2021, #stock, #stock-market, #tech, #tim-cook

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Apple said to be working a high-priced standalone VR headset as debut mixed reality product

Apple is reportedly working on developing a high-end virtual reality headset for a potential sales debut in 2022, per a new Bloomberg report. The headset would include its own built-in processors and power supply, and could feature a chip even more powerful than the M1 Apple Silicon processor that the company currently ships on its MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, according to the report’s sources.

As is typical for a report this far out from a target launch date, Bloomberg offers a caveat that these plans could be changed or cancelled altogether. Apple undoubtedly kills a lot of its projects before they ever see the light of day, even in cases where they include a lot of time and capital investment. And the headset will reportedly cost even more than some of the current higher-priced VR headset offerings on the market, which can range up to nearly $1,000, with the intent of selling it initially as a low-volume niche device aimed at specialist customers – kind of like the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR that Apple currently sells.

The headset will reportedly focus mostly on VR, but will also include some augmented reality features, in a limited capacity, for overlaying visuals on real world views fed in by external cameras. This differs from prior reports that suggested Apple was pursuing consumer AR smart glasses as its likely first headset product in the mixed reality category for consumer distribution. Bloomberg reports that while this VR headset is at a late prototype stage of development, its AR glasses are much earlier in the design process and could follow the VR headset introduction by at least a year or more.

The strategy here appears to be creating a high-tech, high-performance and high-priced device that will only ever sell in small volume, but that will help it begin to develop efficiencies and lower the production costs of technologies involved, in order to pave the way for more mass-market devices later.

The report suggests the product could be roughly the same size as the Oculus Quest, with a fabric exterior to help reduce weight. The external cameras could also be used for environment and hand tracking, and there is the possibility that it will debut with its own App Store designed for VR content.

Virtual reality is still a nascent category even as measured by the most successful products currently available in the market, the Oculus Quest and the PlayStation VR. But Facebook at least seems to see a lot of long-term value in continuing to invest in and iterate its VR product, and Apple’s view could be similar. The company has already put a lot of focus and technical development effort into AR on the iPhone, and CEO Tim Cook has expressed a lot of optimism about AR’s future in a number of interviews.

#app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #display-technology, #facebook, #hardware, #iphone, #oculus, #playstation-vr, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #tim-cook, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices

0

After white supremacists storm US capitol, Apple expands racial justice initiative

Earlier this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised a “major” announcement today, and now it has hit the wires: Apple has announced new programs in its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, or REJI.

Here are the specific programs being launched or expanded, according to Apple’s press release this morning:

These forward-looking and comprehensive efforts include the Propel Center, a first-of-its-kind global innovation and learning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); an Apple Developer Academy to support coding and tech education for students in Detroit; and venture capital funding for Black and Brown entrepreneurs.

Apple launched its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative last June. CEO Tim Cook appointed Apple’s VP of Environmental Policy and Social Initiatives, Lisa Jackson, to head up the program.

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#apple, #lisa-jackson, #racial-equity-and-justice-initiative, #tech, #tim-cook

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Musk says Apple passed on Tesla acquisition three years ago

Robotic arms surround an incomplete sedan.

Enlarge / A Tesla Model 3 is seen in the general assembly line at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in July 2018. (credit: Mason Trinca for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A few years ago, Elon Musk tried to interest Apple CEO Tim Cook in buying Tesla, Musk said in a Tuesday tweet. “He refused to take the meeting,” Musk added.

According to Musk, this occurred in the “darkest days of the Model 3 program”—most likely sometime in late 2017 or early 2018. Musk recently revealed that at one point early in the Model 3 manufacturing process, Tesla was “about a month” away from bankruptcy.

“The Model 3 ramp was extreme stress & pain for a long time — from mid 2017 to mid 2019,” Musk wrote in November. “Production & logistics hell.”

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#apple, #cars, #elon-musk, #model-3, #tesla, #tim-cook

0

Elon Musk claims he tried selling Tesla to Apple but Tim Cook wasn’t interested

Tesla stock’s miraculously bizarre 2020 might have a gone different way had Apple’s Tim Cook agreed to a meeting in recent years, or so says Elon Musk.

Reacting to Reuters’ recent news that Apple has not abandoned its electric car program and is still pursuing plans to build a physical vehicle, Musk tweeted that in “the darkest days” of scaling Model 3 production, he reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook and raised the possibility of the Cupertino company acquiring Tesla. Musk says that Cook refused to take the meeting.

TechCrunch has reached out to Apple for comment.

Musk’s short tweet did not clarify exactly when this timeline was, though given public information about Tesla’s Model 3 production, it was likely between 2017 and 2019. In regards to Musk’s proposed sales price, 1/10th of Tesla’s current market capitalization is about $60 billion, which isn’t too far from the stock’s public value last year before it reached stratospheric heights in recent months.

Though Tesla is now worth more than $600 billion on the public markets after joining the S&P 500 this week, most Wall Street analysts seem perplexed by the stock’s recent growth which has been owed to young and first-time investors rallying behind Tesla’s products and its CEO.

#apple, #apple-inc, #automotive, #cars, #ceo, #cupertino, #elon-musk, #hyperloop, #tesla, #tesla-model-3, #tesla-model-s, #tim-cook

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Apple earnings show strong iPad and Mac sales can’t make up for the iPhone

An older man in a white polo shirt flashes a peace sign while walking outdoors.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook. (credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Apple announced its fourth-quarter earnings today after the bell, and it was something of a strange quarter because, unlike some previous years (including last year), this quarter’s numbers did not include an iPhone launch. The iPhone 12’s various models ship in October and November instead of September this year.

CEO Tim Cook proudly announced double-digit YOY growth in all product categories besides iPhone on the call, but the iPhone is important: Apple’s total revenue was up only 1 percent year-over-year, with iPhone revenue down almost 21 percent.

While the iPhone didn’t help push up the bottom line, Apple did launch other products during the period, including the redesigned iPad Air and two Apple Watches: the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE. iPad revenue was up a substantial 46 percent YOY (it totaled $6.8 billion), and Mac revenue was also strong at $9 billion, or 28 percent more than the same quarter last year.

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Apple One services subscription bundles start launching tomorrow

Apple is launching its Apple One services bundle tomorrow, though the company’s workout service Fitness+ isn’t quite ready yet.

On an earnings call today, CEO Tim Cook revealed tomorrow’s rollout and called the service the “easiest way for users to enjoy Apple services.” In a conversation with Bloomberg, Apple CFO Luca Maestri revealed the launch timing for Fitness+ as well. The company also detailed that it has 585 million total paid services subscriptions and expects to reach 600 million before the end of the 2020 calendar year.

The subscription bundle is designed around bringing more users into more Apple Services. It’s a big play to get subscribers to switch from Spotify to Apple Music as that is likely the crown jewel of the offering.

The company’s $14.99 per month individual plan includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and 50GB of iCloud storage. Apple also sells $19.99 family plans that bump up the storage to 200GB and is planning to debut a “premiere” plan for $29.99 that includes Fitness+ and Apple News+.

Apple’s Services division is growing in importance to the company’s bottom line, with the group reaching an all-time-high in revenue and reaching past half of the quarter’s iPhone revenues. You can read more on their earnings release below.

#apple, #apple-arcade, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-news, #apple-one, #apple-services, #apple-tv, #ceo, #cfo, #computing, #e-commerce, #icloud, #iphone, #luca-maestri, #spotify, #tc, #tim-cook

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Apple goes to war with the gaming industry

Most gamers may not view Apple as a games company to the same degree that they see Sony with PlayStation or Microsoft with Xbox, but the iPhone-maker continues to uniformly drive the industry with decisions made in the Apple App Store.

The company made the news a couple times late this week for App Store approvals. Once for denying a gaming app, and the other for approving one.

The denial was Microsoft’s xCloud gaming app, something the Xbox folks weren’t too psyched about. Microsoft xCloud is one of the Xbox’s most substantial software platform plays in quite some time, allowing gamers to live-stream titles from the cloud and play console-quality games across a number of devices. It’s a huge effort that’s been in preview for a bit, but is likely going to officially launch next month. The app had been in a Testflight preview for iOS, but as Microsoft looked to push it to primetime, Apple said not so fast.

The app that was approved was the Facebook Gaming app which Facebook has been trying to shove through the App Store for months to no avail. It was at last approved Friday after the company stripped one of its two central features, a library of playable mobile games. In a curt statement to The New York Times, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “Unfortunately, we had to remove gameplay functionality entirely in order to get Apple’s approval on the stand-alone Facebook Gaming app.”

Microsoft’s Xbox team also took the unusually aggressive step of calling out Apple in a statement that reads, in-part, “Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.”

Microsoft is still a $1.61 trillion company so don’t think I’m busting out the violin for them, but iOS is the world’s largest gaming platform, something CEO Tim Cook proudly proclaimed when the company launched its own game subscription platform, Apple Arcade, last year. Apple likes to play at its own pace, and all of these game-streaming platforms popping up at the same time seem poised to overwhelm them.

Image Credits: Microsoft

There are a few things about cloud gaming apps that seem at odds with some of the App Store’s rules, yet these rules are, of course, just guidelines written by Apple.  For Apple’s part, they basically said (full statement later) that the App Store had curators for a reason and that approving apps like these means they can’t individually review the apps which compromises the App Store experience.

To say that’s “the reason” seems disingenuous because the company has long approved platforms to operate on the App Store without stamping approval on the individual pieces of content that can be accessed. With “Games” representing the App Store’s most popular category, Apple likely cares much more about keeping their own money straight.

Analysis from CNBC pinned Apple’s 2019 App Store total revenue at $50 billion.

When these cloud gaming platforms like xCloud scale with zero iOS support, millions of Apple customers, myself included, are actually going to be pissed that their iPhone can’t do something that their friend’s phone can. Playing console-class titles on the iPhone would be a substantial feature upgrade for consumers. There are about 90 million Xbox Live users out there, a substantial number of which are iPhone owners I would imagine. The games industry is steadily rallying around game subscription networks and cloud gaming as a move to encourage consumers to sample more titles and discover more indie hits.

I’ve seen enough of these sagas to realize that sometimes parties will kick off these fights purely as a tactic to get their way in negotiations and avoid workarounds, but it’s a tactic that really only works when consumers have a reason to care. Most of the bigger App Store developer spats have played in the background and come to light later, but at this point the Xbox team undoubtedly sees that Apple isn’t positioned all that well to wage an App Store war in the midst of increased antitrust attention over a cause that seems wholly focused on maintaining their edge in monetizing the games consumers play on Apple screens.

CEO Tim Cook spent an awful lot of time in his Congressional Zoom room answering question about perceived anticompetitiveness on the company’s application storefront.

The big point of tension I could see happening behind closed doors is that plenty of these titles offer in-game transactions and just because that in-app purchase framework is being live-streamed from a cloud computer doesn’t mean that a user isn’t still using experiencing that content on an Apple device. I’m not sure whether this is actually the point of contention, but it seems like it would be a major threat to Apple’s ecosystem-wide in-app purchase raking.

The App Store does not currently support cloud gaming on Nvidia’s GeForce platform or Google’s Stadia which are also both available on Android phones. Both of these platforms are more limited in scope than Microsoft’s offering which is expected to launch with wider support and pick up wider adoption.

While I can understand Apple’s desire to not have gaming titles ship that might not function properly on an iPhone because of system constraints, that argument doesn’t apply so well to the cloud gaming world where apps are translating button presses to the cloud and the cloud is sending them back the next engine-rendered frames of their game. Apple is being forced to get pretty particular about what media types of apps fall under the “reader” designation. The inherent interactivity of a cloud gaming platform seems to be the differentiation Apple is pushing here — as well as the interfaces that allows gamers to directly launch titles with an interface that’s far more specialized than some generic remote desktop app.

All of these platforms arrive after the company already launched Apple Arcade, a non-cloud gaming product made in the image of what Apple would like to think are the values it fosters in the gaming world: family friendly indie titles with no intrusive ads, no bothersome micro-transactions and Apple’s watchful review.

Apple’s driver’s seat position in the gaming world has been far from a wholly positive influence for the industry. Apple has acted as a gatekeeper, but the fact is plenty of the “innovations” pushed through as a result of App Store policies have been great for Apple but questionable for the development of a gamer-friendly games industry.

Apple facilitated the advent of free-to-play games by pushing in-app purchases which have been abused recklessly over the years as studios have been irresistibly pushed to structure their titles around principles of addiction. Mobile gaming has been one of the more insane areas of Wild West startup growth over the past decade and Apple’s mechanics for fueling quick transactions inside these titles has moved fast and broken things.

Take a look at the 200 top grossing games in the App Store (data via Sensor Tower) and you’ll see that all 199 of them rely solely on in-app micro-transaction to reach that status — Microsoft’s Minecraft, ranked 50th costs $6.99 to download, though it also offers in-app purchases.

In 2013, the company settled a class-action lawsuit that kicked off after parents sued Apple for making it too easy for kids to make in-app purchases. In 2014, Apple settled a case with the FTC over the same mechanism for $32 million. This year, a lawsuit filed against Apple questioned the legality of “loot box” in-app purchases which gave gamers randomized digital awards.

“Through the games it sells and offers for free to consumers through its AppStore, Apple engages in predatory practices enticing consumers, including children to engage in gambling and similar addictive conduct in violation of this and other laws designed to protect consumers and to prohibit such practices,” read that most recent lawsuit filing.

This is, of course, not how Apple sees its role in the gaming industry. In a statement to Business Insider responding to the company’s denial of Microsoft’s xCloud, Apple laid out its messaging.

The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

The impact has — quite obviously — not been uniformly negative, but Apple has played fast and loose with industry changes when they benefit the mothership. I won’t act like plenty of Sony and Microsoft’s actions over the years haven’t offered similar affronts to gamers, but Apple exercises the industry-wide sway it holds, operating the world’s largest gaming platform, too often and gamers should be cautious in trusting the App Store owner to make decisions that have their best interests at heart.


If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get more of my weekly opinions and notes on the news by subscribing to Week in Review here, and following my tweets here.

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“This is a very dangerous situation:” Big Tech’s day on the Hill

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies (remotely) before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on "Online Platforms and Market Power" in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 29, 2020.

Enlarge / Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testifies (remotely) before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power” in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 29, 2020. (credit: Graeme Jennings – Pool | AFP | Getty Images)

A bevy of tech’s biggest titans—Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg—all took to their remote offices Wednesday to dial into a hotly anticipated Congressional hearing, the latest part of an in-depth investigation into their firms’ behavior that began more than a year ago.

The almost six-hour hearing was nominally convened to talk about antitrust enforcement, and it had two core questions at its heart. First: do the biggest, globe-spanning US tech companies have too much power in the market? And second: did they come by the power they do have honestly, or did they somehow cheat to get it?

House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) focused his opening remarks on how bipartisan the investigation process has been to date before sketching out his belief that all four companies present have behaved anticompetitively, become monopolies, and caused harm both to consumers and the entire democratic project writ large.

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Telegram hits out at Apple’s app store ‘tax’ in latest EU antitrust complaint

Apple has another antitrust charge on its plate. Messaging app Telegram has joined Spotify in filing a formal complaint against the iOS App Store in Europe — adding its voice to a growing number of developers willing to publicly rail against what they decry as Apple’s app “tax”.

A spokesperson for Telegram confirmed the complaint to TechCrunch, pointing us to this public Telegram post where founder, Pavel Durov, sets out seven reasons why he thinks iPhone users should be concerned about the company’s behavior.

These range from the contention that Apple’s 30% fee on app developers leads to higher prices for iPhone users; to censorship concerns, given Apple controls what’s allowed (and not allowed) on its store; to criticism of delays to app updates that flow from Apple’s app review process; to the claim that the app store structure is inherently hostile to user privacy, given that Apple gets full visibility of which apps users are downloading and engaging with.

This week Durov also published a blog post in which he takes aim at a number of “myths” he says Apple uses to try to justify the 30% app fee — such as a claim that iOS faces plenty of competition for developers; or that developers can choose not to develop for iOS and instead only publish apps for Android.

“Try to imagine Telegram or TikTok as Android -only apps and you will quickly understand why avoiding Apple is impossible,” he writes. “You can’t just exclude iPhone users. As for the iPhone users, the costs for consumers to switch from an iPhone to an Android is so high that it qualifies as a monopolistic lock-in” — citing a study done by Yale University to bolster that claim.

“Now that anti-monopoly investigations against Apple have started in the EU and the US, I expect Apple to double down on spreading such myths,” Durov adds. “We shouldn’t sit idly and let Apple’s lobbyists and PR agents do their thing. At the end of the day, it is up to us – consumers and creators – to defend our rights and to stop monopolists from stealing our money. They may think they have tricked us into a deadlock, because we’ve already bought a critical mass of their devices and created a critical mass of apps for them. But we shouldn’t be giving them a free ride any longer.”

The European Commission declined to comment on Telegram’s complaint.

We also reached out to Apple for comment but the company also declined to provide an on the record statement regarding Telegram’s complaint. A spokesperson did point to a piece of analyst research, from earlier this year, which found iOS had a marketshare of 15% vs Android’s 85%. They also flagged a separate analyst report, which looks at commission rates charged by app and digital content stores and marketplaces — suggesting this shows that rates charged for similar types of stores are generally also around 30%.

So the company’s overarching argument against ‘app tax’ complaints continues to be the claim that: A) Apple can’t have monopoly power, given its relatively small mobile OS marketshare (vs Android); and B) the App Store fee is fair because it’s basically the same as everyone else charges. (On the latter point it’s true Google also takes a 30% cut via the Play Store. However the Android platform lets users sideload apps; whereas, on iOS, users would have to jailbreak their device to get the same level of freedom to freely install apps of their choice).

Apple’s arguments are also now being actively looked into by EU regulators. Last month the Competition Commission announced it’s investigating Apple’s iOS store (and Apple Pay) — saying a preliminary probe of the store had identified concerns related to conditions and restrictions applied by the tech giant.

Specifically vis-a-vis the App Store, the Commission said it’s looking at Apple’s mandatory requirement that developers use its proprietary in-app purchase system, and at restrictions it applies on the ability of developers to inform iPhone and iPad users of alternative cheaper purchasing possibilities outside of the App Store.

The investigation by EU regulators is just the latest in a series of major big tech antitrust probes under the bloc’s current competition chief, Margrethe Vestager — who has also been digging into Amazon and Facebook business practices in recent years, as well as hitting Google with a series of record-breaking antitrust fines.

Over in the US, meanwhile, lawmakers are also actively grappling with competition concerns that have long been attached to a number of tech giants — and are being exacerbated by the pandemic concentrating platform power. Apple is one of the tech giants of concern, though not, seemingly, top of US lawmakers’ target list.

Yesterday, a hearing of the House Antitrust Subcommittee took testimony from four big tech CEOs: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai — with Pichai, Bezos and Zuckerberg getting the most questions from lawmakers.

Cook did face a number of questions around how the company operates the App Store, though — including about the commission it charges developers and a specific line of enquiry on why it had removed rival screen time apps. Asked whether Apple could ever raise its 30% take on app subscriptions Cook sought to sidestep the question, saying the fee had remained unchanged since the launch of the store.

He then followed up by arguing Apple faces huge competition for developers — citing alternatives platforms such as Windows and Xbox as also fiercely vying for developers, and likening the competition to attract developers as akin to “a street fight for market share”.

The contention from complainants like Spotify and Telegram is that Cook’s claim of Apple facing fierce competition for developers’ wares, from its position as the world’s second largest smartphone OS by marketshare, does not stand up to scrutiny. But it’ll be up to EU regulators to determine how to define the market for smartphone apps and, flowing from that, whether they identify harm or not.

#android, #antitrust, #apple-inc, #apps, #competition-commission, #competition-law, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #facebook, #google, #ios, #ios-app-store, #ipad, #iphone, #jeff-bezos, #lawsuit, #margrethe-vestager, #mark-zuckerberg, #pavel-durov, #play-store, #smartphones, #spotify, #sundar-pichai, #telegram, #tim-cook, #united-states

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Affirming the position of tech advocates, Supreme Court overturns Trump’s termination of DACA

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that President Donald Trump’s administration unlawfully ended the federal policy providing temporary legal status for immigrants who came to the country as children.

The decision, issued Thursday, called the termination of the Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result of its ruling, nearly 640,000 people living in the United States are now temporarily protected from deportation.

While a blow to the Trump Administration, the ruling is sure to be hailed nearly unanimously by the tech industry and its leaders, who had come out strongly in favor of the policy in the days leading up to its termination by the current President and his advisors.

At the beginning of 2018, many of tech’s most prominent executives, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, joined more than 100 American business leaders in signing an open letter asking Congress to take action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before it expired in March.

Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai who made a full throated defense of the policy and pleaded with Congress to pass legislation ensuring that Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and were granted approval by the program, can continue to live and work in the country without risk of deportation.

At the time, those executives said the decision to end the program could potentially cost the U.S. economy as much as $215 billion.

In a 2017 tweet, Tim Cook noted that Apple employed roughly 250 of the company’s employees were “Dreamers”.

The list of tech executives who came out to support the DACA initiative is long. It included: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer of Microsoft; Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; and CEOs or other leading executives of AT&T, Dropbox, Upwork, Cisco Systems, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn, Intel, Warby Parker, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Box, Twitter, PayPal, Code.org, Lyft, Etsy, AdRoll, eBay, StitchCrew, SurveyMonkey, DoorDash, Verizon (the parent company of Verizon Media Group, which owns TechCrunch).

At the heart of the court’s ruling is the majority view that Department of Homeland Security officials didn’t provide a strong enough reason to terminate the program in September 2017. Now, the issue of immigration status gets punted back to the White House and Congress to address.

As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts did not determine whether the Obama-era policy or its revocation were correct, just that the DHS didn’t make a strong enough case to end the policy.

“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote. 

While the ruling from the Supreme Court is some good news for the population of “dreamers,” the question of their citizenship status in the country is far from settled. And the U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has basically consisted of freezing as much of the nation’s immigration apparatus as possible.

An Executive Order in late April froze the green card process for would-be immigrants, and the administration was rumored to be considering a ban on temporary workers under H1-B visas as well.

The President has, indeed, ramped up the crackdown with strict border control policies and other measures to curb both legal and illegal immigration. 

More than 800,000 people joined the workforce as a result of the 2012 program crafted by the Obama administration. DACA allows anyone under 30 to apply for protection from deportation or legal action on their immigration cases if they were younger than 16 when they were brought to the US, had not committed a crime, and were either working or in school.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the President tweeted “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

 

 

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iPhone looters find devices disabled, with a warning they’re being tracked

Another view of the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Enlarge / The iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Along with other retailers big and small, Apple Stores have been subject to looting by opportunists amid the ongoing protests around the United States. In response, Apple has again closed all of its stores in the US. Stores had only recently reopened after closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But looters who brought stolen iPhones home, or people who end up buying those phones in person-to-person transactions, are in for what may be a surprise: it appears that the stolen iPhones don’t work and may even be tracked by Apple or authorities. This could pose a challenge for regular consumers who buy second-hand iPhones—as well as repair shops—in the coming weeks and months.

Individuals with iPhones allegedly looted from Apple stores found that the phones were automatically disabled and had messages like the following (via Twitter) displayed on-screen:

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Apple begins offering Macs with custom configurations in India

Apple is finally giving customers in India the ability to order customized versions of iMac, MacBook Air, Mac Mini and other Mac computers.

The Cupertino-giant has started to offer a full-range of the Mac portfolio with configure-to-order (CTO) or build-to-order (BTO) option in India, allowing customers in the country to request specific custom needs such as additional memory or storage when they purchase a computer.

Customers in India, a key overseas market for American technology giants, have long requested this feature, which Apple offers in several regions. Prior to this, Apple only offered select variants of its Mac computers in India and gave no option to customers to ask for specific upgrades.

Those interested can get in touch with their local Apple Authorized Reseller to discuss the various upgrade options, pricing information, and place the order. The options are also listed on Apple India website.

Apple is currently committing to deliver customized computers in four to five weeks from the time of order.

“This is a very huge deal,” said Mumbai-based Preshit Deorukhkar. “Previously, there was no real way to get a built-to-order or configure-to-order Mac in India. So you were stuck with the base models — say a Mac Mini or 13″ MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM. Now that the company is officially offering this, you get the computer you want and the standard warranty on it.”

The new move comes as Apple prepares to launch its online store in India this year and open its first brick-and-mortar retail store next year, as chief executive Tim Cook revealed earlier this year.

The company is still on track to launch its online store in India this year despite the coronavirus outbreak, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

#apple, #asia, #gadgets, #hardware, #imac, #india, #tim-cook

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In an unusual investor call, Apple reports flat quarterly earnings amid COVID-19

A serious man in a business suit.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook. (credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Despite disruptions to both supply and demand caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Apple posted $58.3 billion in revenue in its second quarter, eking out 1 percent growth over last year’s second quarter.

This beat some recent expectations by investors, but it falls well behind the $63-67 billion guidance for the quarter the company initial gave before the coronavirus’ effects were fully felt. Apple’s retail stores have been closed around much of the world, and for a period of time earlier this year, its ability to assemble iPhones and other products was hampered as the virus first spread in China.

CEO Tim Cook spoke optimistically about the company’s long-term prospects on a call with investors today, but in a break with common practice, Apple did not provide guidance for the next quarter, citing the inability to predict the pandemic’s future impact. “We have great confidence in the long-term of our business,” Cook said. “In the short-term, it’s hard to see out the windshield to know what the next 60 days look like, and so we’re not giving guidance because of that lack of visibility and uncertainty.”

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Apple and Google release first seed of COVID-19 exposure notification API for contact tracing app developers

Apple and Google have released the first version of their exposure notification API, which they previously called the contact tracing API. This is a developer-focused release, and is a seed of the API in development, with the primary intent of collecting feedback from developers who will be using the API to create new contact tracing and notification apps on behalf of public health agencies.

Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook told EU Commissioner Thierry Breton that the API would be arriving shortly, and this version is indeed now available — albeit to a specific and limited group that includes select developers working on behalf of public health authorities globally, according to the companies. This is a test release that’s intended to provide the opportunity for development and feedback in advance of the API’s public release in mid-May, at which time developers will be able to use the software feature on devices with publicly available apps released through the iOS and Google software stores, respectively.

Apple and Google say they will be providing this coming Friday additional details about the API and its release, including sample code to show how it operates in practice. Both are intent on providing updates to the documentation as they become available, and in adding access to new developers throughout testing, though this will be gated because the companies are limiting access to this API to authorized public health authorities only.

Already, Apple and Google have made available on their respective developer websites documents that describe the specification in detail, and provided an update with improvements to the tech’s functioning, including in terms of its protection of user privacy, and the ease with which developers can deploy it within their apps, as discussed during a press call last week.

This update includes an added ability for health authorities to define and calculate an exposure risk level for individuals based on their own criteria, as that varies organization to organization. This will be variable based on approximate distance of an individual to a confirmed exposed COVID-19 patient, as well as the duration of that exposure. Developers can customize notification messaging based on their defined exposure levels to ensure alerts correspond correctly to calculated risk.

Apple and Google first announced the combined API and eventual system-level contact tracing feature on April 10, and intend to release the first version of the API publicly in mid-May, with the system-level integration to follow in the coming months. The tech is designed to be privacy-preserving, ensuring that contact IDs are rotating and randomized, and never tied to an individual’s specific identifying information.

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