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Across 2016, ostensibly legitimate journalists and research firms gravely warned that Apple was in trouble on every front--from low cost wearables to Microsoft's 2-in-1 notebooks, to Google's new Pixel Phone and a resurgent Samsung--as well as falling behind everyone else in the emerging, very promising field of Virtual Reality. They were all so incredibly wrong we can now have a good end-of-year laugh at their expense.
Apple's Infinite Loop campus
Take a gander at the goose in Apple's sauceThere are two measurements of success in the tech industry: one is applied to Apple, where expectations are stratospherically high and failure is always anticipated.
The other is applied to Apple's competitors, where expectations are so low that even a tremendous, embarrassing flop can be written off as a "valuable learning experience" (Google Glass) and every new failure rudely blindsides perpetually optimistic observers (Google Pixel: who could have guessed it wouldn't sell in significant volumes!? At least it was a valuable learning experience).
At the beginning of this year, AppleInsider published ￼"Apple's competition is going to have a tough year in 2016", examining the question of whether Apple even faces any effective competition anymore.
Throughout the year a variety of critics worked hard to invent competition for Apple. But no amount of advocacy or propaganda has shifted the reality that's readily apparent.
Entering 2016, Apple earned virtually all of the profits in smartphones, in tablets, in PCs and had introduced the only successful smartwatch--capable of not just stomping out Android Wear and Samsung Tizen as competitors but also taking a large bite out of premium Suisse watch sales--even as its rivals struggled in every product category.
Apple Watch in white ceramic
What changed this year? Apple's weak competitors lost more ground and suffered more failures, setting Apple up against an even weaker competitive threat in 2017.
Profits build offensive infrastructureAt the same time, while Apple is now amassing incredible piles of resources (now above $237 billion) and is returning $2 billion to shareholders each quarter, it's also investing tremendously in a proprietary software development (including macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS; the Continuity and iCloud glue that bind them together and its new Swift language and the development tools that power third party apps).
It's also investing billions in supply chain capacity, materials, operations and technology. And in parallel, it's building billions of dollars worth of new facilities, including its Campus 2 research and development offices in Cupertino and a global collection of other sites focused on software development, health technology, Maps, machine learning, silicon logic and other specialties.
While pundits keep asking simplistic questions about where Apple's next big i-device is, the reality is that we already have an ultra-mobile personal computer in iPhone, and mobile professional computer in iPad Pro, and conventional Macs. Apple doesn't need to introduce another device category as much as it needs to maintain and advance what it already sells.
Discussing mobile now is like discussing PCs in 2000. The important questions are about what we can build with this, and what we build next-- Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)
Microsoft wasn't expected to introduce a new OS every few years. Google wasn't tasked with creating a new search engine over and over again and HP and Dell churned out conventional PCs for many years without facing interrogation about the "next PC" replacement.
Apple's silicon secretsWhat drove much of the forward progress of the tech industry in the 1990s and 2000s was actually Intel's processors, continually upgrading PCs, servers and the software they ran.
Today, Apple is actually hampered by Intel's slower chip advancements in releasing new Macs. But in the iOS world, Apple has not only outpaced the industry in mobile Application Processors, but has also taken over ownership of the cream in mobile silicon.
Apple has not only outpaced the industry in mobile Application Processors, but has also taken over ownership of the cream in mobile silicon
It's done so by earning money on advanced chips and aggressively reinvesting that into further development.
When Apple first worked on the Newton Message Pad in the early 1990s, it had to invest in developing the ARM Architecture as a new mobile processor.
But it wasn't making enough money on hardware sales to rapidly and perpetually advance ARM chip development on its own. The rest of the industry, notably Nokia, began investing money into ARM chips and made them ubiquitous in phones. When Apple returned to ARM chips with iPod in 2001, they had become cheap and power efficient.
Apple spent billions investing more money into commodity ARM chip orders until the late 2000s, when it began doing custom design of its own ARM cores. Apple has not only radically advanced the state of the art, but has done so on a scale that nobody else can match.
No other phone or tablet maker sells anywhere near as many premium, powerful devices as Apple. That greatly reduces the potential for Google, a Chinese startup, or even Samsung to build a true competitor to iPhones or iPad at a similar cost structure. The chips used by Google's Pixel, for example, feature cores that are only half as fast as Apple's A10 Fusion.
And despite various attempts by Google, Microsoft and others to dumb down smartphones into less powerful devices using simpler chips at a lower cost, Apple has proven that a lucrative demand exists for very powerful smartphones capable of advanced processing features--notably including sophisticated camera imaging and secure biometrics for authentication and Apple Pay.
Across 2014, pundits and analysts were castigating Apple for not building a cheaper iPhone. Apple did eventually repackage iPhone 5 to resell it as iPhone 5c, and this was successful (despite many false reports maintaining that is wasn't). However, in the years since, Apple's own sales data has made it clear that it could perform better by focusing on more advanced and expensive models rather than cheaper repackaging.
In 2015 Apple launched iPhone 6 alongside its most expensive ever iPhone 6 Plus. Next year, Apple is rumored to be adding an even more premium option to woo high end buyers.
In direct contrast to the popular narrative of cheap commodity erasing Apple's Mac and iOS businesses, the reality is that Apple is increasingly becoming more difficult to compete against as it builds its own sophisticated custom silicon and refines its incrementally expanding software platforms.
While Apple keeps advancing its state of the art in core technologies, consider what its rivals have been doing in 2016.
Samsung's smoke screen of excessive innovationSamsung--after just beginning to recover to its 2014-level revenues after being clobbered by iPhone 6 & 6 Plus and then batted back down again by iPhone 6s an 6s Plus--rushed to market a poorly designed fablet flagship that was so dangerously prone to burst into flames that airports, metro stations and even cruise ships banned its possession on their vehicles. It was undoubtably the worst and most expensive recall to ever occur in tech.
Samsung's Galaxy karma from fomenting Bendgate
However, Samsung's fiery Note 7 conflagration was coached by the media as being a problem of the Korean conglomerate having "packed it with so much innovation" that, well, flames ensued. That ridiculous quote was actually set into type for the New York Times by Brian X. Chen and Choe Sang-Hun.
Remember when these writers excused iPhone 4 signal attenuation as a problem with Apple "packing too much innovation" into its products? No, because they didn't. They reviled Apple's innovation and branded it as an inexcusable failure because it might drop a call if you hold it wrong--versus bursting into flames no matter how it's being held.
Packed with so much innovation it naturally burns
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern insisted that while Samsung's defective design of the Note 7 carried a clear risk for fire and should be powered down and returned immediately, "there's no reason to believe other Samsung models are dangerous," shortly before citing an anecdotal story of an iPhone 7 that was also said to have caught fire in a posting on Reddit, a false equivalency of the highest order.
There's no evidence, anywhere, that iPhone 7 has an inherently flawed design that results in fire. If it did, there'd be many scores of reports, not a single photo posted to a site that provides an audience to the GamerGate and AltRight fringe--because Apple ships many times more premium iPhones compared to Samsung's Galaxy Note. There are, however, a variety of reports of other Samsung models catching fire (such as the Galaxy J5). But let's move past the selective reporting of facts by Fowler and Stern, because I don't have all day.
Pay no attention the fire behind the curtainNote instead that after Samsung released millions of dangerous Galaxy phones, then bungled its recall, handed out new batches of equally defective replacements, then pulled its 2016 Note 7 flagship entirely, reporters and research groups fell all over themselves to "report" that Samsung's explosive launch would have absolutely no impact on buyers' behavior going forward and virtually no impact on its brand.
Incredibly, CNBC and Reuters collaborated to spread the results of a single internal poll that insisted the "Galaxy Note 7 recall did not damage Samsung brand in U.S."
That poll was necessary to conduct and report because earlier, independent polls had reported that 34 percent, and later 40 percent, of current Samsung owners said that in the wake of the recall that they wouldn't buy another Samsung phone. Of those leaving the brand, 30 percent said they planned to switch to an iPhone.
With scathing results like that, why would news organizations with a clear bias against Apple feel the need to create their own data to refute the findings that exist on Apple's primary competitor, not to mention obvious reality? And why would they exclusively report only their own mind-bending findings? Also, what sort of data might they be able to create assuring the public of the safety of lead, asbestos, cigarette smoking and coal pollution?
More recently, NPD similarly issued a report suggesting that Samsung's Note 7 fiasco had no apparent impact on U.S. phone sales for the company, based on sales data.
However, it didn't quantify how much of this was attributable to Samsung offering generous cash handouts and other promotions, a very real expense necessitated by Galaxy Note 7 fires. However, it apparently remains necessary to exonerate Samsung because apart from that company, Apple has no real competition at all among smartphones that sell at a sustainable profit.
And a sustainable profit is one where real money is made, not just fake numbers like those that were reported by the Wall Street Journal in an article suggesting that China's Xiaomi was actually showing positive signs of potential profitability
Apple premium sales volumes lower than total global production of cheap devices!
Samsung is the only company apart from Apple that earns any significant profits from its smartphone sales, due almost entirely to its premium-priced Galaxy flagship models. With the primary competitor to Apple's iPhone literally on fire and pulled from the market, the only way to continue to marginalize Apple's phone business would be compare iPhone sales against volumes of low end phones shipped into developing countries. Done!
That's the same strategy IDC likes to use in marginalizing Apple Watch sales. Except that IDC can't even compare its Apple Watch estimates against other smartwatches, because that's not flattering to anyone but Apple. Instead, it has to compare $300 to $1,000 and up Apple Watch sales against Fitbit's fitness trackers with an average selling price of around $88 and Xiaomi's $13-25 fitness bands.
In 2015, Apple stopped detailing sales volumes of iPods, Apple Watch, and other hardware, including the new AirPods. That's allowed critics to claim that Apple might be hiding its failures, an idea that isn't often applied to Amazon, Google, Microsoft or even Samsung, none of which document their own sales of bands, tablets or even phones.
Selective scrutiny, broad credulityWhen Apple's chief executive Tim Cook noted that AirPods are "a runaway success" and that the company is "making them just as fast as we can" to meet demand, The Verge announced in its headline "that means nothing without numbers."
What a curious, egregious double-standard in framing events from a site that celebrates Bezos graph scales, Amazon's meaningless sales chart rankings, Microsoft's perpetual claims of "sold out" inventories, and Samsung's "quite smooth" numberless smoke signals of suggested successes.
Coincidentally, just days before skeptically suggesting Cook was lying about the popularity of AirPods, The Verge printed a Microsoft press release that claimed Mac users were rushing to buy a Surface. Rather than insisting that the claim "means nothing without numbers," Tom Warren nodded along with Microsoft's Surface advertisements, writing that they "might be paying off."
Warren wrote, "Microsoft still isn't providing sales numbers, but the company claims 'more people are switching from Macs to Surface than ever before,'" then repeated, "Again, Microsoft refuses to provide numbers but vaguely claims 'our trade-in program for MacBooks was our best ever.'"
Microsoft's Surface headline on The Verge expresses no skepticism of the the idea that significant numbers of MacBook Pro buyers are actually so disappointed in Apple that they are rushing out to those notoriously vacant Microsoft retail stores to snatch up its breathtakingly expensive Windows 10 PCs, but the site offers no similar level of credulity in the possibility that Apple's AirPods might be popular, even given the fact that Apple, an experienced high volume manufacturer, has stock-outs into January on a product it desperately wants to sell, not just advertise as a success.
Pathetic Pixel, Stagnant SurfacePerhaps writers at The Verge are just still really upset because they know that the site will have to write a new excuse for why Google's latest "Nexus," rebranded Pixel, failed to garner any real attention among buyers despite the website's valiant efforts to incessantly promote the device on behalf of Google.
Or alternatively, perhaps it's disappointed that its parallel promotion of Microsoft's Surface has been similarly ineffectual. The pricey, "Sleep of Death" premium notebooks, hybrid tablets and convertible desktops have had more praise heaped on them than a Millennial, but that still isn't resulting in total sales reaching above the $1 billion quarterly ceiling they've bumped up against for the last several years.
Before Microsoft got into hardware, all the tech media could talk about was how Apple's overall business model was doomed because of cheap commodity PCs. But now, Microsoft is supposedly going to be saved by innovative hardware designs and proprietary gadgets. Why? There's much less differentiation between a Microsoft branded PC and any other Windows PC running the same software.
Google was similarly credited with having erected a commodity platform in Android that Apple supposedly wouldn't be able to compete against, or even keep up with in terms of innovation. Those stories proved to be entirely false, but now Google's own hardware is being described as able to stand out and compete against the that same bulk of cheap Android commodity. Why?
Apple sells many times more notebooks, phones and tablets every quarter that either of its premium-commodity rivals, but the company is also tasked with not just remaining in the lead, but also bettering its own sales volumes each year by a margin greater than most of its competitors' total sales: another double standard.
Imagine a runner expected to not only beat everyone else in the race, but also beat their own best time, every time, while being derided as having a boring running style and failing to invent new ways to run each time they race. Meanwhile, everyone else gets a trophy just for showing up.
Virtual reality journalismJournalists are supposed to report what's happening, not invent a narrative they want to happen. The problem is that few modern tech writers are actually journalists. Many are casual bloggers from vendor advocacy sites with a grudge against Apple.
Journalists are supposed to report what's happening, not invent a narrative they want to happen
The New York Times hired Brian X. Chen despite his history in inventing quotations and attributing them to others for Wired, in an apparent attempt to instantiate his own desired reality (most famously, that Japan "hated" the iPhone).
The Wall Street Journal hired blogger Joanna Stern from a background at The Verge and Engadget, both of which desperately advocated Android ideology despite the software's technical failings, Google's poor management and maintenance of it, and its ultimate failure to be anything other than a "toxic hellstew" of a platform for also-ran hardware companies lacking the resources to maintain their own platform.
Bloomberg hired a rumor leaks blogger Mark Gurman to report hard news on Apple, after he scored such "exclusive reports" as the 2015 claim that the next Apple Watch would feature a camera and handle FaceTime calls (but not GPS!) and could be made from titanium, tungsten, palladium and platinum (but not ceramic!).
The FaceTime idea made no sense to anyone familiar with watchOS or even Apple's developer guidelines that outlined its "glanceable" UI as targeting a few seconds of interaction, rather than sustained video calls.
Tiny video calls of far poorer quality than the display on the phone you'd actually be using to handle the call anyway really made zero sense on any level. Essentially every other part of his report was also wrong. Yet this report was hailed for a year as being the definitive road map for Apple Watch, until everyone just forgot that everything they'd been told was completely wrong, made up guesswork.
And yet today, the majority of the most viral headlines about Apple are crafted by these same bloggers, now at major news outlets and claiming to know lots of details about what Apple is actually doing in automotive and other areas where far less is actually known compared to Apple Watch. These same figures collectively predicted that iPhone 7 would be boring, when all signs clearly pointed to major advances.
Apple's Tim Cook gets blogsplained in how to run a global enterprise by a person who reviews tech products
Tech media writers can invent attributions, stage false equivalencies and present made-up product rumors and channel checks as credible facts and get away with it, because nobody calls to mind their reports once they've collect all the clicks they can.
These fast-and-loose reporters are undermining their own credibility and the legitimacy of the media in general. They seem to feel entitled to continue without concern, because Apple is unlikely to correct them out of regard for its own secrecy. But how many times can you report that Apple is failing when it clearly isn't true?
It's hard to think of a better example of 2016's virtual reality in tech journalism than VR itself, which was hyped into a frenzy and used as a data point showing how Apple was falling behind and failing to meaningfully contribute to the important and imminently commercially-relevant business--right up to the point where VR was ultimately deemed toward the end of the year as being "the biggest loser" of the holiday season.
Post holiday sales data confirming our holiday buying study that bluetooth headphones (general category) were the big winner this holiday.-- Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)
The biggest actual winner so far this holiday season? Bluetooth headphones. That comes after Apple was derided for buying Beats, which now leads in Bluetooth headphones. That acquisition also set Apple up to leverage its silicon prowess to develop its custom W1 chip and release its own AirPods, which appear to be a hit.
While VR remained the "biggest loser" Bluetooth headphones were a holiday hit
After so many years of preaching PC Commodity, Android Ascendancy, Tablet Media Consumption Theory, Global Device Volume Market Share, and a basket of other propaganda tactics designed to aggrandize everything outside of the most successful and competent hardware maker, perhaps 2017 is the year for tech journalists to stop trying to effect ideological change and more honestly begin to report reality.
Five years ago, I described how Google was distancing itself from Android and increasingly pursuing a new strategy around Chrome OS. While that was a controversial idea at the time, Google's latest announcements show that's exactly what the company had been doing.
In the summer of 2013, AppleInsider published a look at Google's then-new Chromecast, a web streaming device that was based on code from Google TV rather than Android. The article noted this as additional evidence that Google was working to distance itself from the Android platform that the company had developed under the management of Andy Rubin since acquiring it in 2005.
At the time, Android seemed to be on top of the world. After first appearing as a hobbyist platform from Google in 2008, the new platform had suddenly surpassed expectations by serving as an effective software platform substitute in the production of new handsets, where it replaced JavaME, various mobile Linux distributions, Windows Mobile, Symbian and other platforms that had existed before iPhone.
A Chrome wrench in the Android worksJust as Android began taking off among phone hardware makers who were desperate to make something that could compete against iPhones, Google introduced an entirely new operating system: 2009's Chrome OS, initially aimed at netbooks. Google expected hardware makers to produce the first mini-notebooks running Chrome OS by the middle of 2010 -- in parallel with its phone-centric Android 2.0, which had just been released at the end of 2009.
Google's dual OS strategy wasn't unlike Apple's Mac and iOS, or Microsoft's desktop Windows and Windows Mobile 6.x of the same period. But, it didn't exactly work out as expected. The late 2000's netbook demand that Google planned to capitalize on with Chrome OS was wiped out by iPad in 2010. Additionally, hardware makers weren't even ready to build Chrome OS netbooks until the middle of 2011.
Chromebook partners like Samsung delivered their first models just as nobody cared about netbooks anymore
By the end of 2010, Apple had sold nearly 14 million iPads at around $500, solidly shifting excitement in the industry from netbooks to tablets. Google scrambled to react and ended up delaying progress on Android for phones by focusing the next major 3.0 "Honeycomb" version squarely on tablets in 2011, just as Chrome OS licensees were also ready to bring the first netbooks to market.
Steve Jobs' response to Android and Chrome OSBoth Honeycomb tablets and Chrome OS netbooks flopped out of the gate. But that wasn't the only problem for Google's Android and Chrome OS. Both had also stirred up contention with Apple, which increasingly saw Google as an assailant rather than a partner.
In February of 2010, Steve Jobs addressed Apple employees at a Town Hall meeting where he reportedly stated, "make no mistake; Google wants to kill the iPhone. We won't let them," while also disparaging Google's "don't be evil" mantra, calling it a "load of crap."
Animosity continued to increase between Apple and Google. The pair had previously worked together to bring Google's powerful search and mapping services to iPhone using Apple's user-friendly apps and development platform.
But, after Google mocked Apple at the release of Android 2.0, Apple stopped integrating new features of Google Maps in iOS, including its Google Latitude location tracking and the Google Maps+Navigation services that debuted with Android 2.0 in late 2009. Jobs had also announced in 2009 that Google's chairman Eric Schmidt would be stepping down from Apple's board, specifically because of Google entry into "more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS."
Google now pays Apple billions of dollars every quarter to retain search traffic from Apple's platforms-- but at the time Google's executives acted like a rift with Apple was not a big deal. In 2011, Schmidt confidently predicted that within six months, mobile developers would prioritize Android over iOS, erasing the lead Apple held in mobile development and the iOS App Store. That still hasn't happened seven years later.
Google exhausts its excitement for AndroidWhile turning its key partner into an enemy, Google's Android not only failed to take over iOS's leadership in mobile development but also failed to crack into the premium hardware markets Apple was creating around iPhones, the new iPad, and its increasingly high-end Mac offerings.
Google initially tried to beat the iPad with 2011 Honeycomb tablets that were larger and more expensive, alongside higher-end Android phones that introduced big screens, 4G LTE, NFC, fingerprint scanners and other all-new features. Google also began releasing initiatives to make Android relevant in TV boxes with the short-lived Nexus Q and in video game consoles with Android TV and the now discontinued Nexus Player.
Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets were more like PC tablets than Apple's iPad
As these failed, Google repositioned Android as a way to power a series of low-end 7-inch tablets, notably Google's self-branded 2012-2013 Nexus 7 with an astonishingly low price of just $199. Following cheap tablets, fancy Android phones were giving way to commodity devices with collapsing prices delivering scant profits. The ideas that Android partners would steamroll iOS and that they could advance innovation faster than Apple were becoming increasingly difficult to believe.
By early 2013, Android's lackluster performance under the management of Andy Rubin resulted in Rubin being sidelined in "new projects." The Android division was handed to Sundar Pichai, the head of Chrome OS development. By 2014 Rubin was out of Google entirely.
Sundar Pichai and the turning tide against AndroidUnder Pichai, Google launched Chromecast in 2013 as a way to challenge Apple's popular AirPlay for wirelessly beaming audio and video from iOS devices to an Apple TV. Yet Chromecast wasn't based on Android. Instead, it used software developed for Chrome OS.
Pichai also turned the script on Google's "cheap hardware," terminating its low-end tablets and launching the Chromebook Pixel, an expensive Chrome OS netbook priced at $1300 to $1450, taking aim at Apple's popular MacBook Air rather than its lower-priced iPads.
Chromebook Pixel was neither cheap nor Android nor successful
Previous Chrome OS netbooks from partners including Samsung had been priced around $550. Pichai introduced the Pixel by saying, "the goal was to push the boundary and build something premium."
Pichai also clearly saw Chrome OS as the future of Google's hardware licensing.
"We're pushing computing forward," Pichai stated at the time. "It'll definitely make the ecosystem rethink touch. I think people will take the first step toward building tablets with this."
That didn't happen. Chrome OS remained unpopular and Pixel sales never took off.
The next year, Google floated another Android tablet, the Nexus 9 ironically code-named "flounder." It was designed to look just like Apple's then wildly popular iPad mini, which had been driving iPad sales into the stratosphere. It also carried a higher price, from $400 to $480, much higher than previous Android tablets from Google and its partners.
But, its Apple-like price didn't result in Apple-like sales.
Nexus 9 failed to challenge Apple's iPad or result in even a small commercial success of its own. Android tablets in general began to sink and the tablet market has contracted ever since.
Google's hope that smartphone apps would simply scale up to a larger screen didn't result in a desirable tablet platform. In contrast, Apple had worked to create iPad optimized apps and showcased this in its introduction of iPads, resulting in a sustainable platform and demand for iPads that could run sophisticated, tablet-optimized iOS apps.
Despite Google's hopes for Chrome OS, individuals and businesses weren't buying it. So Google began dumping low-end ChromeBooks on U.S. K-12 schools, many of which were happy to get any assistance in deploying low-priced computers of any kind. Four years later, that hasn't raised any tides for Chromebooks aimed at individuals or the enterprise.
As Chromebook Pixel stagnated as a placeholder product with marginal sales, Google began development of a more affordable new Chrome OS tablet that worked as a "detachable" similar to the Microsoft Surface. Shortly before its release, however, Google decided Chrome OS wasn't going to work and instead launched the device at the end of 2015 as the Pixel C running Android, starting at $500. That made for another expensive, commodity Android tablet, again tied to a platform that could only run stretched smartphone apps.
Pixel C was Google's last Android tablet
Last year, Google discontinued its Chromebook Pixel and the last of its Android tablets. Last week, Google introduced three new devices: Pixel 3 phones, a Home Hub "smart display," and a new Chrome OS Pixel Slate tablet. While it's notable that Google is again trying out Chrome OS instead of Android on its latest tablet, the company also raised eyebrows by dumping Android from its stationary "hub" tablet product.
Rather than running Android or its officially sanctioned "Android Things" platform created specifically to power smart displays and speakers, Google's new Home Hub is more akin to Chromecast, again running software derived from Pichai's Chrome OS team rather than from Rubin's Android.
Of the four device categories Google now sells, only one is still based on Android (Pixel phones), while its tablet, TV, and screen products have all moved on. If Chrome OS could run a phone well, Google would likely have made that shift too, but the reality is that it took Google five years to wean itself off Android in tablets. Three years after it introduced "Android Things," it's now weaned itself off of that, too.
Google is rumored to be building a new "Fuchsia" platform to replace Android on phones and everywhere else it is still used. But the question remains: why is Google abandoning Android as rapidly as it can?
Intellectual Property issues continue to hound AndroidIt looks like Google's shift is from a combination of Android's design as an interpreted Java implementation rather than running native code, the continuing problem of Oracle's intellectual property lawsuits involving Android's appropriation of Sun's Java code, and Pichai's natural affection for his own Chrome OS work rather than Rubin's Android.
Android fans can insist that the platform isn't inherently flawed but the reality is that Android phones require much more RAM to perform as well as iOS devices, and still can't keep up. Android also hasn't scaled well into wearables, tablets or into other devices.
Android defenders can insist that Oracle has no legal rights to Android, or that its IP lawsuit has no merit, but the reality is that the case hasn't been thrown out and instead keeps getting stronger for Oracle, threatening to involve billions of damages against Google -- and/or the threat of inserting new regulation or scrutiny into how Google can use Android, a far more devastating prospect than simply paying a fine.
Since we first published the idea that Google was distancing itself from Android, contrarians have insisted that this idea was preposterous. But here we are a few years later and Google is using non-Android software everywhere it possibly can: Chromecast, tablets, and screens, despite having Android code it could be using instead-- and years after delivering Android Things as a solution it expected third parties to use.
Google even distancing itself from its "dominating" Android on phonesAndroid is still heralded by its fans as a "dominant" platform that ships on most of the world's phones, just as Symbian did a decade ago. But among the companies that actually make any money related to Android, the brand doesn't seem very important. It's rather almost treated as a liability.
Back in 2013, Android's largest licensee Samsung was already avoiding any direct mention of Android in its marketing of the Galaxy S4, focusing instead upon Samsung's own user interface and security layers, which could effectively be ported to alternative operating systems. At the time, Samsung had been selling Bada and was working on Tizen, both of which aspired to replace Android.
Samsung's Galaxy S4 web page made one mention of Android in tiny type
This year, even Google itself appeared to go out of its way to avoid saying even the word "Android." Writing for 9to5Google, Stephen Hall noted that "'Android' wasn't said a single time during the Made by Google 2018 keynote. It marks the first time ever that Google has held a public-facing hardware event like this -- since the introduction of the operating system in 2008 -- without at least mentioning it by name."
He also noted that Google has stripped "Android" off of much of its app branding. Android Pay and Android Messages are now Google Pay and simply Messages.
New Android apps and initiatives are also given a Google branding: Google One, Google Allo, Google Tasks. For its latest Pixel 3 products, Hall added that there is "no mention of Android on the retail box. Not even a mention on the boot screen."
If Android is such a great brand and is "popular" among buyers globally, why are licensees and even Google itself avoiding any mention of it?
The answers appear to be right in line with what we predicted five years ago. Android lingers under the issue of stolen IP, and its core foundation as a platform is not only flawed but fails to mesh which Google's own core competencies and the focus of its management.
Google has always been a web services company, building web clients with web tools. It was only with the 2005 acquisition of Rubin's Android project that it got into the business of maintaining a non-web platform. Android simply hasn't worked out well. Google has invested tremendously into the platform but as years go by it hasn't been able to attract the kind of premium users that iOS has.
Apple has free rein in a world dominated by AndroidThe main thing that Android has accomplished is to fill up space that has prevented other potential competitors from taking root. When Microsoft tried to launch Windows Phone in 2010 to leverage its PC partners in taking on Apple's iPhone, it was stymied by the free availability of Android.
When Samsung similarly tried to get Bada off the ground in 2010, and then Tizen in 2012, it was hampered by Android's lock on smartphone apps and mindshare. Note that Samsung has shifted its own smartwatches and Smart TVs to Tizen, making it clear that it wants off Android as much as Google does.
Blackberry invested significantly in the development of Blackberry OS X, hoping that the new platform would power tablets, phones and other mobile devices. In a world increasingly dominated by Android, it didn't have a chance to get off the ground. It gave up and adopted Android and has sunk into oblivion ever since.
Sailfish, Nokia's MeeGo/Maemo/Moblin, Ubuntu Touch and other open source mobile platforms have also been unable to germinate and develop under the suffocating blanket of Android.
The companies that have used Android without Google, including Amazon's "Fire" fork and various distributions used in China, are largely increasing the legacy footprint of Android without really adding much value. If anything, this use of Android is only contributing to the difficulty in replacing Android with something better, either from Google or from an emerging competitor.
Having the entire consumer electronics world largely aligned under Android-- handcuffed by its problems and unable to rapidly and radically innovate-- has been great for Apple
On the other hand, having the entire consumer electronics world largely aligned under Android-- handcuffed by its problems and unable to rapidly and radically innovate-- has been great for Apple. It means that rather than competing against Microsoft or a radical new innovator it only has to keep ahead of a mobile platform that has never been directly profitable for its developers, and is hampered by its own legacy and fragmentation.
That has allowed Apple to focus on optimizing iOS to work across generations of iPhones, specialize it to run on tablets and higher-end PC notebook replacements in the form of iPad Pro, and to leisurely develop new platform categories in Apple TV and Apple Watch.
If Google, Samsung, Microsoft, or any other company were able to create a new platform to replace Android, they would not only face the difficult prospect of breaking through the suffocating atmosphere of the fragmented, installed base of Android. They would also find themselves in competition with an established mobile and wearable platform that generates tens of billions of dollars quarterly, one that has locked up the design of advanced, efficient silicon, and has an extremely sophisticated development platform that generates virtually all of the profits among third-party developers.
After dumping support for its last remaining Android Pixel C tablet last spring, Google is starting off 2019 with another major retreat in its hardware lineup -- including the cancellation of various concepts in development.
Google devoted a lot of engineering work into products nobody is buying
The unpredicted end of Android Tablets-- and now Chrome OS notebook-tabletsIt was just one year ago that Google abandoned the last of its eight years of Android tablet initiatives. That span began with the official debut of Android 3.0 Honeycomb in 2011 and stretched to the abrupt end of support for Google's Pixel C running Android 8.0 Oreo last year.
This week, Nick Bastone wrote for Business Insider that the search giant began reassigning engineers and program managers in its Create hardware division that builds its Pixelbook and Pixel State, both of which run Chrome OS.
Pundits have been constantly wringing their hands about the future of Apple's iPads and MacBooks, deeply concerned that they may end up hitting a plateau where Apple is merely servicing the same pool of the few hundred million users who can afford high end mobile devices.
However, nobody has been even slightly worried about the fact that every attempt Google has made in the hardware computing arena over the past decade has failed with spectacular embarrassment, making no money and gaining even less of a foothold in the market for personal computing hardware than Microsoft's Surface.
Across the entire stretch of years where Google has struggled to find a netbook, tablet, slate, notebook or some other form factor that it could sell with Android, Chrome OS or some mix of the two, it has only lost money and wasted time. Yet effectively nobody has ever predicted that Google would eventually give up on tablets or netbooks or other hardware experiments.
While Google has been patted on the back for a decade of trying, Apple's Macs and iPads have generated about $400 billion in sustainable margin revenues since 2010. With those funds, Apple has in part created its own internal Intel developing the latest A12X Bionic, and has funded a decade of coherent iOS development that has unseated Microsoft Windows as the world's largest proprietary computing platform.
iPad has actually shifted the nature of mobile computing for millions of consumers, professionals, and in the enterprise, while Apple's MacBooks have given the entire PC industry a pattern to closely follow. And still pundits are throwing out speculation that maybe Apple should just give up in hardware and stop building computers so it can be a Netflix, while suggesting that Google's failed Chromebooks and Android tablets are effectively neck and neck competitors.
Chrome OS aimed to take over from Android's tablet failuresLast October, AppleInsider noted that-- outside of phones-- Google has been distancing itself from Android and has been increasingly pursuing new strategies around Chrome OS: in TV dongles, WiFi microphones, stationary tablets, notebooks and netbooks.
Chrome OS isn't at all new; it was introduced back in 2009 before Android had even gained much attention in smartphones. But the first Chromebooks didn't even ship until the middle of 2011. By that time the netbook market that Google was attempting to target with Chrome OS had been knocked out entirely by Apple's iPad.
With all demand for netbooks effectively gone, Google doubled down on its attempts at beating Apple's iPad via Android tablets, starting with an original notion of what Android tablets could be in partnership with Motorola; then reverting to making ultra-cheap, low-end tablets with Asus; then turning around and attempting to sell premium-priced iPad-knockoffs with HTC; then working to build an original tablet product with Pixel C, developed within the Create group. But none of these made any money.
In part, that's because Android offers a poor tablet experience, as its apps are mostly aimed at smaller phone screens. In contrast, Apple worked to make iPad a distinct platform running "tablet-optimized apps," rather than just stretched iPhone titles, contributing to a functional platform where developers can build more powerful apps, giving buyers new reasons to buy iPads.
Tech industry observers knew this but continued to talk about Android tablets as "winning" and having gained "market share," simply because it appeared that large numbers were being sold. The assumption was that these sales would eventually create a tablet platform supporting app development. However, Google and its partners kept destroying the existing base of Android tablet hardware as fast as they built new ones.
In part, this occurred due to their failing to support existing hardware with software updates, and in part by building low-end devices so poorly that many of them couldn't last in any usable form beyond a year. So while Android tablets supposedly enjoyed impressive unit sales, they didn't make any money and never created an installed base of satisfied tablet users with an appetite for apps or services in the pattern of Apple's iPad.
Pixel C was also Google's last Android tablet
Chrome OS fails to rescue Google's massive investments in hardwareAs Google's hopes for Android tablets collapsed into nothing, the company's Create group tried to migrate to Chrome OS. It is widely believed that the Pixel C was initially intended to ship with Chrome OS, but was switched to using Android at the last minute because Chrome OS wasn't quite ready, being limited to only running web apps.
After Google's last Android tablet failed, its Create unit focused entirely on Chrome OS, shipping a $999 Pixelbook in 2017, aimed directly at iPad Pro, and then last year's Pixel Slate, a $600 to $1600 Intel-powered device that looks more like a Microsoft Surface.
Google's newest Chrome OS tablet-netbooks were intended to pair the platform's native web apps with the new ability to also run Android mobile apps, even though a primary reason Android tablets had failed was because Android apps were such a poor fit on tablet hardware.
Last year, even the Verge called Google's new State "half-baked" and "slapdash," stating that its serviceable hardware was "undone by a hundred tiny software indignities."
When Google slashed the price of its most expensive Chrome OS Pixelbook by $450, nobody described it as a warning sign of failure for hardware that nobody wanted. Instead, the Verge simply called it a "good deal."
Compare the Wall Street Journal falsely claiming at around the same time that Apple's best selling iPhone XR was "failing Apple" and was a product "Apple can't sell." That happened after Bloomberg insisted that Apple was offering iPhone XR for "$300 less than it actually costs," because Apple was offering to accept trade-ins to incentivize sales of its full-priced, undiscounted new iPhones.
Apple was accepting trade-ins while Google was actually slashing prices
You couldn't craft such desperate slant into a movie screenplay and expect any audience to believe that such facile hogwash could be printed by real newspapers. Yet somehow a huge advertising giant didn't catch any flack for not actually being able to sell any of its tablets, netbooks, hybrid slates or any other inventions over the past decade of trying, nor for actually slashing hundreds of dollars from the price of its brand new hardware.
The illusion of success for Chrome OSAfter the liquidation of unsalable Pixelbooks, it's not hard to understand why Google is shuffling out its engineering talent from the Create group that was designed to think up new ways to sell Chrome OS with Android apps via custom-designed hardware.
Chrome OS is not sufficiently powering any sales of premium priced hardware from Google or anyone else. Designing and supporting all of those models is also an expensive use of engineering talent that Google could be devoting to something that makes money. Yet the illusion remains that Chrome OS is still a functional business somehow.
That's largely due to a series of puff pieces initiated by Bloomberg, which created an impression that Chrome OS was "successful" in selling netbooks to K12 schools in the US. Never mind that that market is very small, and that the low end Chromebooks being sold there were not at all profitable.
In response to the news that Google's Create group was winding down its Chrome OS ambitions and scuttling plans for future hardware, Ben Bajarin tweeted, "Chromebook are the only category in the PC segment which is growing. Notably, not at prices/ASP Google charges but no reason Google couldn't [b]e more price competitive as a strategy."
That thinking focuses entirely on unit sales -- noting that some vendors are still shipping volumes of low-end Chromebooks -- but fails to grasp that Chrome OS, just like Android, is failing to create a resilient, enduring installed base of satisfied users.
Chromebooks don't last, aren't supported long, and must be replaced with cheap new hardware at a regular clip. As a recurring business model, replacement Chromebooks might make some sense if hardware makers were earning a profit on their low-end hardware. However, cheap Chromebooks are less profitable than PCs, regardless of whether they are growing slightly or not. Note that sales of PCs are down dramatically since the appearance of iPad, so "growing faster than conventional PCs" isn't much of a feat.
Further, outside of K12 education, Chromebooks haven't gained any traction among consumers or in the enterprise -- where Google once hoped they might. And of course, if Google can't make money at the prices it currently charges for its premium-priced Pixel branded Chrome OS devices, there quite clearly is "a reason" why Google can't simply lower its prices "as a strategy" to fit itself within the extremely unattractive competitive-commodity market for K12 Chromebooks.
Bizarrely, while Chrome OS isn't generating any real revenue for Google and can't even support future generations of vanity hardware, there's little effort to demand that the company stop wasting money on what has been a decade long failure. And yet at the same time, tech media thinkers have repeatedly suggested that Apple's Mac and iPad markets -- each of which has consistently generated roughly $20 billion annually -- are troubled businesses in decline that Apple should maybe just walk away from.
Apple may refresh iPad or Mac hardware at this month's event, but the focus appears to be on new services Apple will be offering to its vast installed base of Mac and iOS users. That's something that vendors focused only on quarterly unit sales can't do. After a lost decade, there is no real installed base of Chrome OS devices to sell anything to.
Have you ever shopped for something on Amazon, and then noticed that other websites and even apps like Facebook are flooded with ads concerning that product? AppleInsider explains how this happens, and how Apple's implementation of Intelligent Tracking Protection in Safari works.
For example, I once searched Amazon and Googles shopping results for a new pair of Adidas shoes, and it led to over a week of Adidas shoe ads in Facebook, Instagram, and practically any website I visited.
Apple has been hard at work to prevent this, and their new solution is already hitting ad firms hard, with online advertising businesses reportedly losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars!
The solution is Safari's new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature, which came to mobile devices with iOS 11, and also to the Mac with the macOS 10.13 update. Many users are still reluctant to update to iOS 11. But, besides security, I think this feature alone makes updating to iOS 11, totally worth it.
To understand how this new cross-tracking prevention feature works, let me first explain how cookies work. In short, cookies are bits of data from websites you visit, that are saved onto your device. The biggest example of this is a website saving your login information so you dont have to type it in with every visit.
These cookies, called first-party cookies, make total sense and are completely safe and in the clear, since websites can only write or create them when a consumer is visiting their website.
Now comes third-party cookies, where you are being served information or ads from a certain website, while you are on a completely different website. These third-party cookies have always been blocked by Safari, with one exception: if they were originally written as a first-party cookie from a visit to a website.
This exception for first-party cookies was exploited by some ad tech vendors who developed solutions that wrote cookies using the advertisers domain. An example of this is when you visit a site like Amazon and search for a pair of shoes. A first-party cookie will be created to save your search history.
Once you leave that site, advertisers could access that first-party cookie in a third-party context, in other words, while youre not on the original website where the cookie was created. They could then read that cookie and serve you ads based on what you searched for, and you end up seeing ads for shoes all over the web.
Safaris new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature puts restrictions on whether or not any business can continue to read or update first-party cookies when the user is not directly on the businesss site.
Apples solution was to only provide third parties looking to use that cookie data with a 24-hour window from when a cookie was last accessed from the originating site. Every time you hit the originating site, the access timer is reset. After 24 hours from the last visit to the site, the time is up, and access is denied.
This is why you may have still noticed third-party ads on other websites, even after updating to iOS 11.
For example, last night I was searching for honeymoon packages on Safari, and this morning Ive been seeing Honeymoon ads all over Instagram. Thankfully, with Safaris new cross-site tracking prevention feature, those honeymoon ads should disappear about 9 hours from now, assuming I dont keep searching.
Otherwise, Id be stuck staring at honeymoon ads for a couple of weeks until the advertising sites and algorithms realized Im not interested in that anymore. This is exactly why this new feature is hitting advertisers hard, and so why so many of them have been protesting Apples Safari tracking changes.
Getting back to how the new feature works, like we said, access to first-party cookies from a third-party context will only be regained when you visit the primary website again, and in that case, the 24-hour timer will restart.
If the user doesnt return to the primary website within the next 29 days, the first-party cookie will be entirely deleted.
The only downside to this is that if you dont log into a website for a whole month, certain information like your login credentials stored in a cookie and not stored in your Keychain can be lost, and youll have to reenter them like it was your first time ever using that website.
This new feature is not only useful for avoiding those annoying ads, but it also protects your privacy and security.
There are a few Apple Vision Pro headsets out in the wild, and recently we got a chance to use one of them. Here's what we thought.
Vision Pro at Apple Park
I've known this day was coming for a long time. Rumors have been floating around about this headset for about five years. ARKit was a clear herald that something like the Apple Vision Pro was imminent.
We got a brief demo of the Apple Vision Pro at WWDC. Thanks to a fan of AppleInsider, I recently got an opportunity to spend about two hours with a unit.
If I was allowed to take pictures -- and I wasn't -- it would be obvious with whom and where I used the headset. So, regretfully, words will have to suffice.
Not my first AR and VR rodeo
I've used both the Valve Index and HTC Vive a great deal as I own both. I have experience with every Oculus headset that Facebook/Meta has released, and spent some time with Microsoft's now mostly-defunct HoloLens.
Apple's headset is closest to HoloLens in intent, pricing, and use cases, as far as I can tell right now -- but developers will ultimately get the final say.
Current HoloLens models and pricing
Apple's design ethos is clear in the headset. It's using fabric not dissimilar in feel to AirPods Max ear pads, blended with modern iPhone design. The curved glass is a marvel, and engineered precisely for the cameras and infrared projectors that live underneath it.
Setup was easy. The iPhone does most of the on-boarding in a manner similar to an initial setup of Face ID. A separate step with a vertical head-move scans your ears to tailor spatial audio.
I don't wear glasses or contacts, nor were there lenses available to me to test-fit inside the headset. Looking inside the headset, it's clear where the lenses will magnetically attach.
It's very early, but I would very much like Apple to discuss now how much this will cost. I would also like to know if there will be special lenses available for users with vision cuts from a stroke, hemianopsia, or more dramatic vision issues than just not having 20/20 vision.
Apple Vision Pro - field of vision
The Apple Vision Pro has a wider vertical field of view than anything else I've used. There's no good way to scientifically measure this at the moment, but it feels like there's almost twice the vertical field of vision on Apple Vision Pro, versus HoloLens
The horizontal field of view isn't edge-to-edge. There is an area of black nothingness at the edges of peripheral vision. This is about the same as the other headsets I've used -- but also not quite what Apple is trying to demonstrate in materials about the headset.
In the enterprise cases that Apple has put forth, this allows for more natural eye movement to look up just a little, versus moving your entire head and keeping your eyes fixed forward which is more or less what HoloLens required.
Video passthrough on Apple Vision Pro is crisp and clear
The part I've been most skeptical about is how well the Apple Vision Pro passes through the surroundings to the user. The short version is that it does it very well, with crisp and clear images most of the time.
It falls down a little, and some clarity is lost when objects pass through a shadow, or the lighting situation suddenly changes. However, it takes some conscious thought to "see" that there's missing information if the subject is an object or person you know well as your brain fills in some of the gaps.
In that latter scenario where the lighting changes, it adapts quickly to the change.
Interestingly, when in use in room lighting, the internal screens are about the same brightness as the environment. When you take the headset off, there's almost no pupil adjustment time required.
However, when a room is brightly lit, the screens are dimmer, and there's a brief period of pupillary adjustment when you go outside into direct sun.
It's not clear if this will change as the software matures. We'll see in the fullness of time.
The inverse of this, EyeSight, where your eyes are projected on the outside of the device was not available for me to test.
Eye tracking and gesture controls
The main interface of Apple's Vision Pro headset is based on navigating using eye tracking and gestures, with the system needing to determine what the user is looking at specifically as quickly as possible. It does this with infrared projection, with technology similar to the dot projector in Face ID.
And, the company appears to have stuck the landing on this. Vision tracking accuracy is very good, without some of the fidgeting that we've seen in the past, in other systems that do the same.
In the future, we feel like this opens the door for more accessibility across a wide range of impairments and disabilities -- but more on that as time goes on. There's a reason why I know what vision cuts from a stroke and hemianopsia are, after all.
Apple has been stealthily training users on Apple Vision Pro Gesture Controls for a long time. The gestures aren't that different than on the iPhone, iPad, and Magic Trackpad on the Mac.
So, in short, if you can use gestures on your iPhone, migrating to the Apple Vision Pro will be easy. That is, easy as long as you can adjust to doing the gestures in the air.
Actually using the Apple Vision Pro
Thanks to my host, I got to use the one of the apps that they're developing. This particular app trains the users on an industrial process that demands absolute procedural compliance.
Failure in any step can result in damage to a multi-million dollar piece of equipment that could result in failure of other pieces of equipment, or injury to the operator or technicians nearby.
The system in question is already simulated in entirety on the Apple Vision Pro. The pass-through cameras are detailed enough that in a room-light situation, the procedural steps can still be read looking down at a book.
In this simple demonstration, the Apple Vision Pro directs you to the next step, be it a control panel operation or valve manipulation, and shows you where the next step must take place. At present, it doesn't watch for the action, or require a simulated action by the user, but I've been told that they believe that they can use the Apple Vision Pro cameras to watch for proper operation.
At present, there aren't any QR codes in the manual or any way to take longer than the tutorial allows between steps. The developers of the app I spoke to say that they will see if that can be implemented, or live text-reading from the book using the Apple Vision Pro cameras can be done in the future.
So, in summary, the headset allows the wearer to train without fear on a process that if not followed properly can result in damage to the machinery, or injury to the user. And it does it all without harm to either, even if things go terribly wrong.
Safari and web-browsing is... fine
Early testers already got to use Safari in a limited fashion. I can confirm that it works, as long as nearly every single web standard is followed.
Some narrow type styles don't read well on the headset. Some design elements just don't work on the headset very well. Infinitely scrolling websites including Apple's product pages also don't read well, and some avant garde designs with custom user interface elements just aren't navigable.
I don't think that this is going to cause a revolution or devolution in web design, for no other reason than Apple Vision Pro won't be a major player in browser share. It is something that web developers might want to keep in the back of their heads, though, and assess as the platform evolves.
iPad apps are a good gateway, but custom ports will be needed
As part of my testing, I used a few of my favorite iPad apps. The virtual keyboard works fine, but takes some getting used to. I've struggled here to describe how it takes some getting used to, but words fail -- suffice it to say that you won't be typing as fast on Apple Vision Pro as you do on your iPad, MacBook Pro, or external keyboard.
Every productivity app we tested works fine. In most cases, though, you should consider if the Apple Vision Pro is the best place to use the app. For instance, PDF readers work fine, but the iPad is a better platform for most to read on, versus on a floating window on your Apple Vision Pro.
Games are still rough, and Game Center is effectively illegible -- but I expect this will clear up with time. Touch actions aren't always being captured, and this is fine for strategy games for the most part, but terrible for timing-sensitive ones.
Unfortunately, the environment I was testing in didn't allow for use of the Mac Virtual Display -- but I've been told it works well.
In the early days of the iPad, most of the apps available were iPhone apps, upscaled for the iPad. This doesn't feel much different. Apps that use the key features of the new platform will fare better, and be better user experiences.
Ultimately, hammering those apps into shape is the main reason why we think that the Apple Vision Pro has been announced when it has, in the given form-factor and price. More on that thought in a bit, though.
Apple Vision Pro audio is designed to keep you in your environment
The Apple Vision Pro speakers are small, and it's clear that Apple has moved what it has learned from AirPods and even MacBook speakers to the headset. Audio is clear and crisp, and sufficiently loud for media consumption.
What it is not, is all-encompassing. Apple has made a conscious decision to keep the audio off-ear, like in the Valve Index, to keep the wearer grounded in the space.
This makes the audio experience more like when you're listening to media on your computer, versus on AirPods Max or the like.
This is fine, and by design. Apple has made it clear that it doesn't want to isolate Apple Vision Pro users from other people or surroundings, and this is about the best way you can do that with a headset.
It's not clear if there's a way to use AirPods in conjunction with the Apple Vision Pro, and I'm not sure if Apple wants you to anyway.
Apple Vision Pro hands on -- Battery life
Whatever the Apple Vision Pro battery ends up being called, it's relatively unobtrusive in a pocket or on a desk. Battery life is still a little rough probably because of device analytics at the moment, with us getting a bit over a hour of use without external charge. We're expecting this to radically improve as the software evolves.
The USB-C port works as a pass-through like the MagSafe Battery Pack does with Lightning and the iPhone -- it will charge the battery and power the headset simultaneously, with a 60W USB-C PD charger. A 30W USB-C charger will power the device fully or charge the battery, and less than that will supply some power, but not enough to keep the battery topped off.
Apple Vision Pro, and attached battery pack
And again, this is something that developers will ultimately decide, but most use cases we've seen so far are mostly stationary. I don't think it's going to be a major crisis to keep the headset attached to a USB-C power source near constantly.
The Apple Vision Pro is not weightless
The headset in use weighs a hair over a pound on the head. It's balanced well with just the back-strap especially after you crank on the knob to get the tightness right. Over the course of the hour and a half or so I got to use the headset after setup, some light neck fatigue set in. Other headsets like the Valve Index are worse, though.
Apple Vision Pro
Given the use of other headsets, at this point, I was expecting some mild eyestrain to set in. Semi-surprisingly, I didn't get any, but that may be attributable to the display tech that Apple is using, or some other undocumented Apple tech shenanigans.
We've seen images of a top-strap, but I didn't have one available to use. I think that this is more for bigger hair or differently-shaped heads than mine, more than for limiting fatigue.
And, it's a little warm in practical use. Inside the headset, it's a bit warmer than the exterior air, and that becomes obvious after about an hour -- but not uncomfortable.
Cool air is drawn in to cool the electronics through vents on the bottom of the headset and exhausted through the top vents. This appears to be done with a very small fan, with Apple engineering keeping the fan quieter than ambient noise.
Apple Vision Pro is a glimpse of a future, but not everybody's
As it did with the iPhone, there are other products (mostly) in the same category as the Apple Vision Pro. Apple has never needed to be first to something. It's always taken the time, and iterated on a concept internally, before releasing a genre-defining product.
The Apple Vision Pro defines the genre for sure -- at the very-high end. This time, intentionally, they aimed too high on cost for the consumer.
Instead, the company has decided to make aspirational technology. The Apple Vision Pro, as it stands, I feel is what Apple wants the market to be shooting for, going forward.
It will immediately be adopted in enterprise. It will take more time and convincing for the general public.
There's still a lot of work to do on the operating system and presentation, and understandably so. The headset is a phenomenal piece of engineering, and to completely exercise that technology, the operating system and development tools are going to need a lot of iteration not just before launch, but for years afterwards.
Just like the iPhone did, and does.
Apple won't be the ones who say who and what the Apple Vision Pro is for, nor will it for what we expect we'll see in about two years in an Apple Vision non-Pro headset.
Developers are the one who are ultimately going to tell the true tale of what to use the Apple Vision Pro for. And, it's good that they have the hardware now, and not five days before launch.
And like with the iPhone and iPad, Apple Vision Pro won't be the best tool for everything, and everybody. I still feel reading and surfing are better on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, for instance, and other apps will require a more conventional interface.
But, like I got the incredible privilege to test, things like industrial training could be spectacular when fully implemented on Apple Vision Pro. It's easy to see medical implementations coming to the Apple Vision Pro to learn and perform treatments, perhaps guided by a professional, and other tasks being ported to the Apple Vision Pro.
And, I'm very excited to see how 3D video recording and playback work, when they're eventually available. Full FaceTime Persona generation looks like it will be impressive, but we'll see with time.
Apple says the Apple Vision Pro will become available in early 2024. Let's be patient and see what pops out, even if they don't make that date, because what's already been delivered to a select few is impressive enough.
Read on AppleInsider
Court testimony from Apple's Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams has laid out that Qualcomm has repeatedly flexed its monopoly control over the cellular industry in its dealings with Apple, demanding that Apple not only pay to license its patents, but also cross-license all of its own intellectual property above and beyond requiring a 5 percent cut of the total cost of Apple's products plus exclusivity in sourcing all of Apple's mobile chips.
An iPhone X using Qualcomm MDM9655 Snapdragon X16 LTE modem (yellow). Source: iFixit.com
On Monday, during testimony in the U.S. Government's lawsuit against Qualcomm, Williams testified that the company's iPhone XR, and iPhone XS family were supposed to use modems from both Qualcomm and Intel, but that Qualcomm refused to sell it any chips for the new models.
Williams also provided other testimony in the trial that detailed the relationship between the two companies, helping to explain why Qualcomm is now suing Apple in a variety of cases globally. Many different cases are ongoing, involving non-essential patents like the power management patent Qualcomm sought to use against Apple in Germany to block sales of older phones that included licensed mobile chips from Qualcomm -- a case that has since been dismissed as unfounded.
Qualcomm, Samsung demanded more patent royalties from Apple over use of Infineon mobile chipsIn Williams' testimony at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission versus Qualcomm trial, Williams was asked, "how did Apple first come to have discussions with Qualcomm about I.P. licensing?"
Referring to Apple's original efforts to develop the 2007 iPhone, Williams stated, "We learned there were [intellectual property] holders in the space that charged licenses and Qualcomm was one of those, and we engaged in discussions with them."
Apple initially used 3G GSM mobile chips from Infineon in its iPhones, but was still required to pay Qualcomm intellectual property royalties to operate on standard mobile networks involving Qualcomm's SEP, despite Infineon's chips already being SEP-licensed.
Not coincidentally, in 2013 Samsung also sued Apple over its own I.P. that Infineon had licensed on behalf of the buyers of its chips. Samsung claimed that Apple had to pay again on top of paying the manufacturer, a case that was filed in retaliation for Apple suing Samsung for copying its iPhone designs.
Samsung had attempted to get an injunction on U.S. imports of iPhones from the ITC to force Apple into a settlement over its legitimate case against Samsung copying iPhones, but lost that case.
Apple initially used Infineon mobile chips; both Qualcomm and Samsung have demanded additional royalties from Apple
Qualcomm demanded Apple give it rights to use iPhone, iPod, Mac IP to license its cellular SEPsAsked, "did Apple take a direct license to Qualcomm's cellular standard essential patents?" Willams answered, "We did not," explaining that "Qualcomm said that the practice was we had to cross-license all of our I.P. to them."
"So in essence, they wanted us to pay them for their [Standard Essential Patents, pertaining to mobile technologies] and, in addition, we would cross-license all of our I.P.," responded Williams. "So, all of our Mac, iPod, iPhone -- all of the I.P. they would have a license to. And that struck us as patently unfair, and we chose not to pursue that route."
Reiterating his testimony, Williams was asked to clarify, "when you say 'cross-license,' Apple would be granting a license to Qualcomm to use all of Apple's I.P.; is that right?"
Williams stated, "right, and at the same time we pay them."
Qualcomm also offered a 5 percent royalty on total product cost, unrelated to the value of its I.P.Rather than pursuing a direct license from Qualcomm, Apple also had the option to pay a five percent royalty on the total cost of each iPhone, based on agreements of the contract manufacturers who would be building its devices.
"The whole idea of a percentage of the cost of the phone didn't make sense to us. It struck at our very core of sense of fairness. It-- we-- you know, at the time we were making something really, really different. We were bringing some innovation," said Williams. "And, for example, we were one of the first and led the charge to embed a lot of NAND memory. We did this on our iPods, and we were going to do it on our iPhones, and if we put another $100 of cost in NAND memory, per the Qualcomm agreement they would get $5 of that even though their I.P. had nothing to do with that."
"Apple spends a lot of time making its products really beautiful, so we'll spend an extra $60 on the stainless steel and aluminum enclosures and things like that," added Williams. "And per the agreement, if we spent cost on that, say that extra $60, it has nothing to do with our I.P. [licensed from Qualcomm], the Qualcomm arrangement would have had them collect $3. So that, that didn't make sense to us, and still doesn't today."
In the end, Apple and Qualcomm settled on a $7.50 royalty payment in 2007. Asked why, Williams stated, "We didn't have a lot of alternatives. If we didn't agree, then we would be paying the contract manufacturer rate, which was in the high teens; or if we somehow challenged it, we stood the risk of our brand new iPhone we were working on getting enjoined [by a Qualcomm lawsuit]. And so not a lot of great options. And Qualcomm had represented it was the average price everybody was paying, and so we ended up settling on that."
In 2011, Qualcomm leveraged its CDMA SEPs to demand exclusivity from AppleApple and Qualcomm signed a new agreement in 2011 that required Apple to stop using mobile chips from Infineon and exclusively use Qualcomm's chips. Apple wanted to release a CDMA iPhone that could work on 3G networks including Verizon in the U.S. and NTT DoCoMo and KDDI in Japan, and Infineon's chips couldn't yet support CDMA. Apple needed to use Qualcomm chips to support CDMA, but it still wanted to second-source mobile chips in the future from Infineon-- which was subsequently acquired by Intel.
When asked what Qualcomm was seeing as part of the chip deal in the 2011 transition agreement, Williams stated that "they wanted our business. They wanted exclusivity."
Williams was then asked if Apple proposed the exclusivity itself.
"What we-- we proposed that we were going to give them 100 percent of the business in the short term. We said we would sole source in the short term. We didn't have an issue with that," said Williams. "In the long term-- and we wanted to move our business to Qualcomm in the short term. In the long term, that wasn't our plan. We ultimately wanted to bring up a second source."
Asked to elaborate on the difference between this short term sole source and long term exclusivity, Williams stated that "in 2010 when we were discussing this agreement that we [then] signed in 2011, we had planned to do a multimode chip with CDMA. They were the only suppliers of CDMA. And they had leadership in LTE. And so when we met with them we said, look, we're going to move our business to you from Infineon, and initially you'll be sole source. We'll put our energy in one supplier. And you're going to get a lot of business for that. And that was the beginning of the transition. The exclusivity, when you're talking about things like penalties and clawbacks for bringing up another source, that's different. And that was from Qualcomm."
Apple, Qualcomm executives' testimony at odds over exclusivity clawbacksWilliams refuted claims that Apple proposed the $1 billion royalty rebate.
"We proposed-- again, there were two things we were trying to solve. One was relief, financial relief associated with this CDMA price hike; and the other is transition funds for moving business over," said Williams. "We did say, short term, that they would be the only supplier sole source. But long term exclusivity with clawbacks and that, no."
A clawback provision in a contract requires that money must be paid back in specific conditions. In Qualcomm's license with Apple, it involved a $1 billion transition rebate that was intended to force Apple to only buy chips from Qualcomm at a stated minimum volume. If Apple bought chips elsewhere, it would lose its rebate that effectively lowered the cost of Qualcomm's licensing.
Williams specifically stated that he discussed these clawback provisions with Qualcomm's chief executive Steve Mollenkopf, stating that it was Mollenkopf who proposed the termination and clawback provisions of its agreement, and that the provisions were not in Apple's interests because "it would be constraining to us, and we would not want clawback provisions. It's not something that we've ever done that i'm aware of."
Earlier, Mollenkopf testified that it was Apple that demanded the transition rebate to cover its costs of moving to Qualcomm, and that Qualcomm only insisted on exclusivity from Apple to recoup its costs, not to block rivals from the market. It is the antitrust regulators of the U.S. government that is suing Qualcomm in this case, claiming that its exclusive deal with Apple was part of a pattern of anticompetitive conduct by Qualcomm to maintain its dominance in modem chips and block rivals from doing business with Apple.
Apple's supply chain executive Tony Blevins also testified that it was routinely Apple's practice to pursue at least two suppliers, and in some cases as many as six sources, for every component used in an iPhone, supporting Williams' testimony that exclusivity and the arrangement of clawback payments was demanded by Qualcomm.
For the 2013 iPad mini 2, Belvins revealed, Apple had sought to obtain a modem chip from Intel, then the owner of Infineon, but was blocked from doing so by the Qualcomm contract it signed in 2011, as losing its rebates under the agreement would have made the overall cost too high.
"They made it very unattractive for us to use another chip supplier," Belvins stated. "These rebates were very, very large."
Qualcomm loaded up "a gun to our head" in 2013 extensionIn 2012, Apple had to negotiate a new agreement as its transition contract was about to expire. When asked was Apple's was objective in entering into the agreements that on the surface worked against Apple, Williams answered that "what we were staring at is at the end of 2012, our $7.50 arrangement with Qualcomm was coming to an end and the default was that our royalty rate was going to go up to the high teens because it was just going to flow through this, this crazy contract manufacturing arrangement."
"And so on top of the chips we're buying, on top of the $7.50 we're already paying, there was going to be another $8 or $10," Williams answered. "We were selling a hundred million phones, it would be another billion dollars a year in royalty for, for no extra value from Qualcomm."
Apple effectively signed an extension of its royalty rebates under a 2013 BCPA and amended transition agreement, "through signing up for chips and exclusivity," Williams stated.
Asked if the 2013 amended transition agreement contained termination and clawback provisions "similar to those that we looked at earlier in the transition agreement," Williams stated that "it did, except they were more onerous this time. They were larger volumes, more money at stake."
Again, when asked "who proposed the exclusivity at this stage of the negotiation?" Williams answered with a single word, naming Qualcomm.
Asked if Apple objected, Williams stated, "we did, but we-- again, we were staring at an increase of over a billion dollars a year on licensing. So we-- we had a gun to our head."
Qualcomm pursues global patent filings to force Apple's costs up until it will "pay the ransom"Apple subsequently filed suit against Qualcomm's licensing practices as illegal under antitrust law in January 2017. Williams was asked if Qualcomm has taken any adverse actions against Apple since Apple filed its lawsuit.
"hey're suing us in courts all over the world. They're suing us on non-essential patents, non-SEPs, NEPS," answered Williams. "They're suing us and what they're trying to do is get a hit in any one of those courts to cause an injunction that will cause enough pain that we'll have to pay the tens of billions of dollars ransom on their SEP program."
"To use their language they used with me, we have to basically run the table. We have to win in every one of these courts or else we're-- what they said is 'you're an ideal target because your volumes are so big that you lose so much money that unless you run the table, then they kind of win.' And we've got no choice but to pay the ransom."
When asked what happened to the Apple-Qualcomm chip supply relationship when Apple filed its lawsuit against Qualcomm, Williams stated that "Qualcomm has continued to ship us product on the design wins that they have and had at the time. And so they have continued to sell us chips."
"We have been unable to get them to support us on new design wins past that time, and this has been a challenge. For example, in-- for 2018-- we were dual sourced in 2016 and 2017, and our strategy was to dual source in 2018 as well, and we were working towards doing that with Qualcomm," said Williams. "But in the end, they would not support us and sell us chips. We-- I contacted Qualcomm, I contacted Steve [Mollenkopf], I sent him e-mails, I called. We tried to get them to sell us chips, and they would not."
On Friday morning, news -- and bad headlines -- started circulating about an exploit ranging from the iPhone X all the way back to the iPhone 4s. But, despite the typical mass-media responses to the news, the exploit will have effectively zero impact on the consumer. Here's why.
Apple's iPhone 5c, the last without a Secure Enclave
On Friday morning, hacker axi0mX revealed the "Checkm8" exploit. For the first time in nearly a decade, this particular vector is aimed at the boot ROM in an iPhone or iPad, as opposed to trying to pry open the iOS software.
A series of tweets broke down the exploit -- and spelled out some limitations and answers about the exploit. Cue Internet drama.
EPIC JAILBREAK: Introducing checkm8 (read "checkmate"), a permanent unpatchable bootrom exploit for hundreds of millions of iOS devices.
Most generations of iPhones and iPads are vulnerable: from iPhone 4S (A5 chip) to iPhone 8 and iPhone X (A11 chip). https://t.co/dQJtXb78sG-- axi0mX (@axi0mX)
User vulnerability?The Checkm8 exploit isn't a drive-by attack. A user can't visit a website and be targeted for malware installation. The exploit isn't persistent, meaning that every time the iPhone is rebooted, the attack vector is closed again.
Earlier iPhones, from the iPhone 5c and earlier, lack a Secure Enclave. If you surrender access to your phone, a dedicated assailant can extract your iPhone PIN. But, phones with a Secure Enclave -- everything from the iPhone 5s and on -- cannot be attacked in such a manner.
Furthermore, the exploit is tethered. That means that an iPhone or iPad needs to be connected to a host computer, put into DFU mode, and exploited that way -- and the exploit doesn't always work, relying on a "race condition" according to Checkm8.
Software like keyloggers or other malware could theoretically be installed following an attack. But, other mechanisms that Apple has put into place will defeat that, following a device reboot.
Apple has implemented what's called a "Secure bootchain." In short, there are steps at every part of iOS software implication that check the integrity of the previous step -- and some that check the next step -- to be sure that the phone is safe. The secure bootchain checks wouldn't allow software that doesn't comply to function after a hard reboot of an iPhone.
We've gleaned this information above from Apple in the hours following the exploit's release. The developer axi0mX confirmed these findings, and discussed the implications further in an Ars Technica interview on Saturday morning.
All this said, in short, a user has to either specifically want to do this procedure to their iPhone and take the steps to execute them, or be careless with device physical security and be specifically targeted by an assailant for it to be of any real concern.
If you're really worried about it, it's time to ditch the iPhone 5c or older that you may be hanging on to. And, you can always completely shut down your iPhone after you've left it unattended for any period of time.
A reboot will not just flush out the exploit, but also break any software that may have been installed in your absence.
Jailbreaking is fine!We're not opposed to jailbreaking here at AppleInsider. A few staffers have done it in the past.
AppleInsider doesn't generally cover jailbreak exploits. In the cat-and-mouse game that is constantly raging between Apple and the jailbreak community, information published today is often outdated tomorrow. This isn't much different than that in actuality, but it got a much wider audience outside of the tech media.
In that media, in the very few hours after the Checkm8 exploit was revealed, there has been a lot of fear, paranoia, and finger-pointing done across the internet. There is no real reason for it at all. Fortunately, as of yet, there haven't been any "nasty secret" style headlines regarding this matter. We're sure that some content management system someplace has one stored, though, and we're also pretty sure we know who's going to do it first.
Most of the headlines are right. This is a big deal for the jailbreak community. We don't think it's a bad thing at all. Because of limitations for assailants, it just makes no difference to nearly every iPhone or iPad user outside of that community, though.
If you take anything away from this, it should be that your are no less safe today from the reveal of Checkm8 than you were yesterday, or the day before, or four years ago. Malware can't exploit it at all, and if you maintain physical security of your iPhone 5S and newer, then your passcode -- and your data -- remains safe.
After Apple restated its December quarter revenue guidance to account for weaker than expected iPhone demand in China, media across the spectrum has cranked their clickbait content generators up to 11 to take full advantage of AAPL panic season. Unfortunately, what almost all of them are writing is ignorant gibberish that has nothing to do with actual events.
One year after iPhone X was "too expensive and not innovative enough" yet became the wildly successful, top selling iPhone, Apple again faces the problem of media that refuses to believe in facts and accept any reality that diverges from its faulty, perpetually wrong assumptions
The broken record of clickbait content millsLike recent batches of Romaine lettuce, the stomach-churning word-salad served up about Apple over the past couple days doesn't appear to have anything to do with the issues the company actually, and specifically, detailed for its investors. In fact, virtually all of it appears to have been prewritten and simply queued up to have been printed whether or not Apple had issued any statement, or even if the company hadn't faced any problems in China at all.
It's like a sentient broken record that can't stop playing itself. All the former business magazines that are now just branded blogs with contributor networks agree: Apple's problem in China this quarter is really evidence that "its devices are now so expensive and the improvements to them so minimal that many users prefer to fix them and postpone buying a new one," as virtually every one of these content mills plunked out as "news" this week.
Quick, somebody tell the editors digging through Getty Images looking for photos of shriveled up apples to illustrate this commentary that "nobody is buying iPhones because they are so expensive and not innovating" that Apple is selling well over 200 million iPhones every year at an average price of nearly $800. And this quarter, that's driving an anticipated $84 billion in sales, even with critical Chinese sales skidding sideways.
Again, as a reminder, this will be Apple's second-biggest quarter in history. Maybe you've heard us say this once before.
Content generators: your personal theories are bafflingly stupid. Virtually everyone on Earth paying for a decent smartphone is voluntarily paying Apple a premium. The only reason Apple isn't dramatically expanding its iPhone sales every year is because there are only around a billion people on the planet who can currently afford to live an affluent "Designed in California" lifestyle.
On the right, Apple at $89-93 billion in quarerly revenues; on the left, Apple shriveling up with only $84 billion in quarterly revenues
A wholesale rejection of facts to cling to the commodity ideologyAs a public company, Apple was legally required to reissue its guidance because of a material change. It clearly stated the primary cause of that material change: lower than expected iPhone sales in China--and it's not a mystery why demand for a variety of goods is sliding sideways in China right now. It's also affecting makers of things--like Ford--that are not premium-priced and don't really involve "innovation," so trying to reread Tim Cook's comments on demand in China through the lens of mistaken assumptions is rather foolish.
Separately, Apple noted that "in some developed markets, iPhone upgrades also were not as strong as we thought they would be," but only after clarifying that "Greater China and other emerging markets accounted for the vast majority of the year-over-year iPhone revenue decline." [emphasis ours]
While Apple volunteered a lot of comments about how it wished it could be doing better, they weren't all equally important factors. One of the comments made pertained to the generous subsidy Apple offered on battery upgrades through the end of December, giving existing customers the opportunity to replace their battery for $29 rather than $79. That clearly induced a lot of customers to take advantage of the deal, delaying an intent to upgrade to a brand new model.
Rather than taking Apple's comment at face value, many pundits decided that this was exculpatory evidence for their cynical personal conspiracy theories that Apple had been working to degrade the use of older iPhones as part of a devious strategy to force new upgrades, making Apple no better than Google and every other Android maker that refuses to support their devices after the initial sale.
No Android licensees are offering highly subsidized batteries to extend the use of their years-old Android products, but facts have no power to overturn the desperately held beliefs of those who really want to believe them.
It appears that writers are largely just repeating their personal theories of what's going on without any actual evidence to support them. Those theories are also completely disconnected from anything Apple reported and have no grounding in what's observably happening. Take a look at these hot takes that are not even warm--nor capable of being taken seriously.
Apple and Samsung are the same: Vlad Savov, The VergeWriters at the Verge have long worked to suggest that Apple is "virtually the same thing" as various Android licensees, equating it to the wildly dissimilar Samsung, branding Xiaomi the "Apple of China" and--well let's not even mention what they wrote about Motorola a few years ago. Its latest piece, working to serve as "coverage" of the Apple guidance note, ignores everything Apple stated to reiterate a series of cliche talking points that are simply false.
"If there's one thing we've learned from Samsung's soft sales of the Galaxy S9 through 2018 and Apple's dramatically reduced forecast of iPhone revenues for the end of that year, it's that most people who want a great smartphone already have one," wrote Vlad Savov. That's something the Verge likes to repeat, but it's simply false. Repeatedly saying something doesn't make it true, even if it might sound convincing to people who aren't aware of what's actually happening. That's also the opposite of journalism.
Samsung's Galaxy S9 didn't underperform because people "already have great smartphones." Rather, the flagship didn't reach expectations because--just like Google's Pixel models--there's simply very limited interest in Androidland for premium-priced handsets of any kind, largely because Android commodity can be attained for much less. The reality is that Samsung isn't really selling any fewer phones these days. It's just selling similar volumes of now mostly lower-end phones. Strike one on the facts, Savov.
Second, Apple's revenue restatement has nothing to do with people "not buying a great smartphone." iPhones make up a majority of Apple's revenues. If iPhone sales were broadly crashing due to a lack of interest from a satiated audience, Apple wouldn't be forecasting quarterly revenues just 5 to 9 percent less than its original guidance. Outside of China, there is not a material iPhone demand issue, even if there are the business challenges that have always existed for Apple--including a strong U.S. Dollar.
Apple has clarified that while new iPhone demand has been less than it expected in various markets, the "vast majority" of its change in revenue guidance was due to China and other emerging markets, not a global situation conveyed by the cliche truthiness that "people who want a great smartphone already have one." Strike two on facts.
As "proof" that Apple was not really being honest about China in its statement to investors, Savov cited a fellow writer at the Verge who offered a personal anecdote about why he was not buying a new iPhone this year after years of annual upgrades. Of course, if his personal experience were representitive of iPhone buyers, Apple would have been selling a billion iPhones every year over the last five. These people aren't deep thinkers.
One Verge editor illustrated his piece with a Tweet from a fellow writer demonstrating a loose grasp of logic.
Apple and Samsung aren't covered similarly by the mediaNow consider the difference in media coverage between Apple and the largest Android licensee: Samsung didn't warn its investors that its Galaxy S9 wasn't selling well until after its mobile revenues crashed. When Samsung issued its original revenue guidance for its most recently reported Q3 in October, phone blogs reported, "things look pretty solid. According to the report, the company is back on track by smashing another profit record."
However, while Samsung Electronics as a whole did meet its guidance with revenues that were up 5 percent year-over-year, Samsung's Mobile IM phone segment actually crashed by 12 percent YoY in the last quarter, without any Applesque warning or explanation. In fact, that crash was not really a surprise because in the previous quarter Samsung's Mobile IM reported even worse revenues that were down by 22 percent YoY!
There was no flurry of news reports belaboring the idea that Samsung Galaxy was on its last legs or that the company needed to make an emergency pivot into some new product category or was desperately in need of "innovation." Samsung's crashing phone revenues were covered up by its surging revenues elsewhere.
Somewhat ironically, this was due in large part to Samsung being the largest Apple supplier, albeit one that the "Apple Supplier" Watchers like to ignore because it's doing quite well selling flexible OLED panels and other high-end components to Apple--which is making tons of money selling finished iPhones. That fact is a serious problem for the "iPhone-is-doomed, supplier data indicates" media narrative, so they just omit it. But it's a fact, and "nobody is buying smartphones anymore" is simply not a fact.
The 22 percent crash in Samsung's phone renenues was obscured by healthy component sales to Apple
The crashing phone revenues at Samsung are not even comparable to Apple's lowered guidance. Nobody ripped their garments apart when the world's largest Android licensee posted a 22 percent and then a 12 percent drop in its actual smartphone-centric revenues with no guidance warnings at all. Additionally, Apple isn't expecting to post a 5 to 9 percent drop in either iPhone or total revenues. It announced a 5-9 percent drop from its original guidance.
Apple now expects to report about $84 billion in revenues in Q1, compared to its record year-ago Q1 revenues of $88.3 billion. That's a revenue decrease of less than 4.9 percent YoY, significantly less than half of the 12 percent crash Samsung Mobile IM suffered last quarter without anyone even noticing, let alone causing any faces to melt, and not even comparable to the 22 percent crash that the media shrugged off in October while only modestly acknowledging that the Galaxy S9 wasn't exactly a hit.
Samsung IM Mobile's percentages of revenue change are based on smaller numbers; Samsung ships many more phones than Apple while generating less than half the revenues, and its calendar Q2 and Q3 are much smaller than Apple's fiscal Q1 ending in December. But Samsung's roughly $5.5 billion hit in revenues in Q2 on its flagging flagships is far harder to recover from than the $5 to $9 billion guidance shortfall Apple outlined. Apple also has booming iPad, Mac, Watch and Services businesses that Samsung effectively lacks entirely, and even with significantly slower sales in China, Apple will still be bringing in $84 billion in revenue at the same profit margins it has been earning.
That means Apple was grazed by the bullet of weakening Chinese demand while Samsung has been taking a solid punch directly to the gut every quarter. So why are pundits freaking out about Apple's relatively minor shift in expected guidance, while shrugging off Samsung's even larger hits against a much smaller and far less profitable business --like in Q2, when Samsung IM earned $2.2 billion while Apple reported profits of $12.612 billion?
It's because they are content clickbait generators charged with whipping up the web into a frenzy of social network interactions to support surveillance advertising, that aren't really that interested in talking to their readers about what's actually happening.
Apple and the planned anti-obsolescence of iPhonesSo, everything The Verge opened with was straight up false. But it kept going, claiming falsely that Tim Cook's letter to investors "can be summed up as 'too many good phones already out there.'"
False again, that's strike three. That's the opposite of the statements Apple has been broadcasting for some time now. And it's just not true at all, if you define truth as being supported by significant, observable facts.
Apple has devoted significant time at its last few media events from WWDC to Brooklyn outlining that its installed base of satisfied users is not the fearsome negative that analysts keep depicting it as. Instead, Apple views this as entirely desirable and actually works to make sure that existing iPhones remain usable and in operation for as long as possible. It's been doing this via iOS upgrades that have long supported iPhones for four years or more in an industry that can't manage to deliver Android updates for even 18 months.
Five years ago, the Verge balked at the high price of iPhone 5s and offered recommendations for rival phones that aren't even supported today
Apple's articulation of its "planned anti-obsolescence" blew peoples' minds because it's completely opposed to the cynically-cliche idea that Apple is working to sabotage existing devices with fatty iOS releases and battery shenanigans that make older phones feel like they need to be replaced, just to sell more iPhones.
If that's the case, why has Apple been supporting five-year-old iPhones with every iOS release? In fact, a major driver of iOS 12 involved work to make it more efficient on older iPhones.
Apple isn't having problems selling new iPhones the way that GoPro ran into with its cameras--facing a relatively small addressable market that grew content with the one action camera they bought for quite a long time.
If Apple had the GoPro problem, it wouldn't be able to be introducing ever more expensive new models! Apple has been selling over 200 million iPhones every year since 2015, even as its product portfolio has trended higher into more expensive models. That means Apple is regularly upgrading a large percentage of its installed base. It also refutes another tired media narrative that insists that Apple's prices are too high. If that were the case, iPhone sales would be collapsing like Samsung's and its Average Selling Price would be eroding along with Androids, not growing toward $800 in a sea of $250 Android commodity.
If buyers thought iPhones were priced too high, the ASP of iPhones would be trending downward. Apple sells a broad range of iPhone models at different price tiers. It is impossible to coherently argue that customers can't afford $999 iPhones as the largest segment flocked to iPhone X. This season, the newest, premium priced lineup of iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max each found the largest segments of demand from users. That's not the case for Samsung or other Android licensees, which only sell a tiny number of premium handsets while sitting on high volume sales of low-end devices.
For about a billion iOS users, the more than 200 million new iPhones Apple sells every year means that about a fifth of Apple's installed base upgrades in a given year. Some upgrade every year, some wait three years or more or until some feature grabs them--or until they break their old one beyond repair. But the overall percentage remains at about a fifth.
That tells us that Apple doesn't expect any large percentage of its brand new iPhone X users to rush out and buy an iPhone XS upgrade. Rather, it again expected to woo about a fifth of its entire installed base to get either a new iPhone XS; or the big new iPhone XS Max; or the new, affordable iPhone XR; or perhaps an older model that's still a nice upgrade to users of an iPhone 6s or earlier.
And, it appears to have accomplished this, everywhere else in the world but China.
Every time Apple changes its lineup, it has to recalculate where it expects demand to lie and what consumers will find valuable at any given price point. This year that math was complicated by various factors. China's lack of economic growth played a bigger role than anticipated. The fact that Apple is now saying its initial estimates from three months ago were only off by 6 to 9 percent indicate that the company has a pretty good grasp on what the market wants and will pay.
The fact that Apple is beating itself up and holding meetings to determine how to do better doesn't mean the company is facing a fearsome doom; it means that it's a relentless perfectionist. It's like the professional ice skater that flips and twirls through a series of impossible tricks, only to be upset that she didn't land one planned maneuver perfectly. As with unit sales reporting, observers would never notice anything is wrong if Apple didn't transparently outline its invisible internal issues in SEC reports and notes to investors.
Note that in Androidland, no licensee has ever reported its units sold; there is no scrutiny of Samsung's massive faceplants whether losing over $5 billion in lost Galaxy S9 sales this summer or burning up $5 billion in Note 7 fires earlier. The media only ever makes excuses for Samsung's visibly sloppy ice performances, and most of the world's Androids are now produced by Chinese production factories and don't have to report revenues or any data about their financials.
Apple's installed base vs market shareOne of the favorite cheers of Android promoters is that these companies are generating market share on volumes of devices sold. Unfortunately, one quarter of "share" is a Pyrrhic victory for factories that produce large volumes at near zero profits. That's because buyers are just as likely to buy their next Android from another commodity factory.
There is no loyalty in Androidland, no reason for Android licensees to even try to keep old phones working, no point to subsiding battery replacements, and no hope for any licensee to ever build an installed base of loyal buyers. It's a vicious cycle of self-defeating greed and cheap efficiency that's effectively cork-screwing a hole for itself into the ground.
For Apple, the more existing iPhones it can keep in active use, the larger the addressable market it can count on to buy upgrades each year. Counterintuitively, rather than making its older phones break early, Apple wants to keep them working, so that even refurbished trade-ins and hand-me-downs keep serving someone with a potential to upgrade to a new iPhone someday in the future.
Existing iPhone users are far less likely to leave iOS because Apple keeps working to make its platform an attractive place to stay. Unlike Android, Apple is cultivating a rich ecosystem, not just the barest compatibility API for running shared software across the device outputs of various Chinese factories.
The Verge entirely misses this. Instead, it kept hammering on the tired and incorrect idea that "nobody is buying smartphones anymore," before inevitably turning its story--ostensibly about Apple and Samsung--into a native advertisement for a camera feature of Google's Pixel: a phone that isn't being purchased in any volume.
The Verge couldn't resist turning its "nobody is buying Apple-Samsung anymore" story into a native ad for Google, ironically featuring a photo of the author using the Google Pixel that nobody is actually buying
But that trite word salad is not just ineffective advertising for Google, it's obviously false--Samsung is still selling vast volumes of phones, it just isn't making money or reaching premium buyers. At the same time, Apple is still selling peak volumes of iPhones while making almost all the money in the industry by effectively reaching premium buyers.
"Nobody is buying smartphones anymore" is the kind of nonsense that actively prevents readers from understanding what's really happening. It's not remotely true.
Mobile phone buyers are also not just waiting for a compelling technical "innovation" upgrade, another trite bit of cliche analysis The Verge repeated. A big percentage are breaking their phones, or losing them, or are simply upgrading to get the new color they want.
Tech reviewers think that they are representative of the public and that the mass market is keenly interested in chips and RAM or a photo feature Google is promoting. If that were the case, how has Apple been successfully selling a Product(Red) iPhone and iPod for all these years, and why isn't Pixel finding buyers?
Have Android promoters never set foot in a store? Do they think nobody buys jeans anymore just because there isn't any apparent technical innovation occurring in pants-making? Do they imagine that nobody buys TVs anymore because everyone must already have one by now? Do they wonder why people buy shirts that cost more than the component fabric that occurs on the garment's bill of sale? What is it about Apple that turns the most mundane discussion of financials into an illogical tirade of hyperbolic derangement?
More Word SaladM.G Seigler, writing for 500ish.com took a series of his tweet storm-hot takes on Apple's Q1 and condensed them into a blog posting that effectively insists that the company desperately needs to show growth, and now that iPhones aren't growing materially, it has to really get on the ball with Services.
Prescient! Except that iPhones haven't really been growing since they first passed up 200 million per year back in 2015. This isn't news. It isn't insightful to look back on the last four years of iPhone sales and repeat cliche ideas like the "law of large numbers" to explain that there's not another China on the brink of delivering a new American-sized batch of middle class consumers.
It's also not brilliant to point to Apple's Services strategy of the last few years and say "hey, Apple better actually do this thing it said it would. The thing it regularly indicates that it is successfully doing! Listen to me, I got so many answers."
The technorati all talk about how Apple's CEO isn't very visionary and has an "innovation problem," and then turn around and are starstruck by the sheer brilliance of these bloggers regurgitating the same Captain Obvious fluff, mixed up with their full-on delusion about "pricing too high," as if Apple would be really set for success if it had instead engaged in a pricing war with Android licensees and established to consumers that iPhones are only worth at most $400.
Today Apple could lower prices if it needed to. In an alternative scenario where iPhone prices were already margin-bustlingly low, Apple would have no options. Good thing Apple doesn't follow the advice of pundits and analysts who were screaming from the rooftops that the real solution to China was a $300 iPhone. We'd never have gotten iPhone X.
Is this the end of Apple or Apple punditry?Kara Swisher, hot on the heels of announcing that "the innovation cycle has slowed down at Apple," and asking "Where is their exciting new product and where are their exciting new entrepreneurs within that company?" turned around and wrote an entire piece for the New York Times that meanderingly accused Apple and the tech industry at large of suffering from an apparent lack of innovation.
It's lazy to ask a question and then fail to offer any answers
"Apple has hung the moon for investors for so long now that the idea of the company struggling sent the entire global stock market into a paroxysm of fear and plunging indexes," Swisher wrote. That's colorful language, but what does it mean? Apple has been perpetually dying to analysts and investors since the 1990s. It has turned in quarter after quarter of insane performance for years, only to be rewarded with a staggeringly low stock valuation that assumed zero growth in the future. Even when hitting the trillion dollar market cap last fall, Apple's shares were still priced in the toilet relative to the Price/Earnings of any of its peers.
Over the last decade of Apple's indisputable iPhone super success cycle, the company's stock has repeatedly crashed in half as investors and high-frequency trading bots were persuaded to sell shares for nothing on the news that Apple had run out of "innovation." How can you write about Apple's most recent stock panic without even the most basic awareness of 2008, 2013 and 2015?
"There is no question that Mr. Cook and his team have done a tremendous job taking advantage and managing this last cycle of innovation, but it's apparent that it's now winding down," Swisher wrote, painting a picture of a world where there's nothing left to invent or develop or design, and certainly nothing that could be commercially successful. What incredible logic: Apple has apparently hit so many home runs that it is clearly out of home run hitting potential.
Swisher sounds like she's channeling John Dvorak, writing his famous 1984 screed that "the Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a 'mouse.' There is no evidence that people want to use these things." It might be time to change the tune about Apple.
It wasn't pundits who thought up the potential of iPhone, or the App Store, or iPads, or Machine Learning, or Augmented Reality, or any of the wildly innovative, technological underpinning features in silicon firmware, in software, in mass production assembly and in every other discipline that non-technical people simply take for granted. It was individuals at Apple who came up with this stuff while being ceaselessly derided for being "devoid of innovation," as if that phrase is inherently clever to scribble out into words or call in to CNBC on a "why Apple is doomed" expert interview.
News flash: it's not. It makes you sound like an idiot. It's a catchphrase for incompetent nincompoops, which is why it's also a favorite cliche among stuffed shirt analysts and pundits with nothing valuable to say.
Step back and watch the accolades among other Twitter accounts praising the attestation of Apple's "innovation problem," like a congregation of the faithful applauding each other's beliefs because they all want to believe the same set of ideas. Amen! Makes no sense but let's say it again, Apple isn't innovative! Preach!
Few pundits have ever accurately seen anything coming apart from the PR they're handed to propagate. Remember the platitudes for the prospects of Motorola and "innovations" like Google Glass?. Why should they be expected to be able to see what's next today? And why is the common, unanimous opinion that nothing new is likely to ever happen in the future--and certainly not at Apple, with its big problem of "not being innovative"--why is that worth anything at all?
Bloomberg has audacity in calling Apple the liarBloomberg, after publishing a bombshell report that at this point appears to have been invented by an imaginative writer and presented as factual without credible sourcing--and then failing to substantiate the story or retract it--rushed in next to accuse Apple of lying about its prospects in China. Supposedly, Apple has done so with the goal of embarrassing itself with the need to restate its quarterly guidance. On the conspiracy-level meter, this one breaks the machine.
"Apple failed in the No. 1 mission of being a public company: being honest with investors about its business," Shira Ovide crowed for Bloomberg, barely a year after the company published a flurry of other false coverage that clumsily misread data supposedly sourced from Apple's supply chain to insist that iPhone X wasn't selling well anywhere. You might say Bloomberg "failed in the No. 1 mission of being a media company."
Must be fabulous to be able to scribble up any old irresponsible garbage without consequence, and still have other media wonks treat you with respect for simply continuing to publish your musings, as long as it remains bitterly critical of Apple. Say any baseless lie with overt arrogance and you can be anything you want to be in America.
Testing stalwart Consumer Reports declared this week that Apple's HomePod falls behind Google's Home Max -- and even the Sonos One -- in terms of audio quality. To anyone who knows the publication's controversial history with Apple products, that conclusion is utterly unsurprising.
In Friday's screed, the same day as the product was released, Consumer Reports, after less than a day of use and comparison, declared the Sonos One, and the Google Home Max the champions for sound quality. That's noteworthy, because virtually every other major test conducted since the launch of HomePod, including AppleInsider's own comparisons, found that Apple's product offers superior sound.
Don't just take our word for it (twice), though. Engadget on Tuesday agreed with the prevailing wisdom on it, as did USA Today, The Verge, What Hi-Fi, a very particular Redditor, and a pile of other venues.
Consumer Reports is, of course, entitled to its opinion -- sound quality assessments are highly subjective.
But two factors suggest that the report isn't relevant, nor of any particular value. Primarily, Consumer Reports has a long history of berating Apple products for issues that don't seem to actually manifest in any real-world environment. Second, their HomePod comparison has come to a conclusion that only they seem to hold.
AntennagateBack in 2010, Consumer Reports used its public-facing webpage to flog issues it had with the iPhone 4 antenna. But it required a subscription to the site to view the entire comparative analysis, where it ranked the iPhone 4 above all other smartphones of the day, saying that the antenna issue was completely solved by applying piece of transparent tape over the antenna line in the casing, using a protective case, or not squeezing it with a "death grip" while making a phone call.
That fired up the internet as a whole, who saw only the public-facing post decrying the antenna -- yet the same complainants were not widely exposed to the full report stashed behind a paywall that said that the problems were incredibly minor and the iPhone 4 was at the top of the heap.
As a result of the growing controversy, Apple uncharacteristically made a public statement, and provided free cases for early adopters, in an attempt to put the issue to bed.
The laws of physics are inescapable, and every smartphone even now can be shielded by human flesh when pressed up against an antenna gapGripping any mobile phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, with certain places being worse than others depending on the placement of the antennas. This is a fact of life for every wireless phone. If you ever experience this on your iPhone 4, avoid gripping it in the lower left corner in a way that covers both sides of the black strip in the metal band, or simply use one of many available cases.
And yet, somehow, this only applied to the iPhone 4, and not the other devices on the list according to the venue -- even though at the same time literally every other phone on their evaluation was seeing the same thing.
Consumer Reports didn't bother to say anything about it afterward.
The 2016 MacBook ProApple released the MacBook Pro redesign in the fall of 2016, and there was much to be said about it. As it always does, Consumer Reports got their hands on one shortly after the machines shipped in late October and early November.
After about a month and a half of testing, in a post on their website, the publication said that while the new machines earned high marks in display quality and performance, they were found lacking in terms of battery life. Specifically, the battery performance of models tested "varied dramatically" during trials, and was as low as four hours, with the computers that were not under serious load.
However, it was discovered that, during their testing, Consumer Reports toggled a hidden developer setting, which triggered an obscure bug. While the bug's presence was Apple's responsibility, tooling around in the developer's settings for Safari isn't a "real world" test, contrary to what publication claims.
"This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab," Apple said. "After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life."
Following the bug fix, and Consumer Reports not messing around with developer settings, the product testers reinstated their recommendation for the machine -- an improvement over how they handled the iPhone 4 debacle.
Unlike its declaration about the HomePod Monday just three days after release, Consumer Reports waited until its month-long testing was fully complete on the MacBook Pro before it published the results.
The iPhone XThe publication also disclosed its testing on the iPhone X and a bevy of other smartphones on Dec. 5 of last year, a month after the iPhone X became available. That report found the publication recommending the Galaxy S8 above the iPhone 8 Plus, with the iPhone X in a very close third spot.
The testing was dramatic, with the phones taking major screen damage in a steel tumbling device after 50 rotations. We're not sure how "real world" this is, as the vast majority of iPhone drops are from approximately three feet to concrete, and only a few times in a product's life.
The iPhone X tumbler
However, again, Consumer Reports didn't talk about early results until they had been beating on the phones in question for a month -- more than 10 times the length of time it had before it judged the HomePod.
Review challengesConsumer Reports has every legal right to share its opinions, the same as AppleInsider or any other venue. Examining a product in a review is, by definition, a subjective process, with audio product reviews producing the widest gap of opinion.
If you're looking for an "objective review," or similar phrasing, you aren't looking for a review at all. Instead, find a news item dispassionately discussing the technical specifications of a product. By definition, a review isn't that, and is chock-full of opinions about a product.
Perhaps Consumer Reports felt like they had collected all the information they needed after just a few days. That's possible, and with a product evaluated in a vacuum, and not compared to much else, a review can be done in less than that timeframe. However, this is contrary to every other consumer electronics comparison that the organization has ever done.
Damning with faint praiseIt would have been better had Consumer Reports waited until their comparative testing was done to scream loudly that one smart speaker sounds better than the next. But, instead, this nearly century-old publication decided to say very little about how they reached their conclusions. Instead, they sensationally disclosed their findings, some of which flew contrary to everyone else's. And they did so just days after a product release, and yet they still give themselves an out if their exhaustive testing proved otherwise.
Why they took this atypical path to publication, we don't know, and can only guess, since they have yet to respond to questions about the release.
Right now, we don't know anything about the testing methodology. We don't know why Consumer Reports decided what it did, despite their press release vividly declaring that Google's offering is better.
I am not here to defend the HomePod, and Apple neither requires nor desires my assistance -- and that's how it should be. I don't have a HomePod, nor do I have a Google Home Max, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the Consumer Reports declaration.
But Monday's report, how it was disclosed, and a lack of a supporting narrative for the opinion, is not a good look for Consumer Reports, given their history with Apple products. The release is contrary to their own stated mission of "rigorously testing products" before advising the public.
Worse yet, the early announcement stands in violation of what I think is their most profound mission -- they have failed to be a publication capable of "fearlessly investigating where markets have failed," and look to have become part of the problem instead.
Update: Consumer Reports published a rebuttal on Tuesday evening. They noted in the rebuttal that they published their first look at the HomePod on Friday, and not Monday, and differed with some of our interpretations of the examination -- but we stand by our stance on the matter.
AppleInsider has asked some follow-up questions, specifically about how Consumer Reports came to their conclusion about the HomePod and their interpretation of the MacBook Pro testing regimen versus what Apple had to say about the dialog, and will update accordingly.
Google's latest effort to show off its vision for "Pure Android" hardware costs more than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus but is half as fast, lacks a telephoto lens, offers no support for Qi wireless charging, isn't capable of recording smooth 60fps 4K video and--like Windows 10 Mobile--offers no potential of an installed base for building new, compelling AR apps.
Pixel 2 and 2 XL are premium priced but poorly equipped
Perhaps even more remarkably, the latest "Phone by Google" lacks support for SD Cards and removable batteries and lacks the extra RAM and processing power needed to run Android, as well lacking the legacy headphone jack that Google itself promoted as valuable and necessary just last year. It also features proprietary dongles that cost significantly more than Apple's, and doesn't even bundle in a pair of headphones.
Priced more than the much faster iPhone 8 PlusIn a departure from its earlier Nexus phones that aimed to deliver Android on a budget-- as well as Google's mantra about seeking to deliver $100 phones for people in developing countries-- the company's LG-built Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799.
Pixel 2 XL demands a premium price, starting at $849 for the 64-gigabyte version. iPhone 8 Plus with the same storage is $799
Pixel 2 XL offers a 128GB option for $100 more, but for that price you can buy an iPhone 8 Plus with 256GB (twice the storage), an option that's not even available on Pixel phones.
That puts you at $949. Buy a pair of headphones and you're awfully close to that $1000 price of Apple's future forward iPhone X that got everyone so upset just thinking about it.
That's the prices Google has set for its pedestrian Pixel 2 XL, a phone that lacks the sophisticated hardware, the serious software, the enterprise credibility and the attractive design of an iPhone 8 Plus. Pixel 2 XL, along with its mismatched Pixel 2 built by HTC, look like a couple of plastic, abandoned refrigerators, not sleek smartphones.
If nobody cares that its broke, don't fix it!Google's Pixel 2 XL has 4GB of system RAM, vs 3GB in Apple's iPhone 8 Plus. That's an issue because Android does a far worse job at managing memory. In fact, third-party testing has shown that Android software, particularly games, routinely use up four times the RAM as the same software running on iOS.
Over the last several years, Apple's A-series Application Processors running at slower clock speeds have trounced leading Android flagship phones in performance benchmarks despite those phones having higher clock speeds and being packed with much more RAM.
Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS
Additional RAM generally makes a computing system more efficient, up to point. How much it helps is constrained by the ability of the operating system to effectively manage how the system uses available memory.
Google's Android OS is so bad at memory management that even simple tasks such as opening apps and multitasking between apps open in the background takes two to four times as long compared to Apple's iOS, even when those Androids are packed with more RAM.
The fastest multitasker among a group of Android flagships tested this spring was a phone made by China's BBK, the OnePlus 3T. It packs an incredible 6GB of RAM, but was still just half as fast in working between apps as an iPhone 7 Plus with 3GB. The worst performer? Google's Pixel, with the same 4GB as this year's Pixel 2.
Yet this year, Google thought it was more important to raise the price of its phone than to add more RAM, or overhaul the incredibly sloppy architecture of its Android OS. Despite its last-place performance, there's been no shortage of pundit praise for Google's Pixel brand, which was neither cost-effective nor impressively equipped in hardware.
David Pierce of Wired, Napier Lopez of TheNextWeb, Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica, Andrew Griffin of The Independent UK, Alex Dobie of Android Central, the staff of The Wirecutter, Steve Kovach of Business Insider, and--of course--Dan Seifert of the Verge and Dieter Bohn the Verge and Walt Mossberg of the Verge all declared the Google Pixel to be the very best Android available.
In this bizarro world of starry-eyed Google-fandom, it appears that nobody cares about snappy performance, premium phone prices, inadequate hardware specs or having a phone that looks like a cheaper copy of last year's iPhone.
Vlad Savov even wrote of the original Pixel that "the Google phone is almost as good as the iPhone," again for the Verge--calling the whole point of Google's years of failed Android attempts with Nexus, Motorola and Pixel into question.
However, despite all the glowing accolades from the Android press (and tons of web advertising from the world's top web ad network), Google's Pixel has seen very limited actual sales. Even in its peak launch quarter, Pixel only sold about as many units as Apple Watch (estimates for both are around 4-5 million), but Apple Watch is a premium iPhone accessory, not a must-have smartphone that everyone carries.
Stuck on the slow Qualcomm pathMinimal RAM and Android memory management aside, there's another reason why Google's premium-priced Pixel 2 XL is slower than iPhone 8 Plus: it's stuck using the only premium processor family still available to higher-end Android flagships: Qualcomm Snapdragon.
Other performance-oriented mobile processor architectures (including Nvidia's Tegra and TI's OMAP) have abandoned the smartphone business, largely because neither Android nor Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile could maintain sustaining sales of high-end phones.
After years of racing to the bargain-bottom with products like the $299 Nexus 4 and working to facilitate the $100 Android One for developing nations, there are simply few options left for fast, premium chips at any price.
Google's Pixel 2 XL (along with the standard Pixel 2) are forced to use a significantly weaker Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. Apple's A11 Bionic chip used in iPhone 8 Plus (as well as iPhone 8 and iPhone X) is a remarkable 118 percent faster at typical single core tasks, and ramps up to reach multiple core scores more than 64 percent faster than Qualcomm's 835.
Note that those scores are based on testing of Xiaomi's Mi 6, which pairs the same processor as Pixel 2 XL but with 6GB of RAM, 50 percent more than Google installs.
Further, Geekbench is just measuring basic CPU functions crunching math algorithms. Apple notes that the A11 Bionic includes not just additional cores, but a new performance controller that's 70 percent faster at managing multithreaded workloads than last year's A10 Fusion.
A11 Bionic is also faster in GPU performance and has high-performance silicon dedicated to machine learning, media compression and an advanced SSD storage controller (Pixel 2 models use the basic UFS 2.0 interface, compared to iPhone 8 with NVMe). All this adds up to a phone that's faster at real-world operations from opening files to editing videos.
Not only is the Pixel 2 XL's brain slower, but it's tasked with managing 3.6 million pixels, an invisible-to-the-eye "advantage" in resolution that inherently contributes to slower performance in graphics given that iPhone 8 Plus only has to manage 2 million.
In the scores above, the Xiaomi Mi 6 with more RAM also drives a 1920x1080 display, the same as the smaller Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 Plus. Google's Pixel 2 XL is tasked with a 2560x1440 display, so it has multiple reasons to reach scores even lower than the Mi 6 (despite being priced much higher).
Google's Pixel 2 lineup is not just slower than Apple's iPhone 8 Plus, it's slow and poorly equipped for an Android. It's also absurdly priced for being an Android, given that Mi 6 costs about $420 for the 6GB version with 128GB of storage. Of course, that model is only sold in China. It doesn't run Google Play services, and likely doesn't work on LTE networks outside of China, despite using the same integrated Qualcomm modem as Pixel 2.
That comparison does however highlight the absurdity of the contempt for Apple shown by Android fans, who point to prices and market share numbers of "Android" in China to denigrate Apple's "expensive and boring" iPhone, then turn around and suggest a willingness to pay more than iPhone prices for a Google phone that's less exciting than last year's iPhone, while having a slower processor and anemic memory.
Tasked with collecting dataWhile literally less powerful at its core, Google's Pixel 2 lineup has strategically decided to activate an always-listening microphone, ostensibly so users can identify ambient tunes faster than one could think to ask Siri what's playing.
Amazon Echo in your pocket, always listening
The reality is that this serves as a full time listening bug so Google can analyze everything it hears all the time, just like Google Home. It listens to what shows you have playing, what music you hear, what advertising you're exposed to, and what you say in personal conversations. You pay for Google's data collection with taxed performance and lower battery life. You also pay a premium price for the hardware, which is even slow by Android standards.
Along with its spy mic in Pixel 2 models, Google also introduced a $250 Clips camera that serves as a home security system without any security: it just records candid moments all the time, generating tons of images that it hopes you'll sync up to your free Google cloud storage for analysis. Google wants to be Amazon, and wants you to pay for this.
At Google IO this summer, the company also showed off a brainstorm of Android camera sharing features to automatically send images to people who it thinks are your friends appearing in the images you capture.
All of these ideas seem as poorly considered-- perhaps analytically amoral-- as Google's hosting and selling of Russian propaganda and placements of ads next to extremist hate speech on YouTube.
Pixel 2 is Google's woefully inferior, uglier yet more expensive version of last year's iPhone, with less security and more shamelessly overt spyware to track your behavior and then profile you for to anyone that might pay for targeted messages, regardless of how awful they might be.
Pixel 2 has more expensive dongles, lacks modern new features and dumps several ideas that Google paraded as important last year. It fully reflects its maker as a greed machine without a shred of shame or humanity; a company that sees no value in honesty or integrity. Unsurprisingly, it gets top marks from phony reviewers.
Pay all attention to the DxOMark behind the curtainGoogle touted the new Pixel 2 and 2 XL phones as being awarded the highest mobile camera scores by DxOMark, numbers it conveniently obtained before even publicly releasing the phone. Last year it did the same thing.
DxOMark never got around to scoring Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, determining that it didn't have the setup to rank its new hardware features. Even worse, DxOMark's scores last year did not accompany evidence of superior results from the Pixel. In fact, its report portrayed Pixel photos as performing worse in low light than its peers.
What is DxOMark scoring? Certainly not just the ability of a camera to take photos. The firm is a for-profit consultancy that licenses its internal DxO Analyzer tool for rating image quality, offering "installation, training and consulting services."
That means its rankings share some of the problems of benchmark tools that can be used to "optimize for benchmark scores" rather than for performance. But there are other issues with DxO's numbers voiced by everyone from professional photographers to mobile device bloggers of all persuasions.
Notably, Android Police stated last year that "DxO has an open conflict of interest (they certainly don't hide it) in judging such things given their financial interest in the whole ordeal, and should probably not be blindly trusted as a source of objective performance data on smartphone cameras."
Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features
That observation was made after DxO awarded high scores to a Samsung Android phone.
Conversely, after DxO awarded high scores to iPhone 8, it was an Apple-aligned writer (John Gruber of Daring Fireball) who wrote that "DXO ratings are horseshit," in a piece that noted DxO ratings "assign precise numbers like 96 for photos,' 89 for video,' and 55 for bokeh' -- but these numbers just give a false illusion of scientific rigor."
"Particularly with their overall' score," he stated, "DXO is pretending to assign an objective scientific-looking measurement to something that is inherently subjective."
Google appears to be using DxO as a distraction away from the actual details of Pixel 2 photos and its camera features, focusing attention instead on a precise number offering a "false illusion of scientific rigor."
Missing features: cameraThere's a lot for Google to distract attention away from. Pixel 2 XL lacks the dual cameras introduced on last year's iPhone 7 Plus, including its support for 2x optical telephoto, and it uses a two element flash as opposed to the brighter, more accurate illumination of the four LED flash on Apple's iPhone 7 models.
iPhone 7 Plus telephoto lens
This year's iPhone 8 Plus further enhances its camera features, using dual lens differential depth processing to apply not just shallow depth of field Portrait capture, but also foreground Portrait Lighting processing of the subject, allowing you to select AR lighting effects that fully exploit the advantage of having two lenses.
Google's Pixel 2 XL creates a blurred background effect through edge detection, making it possible to fake Portrait mode for a still shot, but failing to replicate what dual lenses can do in video using iOS 11's new Depth API.
Apple's new Slow Sync flash on iPhone 8 turns the LED flash from a device that ruins most photos into a very useful tool, allowing you to capture foreground subjects with natural, flattering light that isn't overpowering while also picking up details in the background. Google's Pixel 2 XL still has a basic flash.
Barely mentioned anywhere is the fact that Pixel 2 models can still only record 4K video at 30fps, which results in jittery video pans. Apple's newest phones can capture 4K in 60fps, as well 1080p Slomo at 240fps. Pixel 2 phones can only capture half that frame rate, putting them a solid year behind iPhone 8 models.
iPhone 8 also saves its videos in High Efficiency HEVC format, the newest compression technology. Google has bet on its own compression technology, which is inferior in both size and capability, again leaving Pixel 2 a year behind Apple in codec technology (which incidentally, enables the ability to perform high frame rate video). Neither can be addressed in a software update.
Despite all of this, Pixel 2 XL demands a higher price. Google (and most everyone covering its event) brushed all the facts aside to instead repeat an arbitrary DxO score delivered as proof the Pixel 2 camera is automatically better than everything else--even phones that don't have a score--despite lacking the hardware to capture great photos and take creative shots.
It's noteworthy that last year, Google waved around DxO scores to distract from its Pixel lineup lacking OIS, dual cameras and zoom. Take a dimly lit skyline panorama with a Pixel phone and it appears to be capturing amazing amounts of light. However, the finished capture is blown out with no detail, and rather useless as a photo. Never mind, here's a high score!
Hype and HypocrisyAt the same time, Google also bragged last year that its Pixel phones didn't have a "camera bump," as if less capable optics were an aesthetic feature.
The problem of the "camera bump" was suddenly invented at the release of iPhone 6s, the first iPhone with a ring around its camera lens. It was commonly vilified as ugly and soul destroying because the device wouldn't lay flat on a table unless it was in a case. Never mind that most other Android phones already had "camera bumps" of some sort, often larger.
After Google promoted Pixel XL's single piece of glass covering the top of its back and the camera lens as a superior design, actual users began reporting that any damage to the rear glass was not only difficult to fix on the niche phone, but also spread cracks across the camera lens, making it really bad at taking pictures at all.
Pixel after a drop: no more camera. Source: TechRadar
This year, Pixel 2 XL introduces a camera bump, and suddenly camera bumps are fine. Meanwhile, both Phone 7 Plus and 8 Plus have celebrated the camera bump, leveraging the additional bump to allow the phones to take better, more versatile photos as well as using their 2x zoom lens in video, slo-mo, time-lapse and panoramas.
A similar double standard applied in Apple's elimination of headphone jacks, a subject vilified on last year's iPhone 7 despite making it possible to deliver the water resistance that last year's Pixel phones lacked. Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention by sites including the Verge, which inflamed the issue last year as "user hostile" and "stupid."
Now that Google has given up its own marketing and fallen in line behind Apple, the outrage and castigation of headphone jack removal has shriveled up into barely a mention
Unlike the Lighting port on iPhone 7 and later models that lack a headphone jack, Pixel 2 phones supply a USB-C connector, which remains new and more difficult to obtain. Apple moved to its proprietary Lightning connector in 2012, and now all modern iOS devices use it--an installed base nearing a billion devices. That makes it relatively easy to find digital Lightning headphones and Lightning power adapters.
USB-C is so new only a few new Android phones use it. Even Samsung's Galaxy S7 flagship used micro-USB, the common "Android phone" standard. The result is that it's far less common to find a USB-C cable charger among friends or when trying to recharge at a pub or other establishment. Google's adapter also costs twice as much as Apple's.
The Pixel 2 XL does pack a larger battery, and features the same USB-PD fast charging mode as iPhone 8. But unlike many Android flagships, the Pixel's battery is not removable, another feature Android buyers commonly complain about. One advantage Google has over iPhone models is that Pixel bundles an 18watt charger, while Apple includes only a slow 5watt adapter, meaning that to take advantage of fast charging, you'll need to buy a separate cable and adapter (or use the one that ships with modern MacBooks).
Another power-related feature that relates to the removal audio jack is that last year, iPhone 7 models were criticized for not being easy to power while listening to headphones. Today's Pixel 2 has the same issue, and Google's solution is to buy an expensive $40 adapter that splits out a headphone jack from USB-C.
Apple offers a couple of less expensive wired solutions, but also now supports Qi wireless charging, so you can listen while charging without any secondary adapters, whether at home or at a Starbucks or airport lounge. Pixel 2 models offer no support for wireless charging.
Apple also introduced wireless AirPods as an alternative to the wired EarPods in bundles with new iPhones. Google doesn't bundle headphones, and offers "wireless" headphones that are connected by a wire, Pixel Buds. These were promoted as performing rapid translation, but the headphones don't actually do translation. The phone does the translation, just as Siri would on an iPhone.
Priced like AirPods, "wireless" Pixel Buds
Pixel Buds don't have the same auto-detection of when they're in your ear, as AirPods do, and don't actually fit into your ear canal. Instead, they wedge their neck-cord loop in your ear and hang on the edge of your ear canal.
There's no ability to use their touch sensors to control song playback, and they don't automatically shut off when removed. But they cost the same price as AirPods, despite looking like cheap branded things Google would give away at a conference.
More missing features: Haptic feedback, 3D Touch, TrueToneDespite rumors that Android would catch up to 2015's iPhone 6s and its support for depth sensitive 3D Touch, Google's Pixel 2 XL doesn't offer anything similar.
It also lacks the precise Taptic Engine of iPhone 7 and 8 that's designed to provide haptic feedback in conjunction with 3D Touch, its solid state Home button, system-wide haptic feedback and custom haptic ringtones. Like older phones, Pixel only supports basic vibration.
Additionally, Pixel 2 phones don't support anything like iPhone 8's TrueTone, which uses ambient light temperature sensors to adjust the display to appear natural in different lighting scenarios.
Because 3D Touch, haptic feedback and TrueTone are all hardware features, there's no way that future Android releases can add that functionality to Google's current generation of Pixel phones.
Every Google Phone is forgotten after it flopsThe more expensive, feature-challenged Pixel 2 XL undercuts Google's promotion of Android as being affordable and designed for the billions of people of Earth. It doesn't match the latest features of iOS, and continues to promote sending data to Google rather than protecting users' privacy as a desirable security. Who would buy it in volumes that might matter? That remains a mystery.
Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world.
Google has now been building and designing phones for a decade without ever creating a significant installed base or making any money from its vanity hardware busywork. That's a long time to be looking for your first hit in the hardware world
A major reason why Google keeps hauling out inferior products that fail in the marketplace is that reviewers in the media fawn over them as the emperor's new clothes, only to clap delightedly again the next year, Soviet-style, ignoring the cycle of failure that has kept Google from ever making any actual progress. Real feedback might prod Google to be competitive, or to give up on businesses it clearly isn't any good at to focus on what it actually can do.
Google's first Android partnership to "take on" Apple's iPhone arrived in 2008, built by HTC: the Tmobile G1 (aka Magic). It was the first phone Google shipped with Android, and was specifically customized by Google to deliver a trackball and physical keyboard rather than relying on multitouch input.
The G1 also lacked a headphone jack, instead supplying a proprietary ExtUSB port with an external adapter for plugging in headphones. All of those design decisions were terrible.
Despite insisting at the time that the G1 keyboard was important and the headphone jack was not, Google and HTC later replaced the G1 with myTouch (Dream), a similar phone lacking a physical keyboard but adding a headphone jack on some versions.
One year later, Google released a successor with HTC named Nexus One (Passion), which was launched in conjunction with Android 2.0 in 2009. It also retained the trackball unique to Google's original pure vision for Android phones, but lacked a physical keyboard and standardized on including a headphone jack.
Writing for Engadget, Joshua Topolsky declared "the genuine-article Google Phone is finally here," and wrote that "while it's unmistakably HTC, there are plenty of design cues that feel authentically Google as well," a continuation of the earlier G1 that "Google worked tightly with HTC to create."
Later in 2010, however, Google launched Android 2.3 alongside a new partner: Samsung. The Nexus S was mostly just a rebadged version of Samsung's Galaxy S, which so closely copied the iPhone that it launched the initial lawsuit between Apple and Samsung.
"The genuine-article Google Phone is finally here" - Engadget 2010
Samsung wrestled for control over the Nexus partnership, resulting in the successor being named Galaxy Nexus rather than Google's rumored choice of "Nexus Prime."
In 2011, Google initiated efforts to take over Motorola Mobility in a bid to become a hardware maker itself. After purging most of Motorola's existing product designs it began work on new phone hardware more in line with its own vision for what Android hardware should be.
In 2012, Google introduced a stopgap rebadging of an LG phone, sold as the Nexus 4--as tensions mounted between the search giant and Samsung, Android's largest licensee. The phone was given an entry price of $299 to attract buyers. Google continued working with LG to deliver the Nexus 5 and 5X in 2014 and 2015.
The late-2013 Moto X was created entirely within Google's new Motorola subsidiary. Like previous Nexus partnerships it was hailed as being custom-created by Google, but it was also built under Google's direction.
Moto X failed to sell as expected, resulting in a price slashing from $550 to $399 within its first few months. Motorola lost over $700 million for Google over just six months of Moto X sales, leaving Google ready to get rid of Motorola in 2014.
Despite gestating under Google's ownership, Dieter Bohn of the Verge called Moto X "the first phone that truly reflects the new company's post-Google philosophies, it's thoroughly a Motorola phone, not a Google phone."
Somewhat confusingly, some in tech media decided that phones designed and built directly by Google were not "Google phones," but phones built by other companies with input from Google were--at least before they failed in the market. Then suddenly the next Google-branded phone became the First Ever Real Google Phone.
Every Nexus phone had failed commercially, to the point where in retrospect, Google's fans are forced to say that the company was simply doing a creative exercise and never intended to actually sell the products it so closely worked with its partners to develop, so fully hyped as innovative, and priced so attractively that it ended up losing hundreds of millions of dollars trying to sell them.
That bizarre reality distortion was evident in a high production ad brochure posing as a Wired news article entitled "The Inside Story of the Moto X."
In it, Steven Levy wrote of Google's Motorola acquisition, "What was Google thinking? Finally, we have the answer. The Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone. The Moto X is the first in a series of hardware products that Google hopes will supercharge the mother company's software and services."
After ridding itself of Motorola and a full series of Moto-branded phones ranging from flagships to economy phones, Google delivered a final Nexus 6 with Lenovo--which had acquired Motorola from it--toward the end of 2014.
"Moto X, announced today, marks the arrival, finally, of the Google Phone" - Wired, 2013
A year later, in parallel with 2015's LG-built Nexus 5X, Google also partnered with China's Huawei to produce the Nexus 6P. But Google's relationship with both companies were going in the same sour direction as Samsung. Google was demanding more control over the platform, and its partners were increasingly resisting.
A report by Android Police noted that Huawei was supposed to deliver a successor to the Nexus 6P, but Google demanded that the new model would be fully branded by Google with scant acknowledgment of Huawei as anything other than its manufacturer.
Huawei had failed to make any significant inroads into the U.S. market on its own, and its Nexus 6P effort with Google had flopped just the same as every other Nexus launch. Huawei backed out of any participation with the Pixel rebranding, leaving HTC as the remaining company willing to build phones for Google to put its name on.
Stuck with HTC, which has only been floundering in its own smartphone efforts recently, Google ended up with little more than a copy of an iPhone 6, lacking many of the premium features it once offered in its money-losing experiments with Motorola.
Yet despite introducing one of the least innovative or competitive "Google phones" ever, the price of last year's Pixel lineup was the same as the faster, smarter, more powerful, better integrated and weather resistant iPhone 7 with a better display and better sound.
Despite crowing that Pixel was created entirely by Google and merely assembled by HTC, the search giant recently found it necessary to spend $1.1 billion to acquihire 2,000 HTC employees who had worked on Pixel. The credulity needed to swallow this obvious contradiction was on full display from the same people who applaud Pixel as the best Android thing ever.
Writing for the Verge Chris Welch wrote that "HTC basically served as a silent contractor" for the original Pixel phones, in the same article where he also introduced those 2,000 HTC workers as "the people responsible for creating it." Well, which is it?
It's not sexy for Google to admit that its Pixel phones are built by LG and HTC, two of Android's largest commercial failures, companies that can't manage to sustainably, profitably sell phones on their own. Neither Samsung nor the leading Chinese Android makers are interested in building Pixel phones for Google at any price.
Isolated from any criticism and surrounded by fan-journalists who will repeat any message they're fed as gospel, Google has zero connection to reality. The result is that this year, Google is raising the price of its HTC-built Pixel 2 as well as the LG-built Pixel 2 XL, again excusing its camera deficiencies while hiding behind a dubious DxO score, and offering very little that's new-- setting up Pixel 2 for the same sort of failure that will win it applause from reviewers who don't even care if it sells or not, because commercial success has no impact on whether Google will give them free hardware to play with next year.