Apple’s AR/VR headset will arrive in January 2023, analyst projects

An early augmented reality demo by Apple, using a smartphone instead of a headset.

Enlarge / An early augmented reality demo by Apple, using a smartphone instead of a headset. (credit: Apple)

Tech industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has offered the most specific prediction about a release date for an Apple augmented reality/virtual reality headset yet: January 2023.

Kuo has often made accurate, informed predictions about Apple’s plans in the past, based partly on information from sources in the company’s supply chain. On Thursday, he published a lengthy analysis of the VR headset industry and predicted that Apple’s device will “likely” arrive in January.

Kuo called the headset “the most complicated product Apple has ever designed,” noting that many current Apple suppliers are involved in the supply chain for the product. He also supported other recent leaks and speculation that the upcoming headset will not be exclusively or primarily focused on augmented reality (which places virtual options in real-world space) rather than virtual reality (which immerses the wearer in an entirely virtual space).

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #meta, #ming-chi-kuo, #mixed-reality, #tech, #tim-cook, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

As disruptions in China continue, Apple will start making iPads in Vietnam

The back of the 2019 iPad Air

Enlarge / The back of the 2019 iPad Air. (credit: Samuel Axon)

In the face of COVID lockdown-related supply disruptions, Apple is moving some iPad production from China to Vietnam, according to Nikkei Asia. The company is also taking other measures with its suppliers to soften the blow of supply issues in China.

This is not Apple’s first attempt to move some production out of China. Some iPhones have been made in India, a small number of Macs have been assembled in the United States, and Vietnam is already a major factor in AirPods production.

Apple was looking to move more production to Vietnam in 2020 and 2021, but it had to postpone some of its plans as COVID-19 surges hit the country.

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#apple, #ipad, #supply, #supply-lines, #tech, #tim-cook, #vietnam

The full saga of Apple’s troubled mixed reality headset has been revealed

A man in a tee-shirt sits onstage.

Enlarge / Jony Ive speaks onstage during the 2017 New Yorker TechFest in New York City. (credit: Brian Ach/Getty Images)

A series of reports in The Information paint a detailed picture of progression, politics, and problems facing Apple’s plan to develop a virtual, augmented, or mixed reality headset since the initiative picked up steam back in 2015.

Citing several people familiar with the product, including some who worked on it directly, the reports describe a contest of wills over the direction of the device. The standoff was between Apple’s mixed reality product team (called the “Technology Development Group”) and famed Apple designer Jony Ive and his industrial design team. The report sheds light on Apple’s direction for the device, which Bloomberg recently reported is nearing launch.

They also claim that Apple CEO Tim Cook has been relatively hands-off from the product compared to others like the iPhone, and that the Technology Development Group’s location in a separate office from the main Apple headquarters has been a source of problems and frustration.

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #jonathan-ive, #jony-ive, #mike-rockwell, #mixed-reality, #reality-os, #ros, #tech, #tim-cook, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Apple has made nearly $100 billion so far this year

Adding the M1 chip to the iPad Air didn't move the needle much for the iPad lineup's revenue this quarter.

Enlarge / Adding the M1 chip to the iPad Air didn’t move the needle much for the iPad lineup’s revenue this quarter. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple reported its earnings for Q2 2022 to investors on Thursday. Once again, the company beat analyst expectations and posted massive revenues and profits across most of its product lines. The only category that saw a drop in year-over-year revenue was the iPad.

Q2 2022 largely included the months of January, February, and March 2022. For that period, Apple reported $97.3 billion in revenue, up 9 percent year-over-year, with a profit of $25 billion.

Apple rolls up each product into one of five categories to report revenue to investors. The services category includes iCloud, the App Store, Apple Card, and Apple Music. The Other Products category includes both the Apple Watch and AirPods, as well as a smorgasbord of others that don’t neatly fit in the other devices. The iPhone, Mac, and iPad categories are self-explanatory.

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#apple, #earnings, #ipad, #q2-2022, #tech, #tim-cook

Tim Cook delivers speech railing against “data industrial complex,” sideloading

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the IAPP 2022 conference.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the IAPP 2022 conference. (credit: Apple)

Apple CEO Tim Cook took to the stage at the annual International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) conference on Tuesday to talk about privacy, security, ad tracking, and sideloading.

Calling privacy “one of the most essential battles of our time,” Cook lambasted companies that moneteize large user data collection operations, comparing them to real-world stalkers.

By contrast, he claimed that Apple maintains “a commitment to protecting people from a data industrial complex built on a foundation of surveillance.” To vigorous applause from the audience of privacy professionals, he voiced his support for US privacy regulations akin to those passed in Europe in recent years.

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#apple, #apple-app-store, #iapp, #iapp-2022, #privacy, #sideloading, #tech, #tim-cook

Apple just had the biggest holiday quarter in its history

A blue smartphone with two cameras.

Enlarge / The back of the iPhone 13. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Neither a global pandemic nor a supply chain crunch can stop Apple, based on the company’s Q1 2022 earnings report. Released today, the report showed Apple smashing many of its sales records once again, with $123.9 billion in overall revenue and $34.6 billion in profit.

A lot of that money was driven by the iPhone 13, as this was the first full quarter since that product line’s launch. When we reviewed the iPhone 13 lineup, we wrote that it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with flashy new features, but it does give the people what they say they want: better cameras and more battery life.

Cameras and battery life seemed to resonate with buyers. iPhone revenue for the quarter was $71.63 billion, up 9 percent year-over-year. Also, Apple achieved a new record for smartphone market share in the critical China market: 23 percent. That made the company the top-selling smartphone brand in the country for the first time in years.

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#airpods, #apple, #apple-watch, #ipad, #iphone, #iphone-13, #mac, #q1-2022, #tech, #tim-cook

After months-long battle, Apple takes the due date off its return-to-office plans

An enormous ring-shaped building on a green campus.

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

It’s been a rocky road for Apple’s return-to-office plans. Over the past few months, we’ve reported on numerous stops and starts, but the industry behemoth seems to have come to the hardest stop yet, according to a Bloomberg report.

According to a memo sent to Apple employees by CEO Tim Cook, the company’s return-to-office date (which was last set at February 1 a few weeks ago) has once again been delayed—but this time, it has been delayed to a “date yet to be determined.” Up to this point, previous delays had set a new target. Not so this time.

Cook wrote in the memo that the delay is due to “rising cases in many parts of the world” as well as “the emergence of a new strain of the virus.” He described the change in plans as a delay, though, not a cancellation. Employees will get at least four weeks of notice before a new return-to-office date, he added.

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#apple, #covid-19, #pandemic, #remote-work, #return-to-office, #tech, #tim-cook, #work-from-home

Report: Apple CEO Tim Cook engineered a secret $275 billion deal with China

A casually dressed Tim Cook stands in a green field.

Apple CEO Tim Cook announcing new products in the company’s April 20, 2021, livestream. (credit: Nathan Mattise / Ars Technica)

Today, The Information published a lengthy report detailing Apple CEO Tim Cook’s efforts to establish strong relationships between Apple and Chinese government officials and agencies.

Citing both interviews and direct access to internal Apple documents about repeated visits by Cook to China in the mid-2010s, the report describes a $275 billion deal whereby Apple committed to investing heavily in technology infrastructure and training in the country.

The nonbinding, five-year deal was signed by Cook during a 2016 visit, and it was made partially to mitigate or prevent regulatory action by the Chinese government that would have had significant negative effects on Apple’s operations and business in the country.

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#apple, #china, #tech, #tim-cook

Apple employees will return to the office this February, leaked Cook email says

Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook. (credit: Chris Foresman)

Few large companies have had a more contentious internal argument over remote work amid the pandemic than Apple, but it is moving ahead with bringing many employees back into physical offices starting in February.

As previously reported by CNBC, Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an email to employees, announced both a new return-to-office date and a revised work-from-home policy for the people who make iPhones, macOS, and many other products.

Cook described the return to the office as a “hybrid work pilot,” with multiple phases and different rules depending on the nature of each employee’s work.

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#apple, #covid-19, #pandemic, #remote-work, #tech, #tim-cook, #work-from-home

Despite huge iPhone sales, Apple misses the mark in Q4 earnings report

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)

In its quarterly call with investors today, Apple revealed that its revenue grew in all of its businesses and product categories, but the numbers weren’t enough to impress investors who were expecting even bigger gains.

The company’s overall revenue grew by 29 percent to $83.36 billion, with iPhone revenue seeing the biggest growth at 47 growth year-over-year at $38.87 billion.

Services revenue came in at $18.28 billion, for 24.6 percent growth. The Mac managed $9.18 billion for 1.6 percent, and the iPad $8.25 billion for 21.4 percent. “Other products,” which includes the Watch and AirPods, grew 11.5 percent to $8.79 billion.

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#apple, #earnings, #iphone, #revenue, #stocks, #tech, #tim-cook

Apple lowers commissions on in-app purchases for news publishers who participate in Apple News

Apple today is launching a new program that will allow subscription news organizations that participate in the Apple News app and meet certain requirements to lower their commission rate to 15% on qualifying in-app purchases taking place inside their apps on the App Store. Typically, Apple’s model for subscription-based apps involves a standard 30% commission during their first year on the App Store which then drops to 15% in year two. But the new Apple News Partner Program, announced today, will now make 15% the commission rate for participants starting on day one.

There are a few caveats to this condition, and they benefit Apple. To qualify, the news publisher must maintain a presence on Apple News and they have to provide their content in the Apple News Format (ANF). The latter is the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format that’s used to create articles for Apple News which are optimized for Mac, iPhone and other Apple mobile devices. Typically, this involves a bit of setup to translate news articles from a publisher’s website or from their CMS (content management system) to the supported JSON format. For WordPress and other popular CMS’s, there are also plugins available to make this process easier.

Meanwhile, for publishers headquartered outside one of the four existing Apple News markets — the U.S., U.K., Australia, or Canada — they can instead satisfy the program’s obligations by providing Apple with an RSS feed.

On the App Store, the partner app qualifying for the 15% commission must be used to deliver “original, professionally authored” news content, and they must offer their auto-renewable subscriptions using Apple’s in-app purchase system.

While there is some initial work involved in establishing the publisher’s connection to Apple News, it’s worth noting that most major publishers already participate on Apple’s platform. That means they won’t have to do any additional work beyond what they’re already doing in order to transition over to the reduced commission for their apps. However, the program also serves as a way to push news organizations to continue to participate in the Apple News ecosystem, as it will make more financial sense to do so across their broader business.

That will likely be an area of contention for publishers, who would probably prefer that the reduced App Store commission didn’t come with strings attached.

Some publishers already worry that they’re giving up too much control over their business by tying themselves to the Apple News ecosystem. Last year, for example, The New York Times announced it would exit its partnership with Apple News, saying that Apple didn’t allow it to have as direct a relationship with readers as it wanted, and it would rather drive readers to its own app and website.

Apple, however, would argue that it doesn’t stand in the way of publishers’ businesses — it lets them paywall their content and keep 100% of the ad revenue from the ads they sell. (If they can’t sell it all or would prefer Apple to do so on their behalf, they then split the commission with Apple, keeping 70% of revenues instead.) In addition, for the company’s Apple News+ subscription service — where the subscription revenue split is much higher — it could be argued that it’s “found money.” That is, Apple markets the service to customers the publisher hadn’t been able to attract on its own anyway.

The launch of the new Apple News Partner program comes amid regulatory scrutiny over how Apple manages its App Store business and more recently, proposed legislation aiming to address alleged anticompetitive issues both in the U.S. and in major App Store markets, like South Korea.

Sensing this shift in the market, Apple had already been working to provide itself cover from antitrust complaints and lawsuits — like the one underway now with Epic Games — by adjusting its App Store commissions. Last year, it launched the App Store Small Business Program, which also lowered commissions on in-app purchases from 30% to 15% — but only for developers earning up to $1 million in revenues.

This program may have helped smaller publishers, but it was clear some major publishers still weren’t satisfied. After the reduced commissions for small businesses were announced in November, the publisher trade organization Digital Content Next (DCN) — a representative for the AP, The New York Times, NPR, ESPN, Vox, The Washington Post, Meredith, Bloomberg, NBCU, The Financial Times, and others — joined the advocacy group and lobbying organization the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) the very next month.

These publishers, who had previously written to Apple CEO Tim Cook to demand lower commissions — had other complaints about the revenue share beyond just the size of the split. They also didn’t want to be required to use Apple’s services for in-app purchases for their subscriptions, saying this “Apple tax” forces them to raise their prices for consumers.

It remains to be seen how these publishers will now react to the launch of the Apple News Partner program.

While it gives them a way to lower their App Store fees, it doesn’t address their broader complaints against Apple’s platform and its rules. If anything, it ties the lower fees to a program that locks them in further to the Apple ecosystem.

Apple, in a gesture of goodwill, also said today it would recommit support to three leading media non-profits, Common Sense Media, the News Literacy Project, and Osservatorio Permanente Giovani-Editori. These non-profits offer nonpartisan, independent media literacy programs, which Apple views as key to its larger mission to empower people to become smart and active news readers. Apple also said it would later announce further media literacy projects from other organizations. The company would not disclose the size of its commitment from a financial standpoint however, or discuss how much it has sent such organizations in the past.

“Providing Apple News customers with access to trusted information from our publishing partners has been our priority from day one,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Services, in a statement. “For more than a decade, Apple has offered our customers many ways to access and enjoy news content across our products and services. We have hundreds of news apps from dozens of countries around the world available in the App Store, and created Apple News Format to offer publishers a tool to showcase their content and provide a great experience for millions of Apple News users,” he added.

More details about the program and the application form will be available at the News Partner Program website.

#advocacy, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-news, #apps, #australia, #canada, #ceo, #coalition-for-app-fairness, #common-sense, #common-sense-media, #computing, #content-management-system, #eddy-cue, #epic-games, #ios, #iphone, #itunes, #javascript, #json, #major, #media, #mobile-devices, #software, #south-korea, #the-financial-times, #the-new-york-times, #the-washington-post, #tim-cook, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Apple’s CSAM detection tech is under fire — again

Apple has encountered monumental backlash to a new child sexual abuse imagery (CSAM) detection technology it announced earlier this month. The system, which Apple calls NeuralHash, has yet to be activated for its billion-plus users, but the technology is already facing heat from security researchers who say the algorithm is producing flawed results.

NeuralHash is designed to identify known CSAM on a user’s device without having to possess the image or knowing the contents of the image. Because a user’s photos stored in iCloud are end-to-end encrypted so that even Apple can’t access the data, NeuralHash instead scans for known CSAM on a user’s device, which Apple claims is more privacy friendly as it limits the scanning to just photos rather than other companies which scan all of a user’s file.

Apple does this by looking for images on a user’s device that have the same hash — a string of letters and numbers that can uniquely identify an image — that are provided by child protection organizations like NCMEC. If NeuralHash finds 30 or more matching hashes, the images are flagged to Apple for a manual review before the account owner is reported to law enforcement. Apple says the chance of a false positive is about one in one trillion accounts.

But security experts and privacy advocates have expressed concern that the system could be abused by highly-resourced actors, like governments, to implicate innocent victims or to manipulate the system to detect other materials that authoritarian nation states find objectionable. NCMEC called critics the “screeching voices of the minority,” according to a leaked memo distributed internally to Apple staff.

Last night, Asuhariet Ygvar reverse-engineered Apple’s NeuralHash into a Python script and published code to GitHub, allowing anyone to test the technology regardless of whether they have an Apple device to test. In a Reddit post, Ygvar said NeuralHash “already exists” in iOS 14.3 as obfuscated code, but was able to reconstruct the technology to help other security researchers understand the algorithm better before it’s rolled out to iOS and macOS devices later this year.

It didn’t take long before others tinkered with the published code and soon came the first reported case of a “hash collision,” which in NeuralHash’s case is where two entirely different images produce the same hash. Cory Cornelius, a well-known research scientist at Intel Labs, discovered the hash collision. Ygvar confirmed the collision a short time later.

Hash collisions can be a death knell to systems that rely on cryptography to keep them secure, such as encryption. Over the years several well-known password hashing algorithms, like MD5 and SHA-1, were retired after collision attacks rendered them ineffective.

Kenneth White, a cryptography expert and founder of the Open Crypto Audit Project, said in a tweet: “I think some people aren’t grasping that the time between the iOS NeuralHash code being found and [the] first collision was not months or days, but a couple of hours.”

When reached, an Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the record. But in a background call where reporters were not allowed to quote executives directly or by name, Apple downplayed the hash collision and argued that the protections it puts in place — such as a manual review of photos before they are reported to law enforcement — are designed to prevent abuses. Apple also said that the version of NeuralHash that was reverse-engineered is a generic version, and not the complete version that will roll out later this year.

It’s not just civil liberties groups and security experts that are expressing concern about the technology. A senior lawmaker in the German parliament sent a letter to Apple chief executive Tim Cook this week saying that the company is walking down a “dangerous path” and urged Apple not to implement the system.

#algorithms, #apple, #apple-inc, #cryptography, #encryption, #github, #hash, #icloud, #law-enforcement, #password, #privacy, #python, #security, #sha-1, #spokesperson, #tim-cook

Big tech companies are at war with employees over remote work

A tree-lined campus surrounds a multistory glass and steel building.

Enlarge / Apple offices in northern California. (credit: Apple)

All across the United States, the leaders at large tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook are engaged in a delicate dance with thousands of employees who have recently become convinced that physically commuting to an office every day is an empty and unacceptable demand from their employers.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced these companies to operate with mostly remote workforces for months straight. And since many of them are based in areas with relatively high vaccination rates, the calls to return to the physical office began to sound over the summer.

But thousands of high-paid workers at these companies aren’t having it. Many of them don’t want to go back to the office full-time, even if they’re willing to do so a few days a week. Workers are even pointing to how effective they were when fully remote and using that to question why they have to keep living in the expensive cities where these offices are located.

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#apple, #covid-19, #facebook, #google, #jack-dorsey, #lyft, #marissa-mayer, #microsoft, #remote-work, #tech, #tim-cook, #twitter, #yahoo

For tech firms, the risk of not preparing for leadership changes is huge

Every week over the past three and a half years, an average of three CEOs have exited tech companies in the U.S. That tally is higher — in good times and bad — than in any of the other 26 for-profit sectors tracked by executive search firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. You’d think tech companies should be the paradigm of how to prep for leadership transitions, since they operate in such a constant state of flux.

They’re far from it.

A change of command is one of the most delicate moments in the life cycle of any organization. If mishandled, the transition from one CEO to the next can result in a loss of market valuation, momentum and focus, as well as key personnel, customers and partners. It may even become that turning point when an organization begins to slide toward irrelevance.

With so much at stake, 84% of tech execs agree that succession planning is more important than ever because of today’s fast-changing business environment, according to our new survey of corporate America’s leaders. Seven out of 10 survey respondents agreed that tech companies face more scrutiny than other multinationals during a transition.

84% of tech execs agree that succession planning is more important than ever because of today’s fast-changing business environment.

Yet we found that tech execs appear just as unprepared for C-suite transitions as their peers in other sectors. Three out of five respondents said their companies don’t have a documented plan to handle a leadership change, even though, by that same ratio, they acknowledge that a documented plan is the biggest determinant in seamless transitions.

The findings may not be troubling if these respondents were millennial startup founders, years from leaving their companies. The executives we polled, however, hail from 160 companies that have been in business for a minimum of 15 years — 35 are tech companies, the largest industry cohort in the survey.

The smallest companies have at least 1,500 employees and $500 million in annual revenue, while the largest have head counts of over 500,000 and revenue upward of $100 billion. They have been around long enough to understand — and put into place — risk management and crisis planning, including what happens should their leaders fall victim to the proverbial milk truck.

Tech execs should be more rigorous about succession planning for one important reason: institutional memory. Tech firms generally are younger than other companies of a similar size, which partly explains why the median age of S&P 500 companies plunged to 33 years in 2018 from 85 years in 2000, according to McKinsey & Co.

These enterprises clearly have accomplished a lot in their short lives, but in their haste, most have not captured their history, unlike their longer-lived peers in other sectors. Less than half of these tech firms, in fact, have formally recorded their leader’s story for posterity. That puts them at a disadvantage when, inevitably, they will be required to onboard newcomers to their C-suites.

It’s best to record this history well before the intense swirl of a leadership transition begins. Crucially, it will help the incoming and future generations of leadership understand critical aspects of its track record, the lessons learned, culture and identity. It also explains why the organization has evolved as it has, what binds people together and what may trigger resistance based on previous experience. It’s as much about moving forward as looking back.

Most execs in our poll get it, with 85% saying a company’s history can be a playbook for new executives to learn and prepare for upcoming challenges and opportunities. “History is the mother of innovation for any type of company,” one respondent said. “History,” writes another, “includes the roadmap to failures as well as successes.”

But this documented history cannot be a hagiography of the departing CEO. Too often, outgoing execs spend their last years in office constructing their own trophy cases. Even as they conceded their own flat-footedness on transition planning, the majority of execs said they have already taken steps to create and reinforce their personal legacies — two-thirds said they have already completed their own formal legacy planning, many with the blessing of their boards.

It’s ironic, then, that three out of five also said that the legacy of a CEO or founder often overshadows the skill set and experience a successor brings. Two-thirds of tech execs believed that the longer a leader has been in office, the more it complicates a transition.

Tech leaders can do this right and have done so. Asked which five big-name CEO transitions was most successful, respondents’ No. 1 was Apple’s handoff from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook (38%), followed by Microsoft’s page-turn from Steve Ballmer to Satya Nadella (28%). The others, at General Electric, General Motors and Goldman Sachs, each netted no more than 13% of votes.

Apple’s apparent predominance in this survey might contradict the advice to play down the aggrandizement of an exiting CEO and highlight the compilation and transfer of an organization’s history to the next chief executive. Jobs, after all, painstakingly managed his legacy until the end. But even as he continued to take center-stage, he also made sure to pass along Apple’s institutional knowledge and ethos to Cook over the 13 years they shared space on Apple’s executive floor.

Sooner or later, everyone in the C-suite today — including startup founders — will depart. For the sake of everyone they’ll leave behind, they should begin prepping for that day now.

#column, #entrepreneurship, #goldman-sachs, #human-resource-management, #leadership-tactics, #opinion, #personnel, #planning, #satya-nadella, #startups, #tim-cook

iPhone sales fuel Apple’s Wall Street-beating Q3

Another excellent quarter for Apple, as the company posted $81.4 billion in revenue. That’s a 36% year-over-year jump for the company, besting Wall Street estimates of $73.3 billion by a considerable margin.

“Our record June quarter operating performance included new revenue records in each of our geographic segments, double-digit growth in each of our product categories, and a new all-time high for our installed base of active devices,” CFO Luca Maestri said in a release. “We generated $21 billion of operating cash flow, returned nearly $29 billion to our shareholders during the quarter, and continued to make significant investments across our business to support our long-term growth plans.”

Some strong figures for the company all around here, but it was iPhone sales and subscription services that continued to lead the way — a familiar story for anyone who’s followed the company the last several quarters.

iPhone sales increased from $26 billion to $39.5 billion, on the continued strength of the company’s long-waited push into linewide 5G, while services rose from $13.1 billion to $17.5 billion for the quarter. Apple has continued to grow its services offerings, which now includes Music, TV+, iCloud, Arcade, News+ and Fitness+. The company clearly sees the subscription portfolio as the future of its revenue model.

Greater China proved a strong market for the company in the third fiscal quarter. The company posted $14.76 billion in sales for the region, a more than 50% increase over the same time last year. The Americas region, meanwhile, rose from $ 27 billion to $35.89.

In the earnings report, CEO Tim Cook made reference to pandemic-related issues, which highlighting broader societal focuses for the company.

“This quarter, our teams built on a period of unmatched innovation by sharing powerful new products with our users, at a time when using technology to connect people everywhere has never been more important,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We’re continuing to press forward in our work to infuse everything we make with the values that define us — by inspiring a new generation of developers to learn to code, moving closer to our 2030 environment goal, and engaging in the urgent work of building a more equitable future.

The company once again declined to offer guidance, owing to uncertainties during the pandemic. On a followup call with investors, however, Maestri noted, “We expect revenue growth to be lower than our June Quarter.” The CFO cited various issues including foreign exchange rates with the U.S. dollar, a slow down in the growth rate of services and continued supply chain issues for its hardware offerings.

 

#apple, #apps, #earnings, #finance, #luca-maestri, #tim-cook

Apple‘s Tim Cook: Sideloading is “not in the best interests of the user”

Apple CEO Tim Cook being interviewed remotely by Brut.

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook being interviewed remotely by Brut. (credit: Brut.)

Apple has been under a mountain of scrutiny lately from legislators, developers, judges, and users. Amidst all that, CEO Tim Cook sat with publication Brut. to discuss Apple’s strategy and policies. The short but wide-ranging interview offered some insight into where Apple plans to go in the future.

As is so common when Tim Cook speaks publicly, privacy was a major focus. His response to a question about its importance was the same one we’ve heard from him many times: “we see it as a basic human right, a fundamental human right.” Noting Apple has been focused on privacy for a long time.

He explained:

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#app-store, #apple, #apple-app-store, #apple-watch, #apps, #ar, #augmented-reality, #ios, #iphone, #privacy, #sideloading, #tech, #tim-cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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