Supreme Court opens the legal floodgates on Apple

Apple is potentially on the verge of facing a tidal wave of lawsuits as the Supreme Court agrees the iLeader is allowed to be challenged on a potential abuse of power in the app economy.

The pivotal case the Supreme Court has been ruling on is Apple vs. Pepper. Robert Pepper and other plaintiffs, various iPhone owners, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple claiming the firm monopolised the app market through the App Store, with developer licence fees and the 30% commission ultimately driving the price up for consumers.

One the other side of the argument, Apple suggested iPhone owners were actually customers of the developers, while the developers were customers of Apple. This nuanced argument leans on legal precedent set in doctrine known as Illinois Brick where ‘indirect purchasers’ of a product don’t have the power to file antitrust cases. In distancing itself from the end-user in the app economy, Apple was hoping to protect itself.

In the first instance, the district court ruled in favour of Apple, dismissing the case, while the Ninth Circuit Court reversed the decision, ruling that consumers are purchasing from Apple not the developers. The fight was then escalated up to the Supreme Court, with the highest legal battleground in the US ruling 5-4 in favour of the iPhone owners.

What is worth noting is this is not a ruling which states Apple’s App Store is a monopoly, but a decision which allows users to file antitrust lawsuits against the iLeader. It’s a step towards another legal headache but is by no means a sign of guilt.

For Apple, this will come as an unwanted distraction as it attempts to scale it software and services business, in which the App Store is a key cog. The last few years have seen the Apple team attempt to create a more balanced business, with less of a reliance on the staggering hardware segment and reaping the rewards of the blossoming software world.

This decision from the Supreme Court might not assign guilt to Apple, but it certainly creates a monumental migraine. Such is the lawsuit culture in the US it won’t be long before miffed customers just on the bandwagon in pursuit of compensation.

Apple recognised as ‘Privacy Champion’ by techies

An anonymous survey of people working in the technology industry has crowned Apple as the privacy champion of FANG, while 78% believe it is a top priority at their own organization.

The survey was run by Blind, an anonymous social network for the workplace​, which has a userbase in the hundreds of thousands, many of whom work at the world’s largest technology companies. Asking whether they believed their own organization prioritised user privacy, the results might shock a few.

Employees of technology companies were given a simple statement and offered the opportunity to add an explanation. The statement was “My company believes customer data protection is a top priority”.

Sitting at the top of the table was Apple with 73.6% and 19.8% answering the statement they strongly agreed or agreed respectively. LinkedIn and Salesforce also featured highly on the list, while Google and Amazon were also above the industry average. Facebook was below the industry average while Adobe, Intuit and SAP fell way below the average with only 44.6%, 40% and 39% respectively stating they strongly agree with the statement.

Such low numbers should be a major concern, especially with lawmakers and regulators attempting to reconfigure rules to take a stronger tone with data privacy. Irrelevant whether the likes of Apple is taking privacy seriously, rules will be written for the industry as a whole; the laggards will ensure everyone has to face the sharp stick of the law.

On the FANG front, Blind users were asked whether Apple should be considered the privacy champion. 67.9% agreed with the statement, with some suggesting the business model is not based on the transfer of personal information therefore it is more secure or less of a threat. That said, Apple is fast evolving with the software and services business becoming more of a focus. It might well evolve to include some of these practises in the future.

That said, while Apple is seemingly keeping its hands clean, one person feels the company is nothing more than an enabler for the more nefarious.

“I feel Apple is no better for creating the technology that enables companies like Facebook to become no more than spying tools,” said one Intuit employee.

Although scores in the 70s could be viewed as positive, this means 20-30% of an organization’s own employees do not believe the privacy rhetoric which is being reeled off in the press by executives of the tech giants. If a company is unable to create an internal belief in privacy, it might be viewed as a worrying sign.

Apple drives global smartwatch market up 48% in Q1

The latest global smartwatch shipment numbers from Counterpoint Research reveal strong segment growth driven largely by Apple.

The fruity gadget giant accounts for over a third of the market, so when its shipments increase by 49% year-on-year it’s not surprising to see the whole market grow in line with that. Intriguingly Apple’s biggest smartphone competitors seem to be getting their act together in this smartwatch renaissance. Both Samsung and Huawei gained overall market share as you can see in the chart below.

counterpoint smartwatch q1 19

“Apple Watch shipments grew a solid 49% YoY despite the weak demand for its iPhones,” said Satyajit Sinhaof Counterpoint. “Apple continues to focus on the health-related features like ECG and fall detection in the Apple Watch Series 4. The ECG capability in the Apple Watch is the most desirable feature, according to our latest Consumer Lens survey. Apple has now received approval on its ECG features from healthcare authorities of Hong Kong and 19 other countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK.

“The heart rate sensor for health monitoring, GPS and pedometer sensors for fitness, and NFC embedded for payment are some of the key integrated technologies. Related use-cases and in addition to notifications with cellular capability are driving the smartwatch adoption. However, limited battery life remains a pain point for consumer’s decision-making process, irrespective of region and price band.”

“Samsung grew exponentially at 127% YoY as the Korean brand’s market share jumped to 11% in Q1 2019,” said Sujeong Lim of Counterpoint. “Its success was due to the latest Galaxy watch series which came with better battery life as well as a very traditional round clockface design. Further, it provides cellular LTE connectivity which gives it an edge over others targeting Android-based smartphone users. It is a great alternative to the Apple Watch for Android and Samsung’s huge installed base of users.

“Huawei’s market share jumped to 3% in Q1 2019 due to good traction for its latest Huawei Watch GT. The striking design, affordability, leveraging the growing ‘Huawei’ brand mindshare, and the smartphone user base is driving demand. Further, Huawei has shifted focus to sell more Huawei branded smartwatches whereas the smart bands are selling well under its Honor brand.”

So it looks like the big smartphone brands have finally worked out how to persuade their customers to buy smartwatches too, presumably helped by actually finding some useful functions for them. It’s still hard to see this as anything other than a fairly niche category for fitness nuts and hypochondriacs though and it will probably remain so until the voice and gesture UIs become so useful that it becomes viable to leave your smartphone at home.

Qualcomm banks almost $5 billion from Apple and that’s just the start

In its latest quarterly earnings announcement Qualcomm revealed just some of the cash it’s trousering from Apple after winning their legal fight.

“On April 16, 2019, we entered into settlement agreements with Apple and its contract manufacturers to dismiss all outstanding litigation between the parties,” said the relevant bit of the report. “We also entered into a six-year global patent license agreement with Apple, effective as of April 1, 2019, which includes an option for Apple to extend for an additional two years, and a multi-year chipset supply agreement with Apple.

“While we continue to assess the accounting impacts of the agreements, our financial guidance for the third quarter of fiscal 2019 includes estimated revenues of $4.5 billion to $4.7 billion resulting from the settlement (which will be excluded from our Non-GAAP results), consisting of a payment from Apple and the release of our obligations to pay or refund Apple and the contract manufacturers certain customer-related liabilities.

“In addition, our financial guidance for the third quarter of fiscal 2019 includes estimated QTL revenues for royalties due from Apple and its contract manufacturers for sales made in the June 2019 quarter.”

Fiscal Q3 for Qualcomm is equivalent to financial Q2, so it covers all the initial payments Apple will make to Qualcomm as a result of their settlement. If you factor in the June quarter sales royalties that wouldn’t otherwise have been paid that should mean Qualcomm’s current account will be around $5 billion better off by the Summer.

There didn’t seem to be any details revealed about the new patent licence agreement, but the two-year backlog points to a historical rate of around $200 million per month. Given the apparently dominant negotiating position Qualcomm will have been in regarding access to its 5G products it’s easy to believe Apple will be handing over a fair bit more than that for the foreseeable future.

There was one other comment of interest in Qualcomm’s outlook. “Our financial guidance for the third quarter of fiscal 2019 also includes $150 million of QTL revenues from Huawei, which represents a minimum, non-refundable amount for royalties due by Huawei while negotiations continue. This payment does not reflect the full amount of royalties due under the underlying license agreement.”

While this is essentially a restatement of the announcement Qualcomm made a quarter ago, it implies the dispute still isn’t resolved. Aside from all this Qualcomm’s Q1 revenues were roughly in line with expectations but a relatively downbeat general outlook drove its shares down a couple of percent.

Global smartphone shipments plunge to lowest level since 2014

The decline of the global smartphone market continues but nobody sent Huawei the memo as it raced past Apple into second place.

According to Strategy Analytics, from which we derive the majority of our smartphone numbers below, 330.4 million smartphone units were shipped in Q1 2019. This represented a year-on-year decline of 4% and marked the lowest quarterly total since Q3 2014. Among the vendors Apple was the biggest loser and was easily overtaken for second place by Huawei thanks to remarkable 50% year-on-year shipment growth.

“The global smartphone market has declined again on an annual basis, but the fall is less severe than before, and this was the industry’s best performance for three quarters,” said SA’s Linda Sui. “Global smartphone shipments are finally showing signs of stabilizing, due to relatively improved demand in major markets like China. The outlook for later this year is improving.”

“Huawei surged 50% annually and outgrew all major rivals to ship 59.1 million smartphones worldwide during Q1 2019, up from 39.3 million in Q1 2018,” said Neil Mawston of SA. “Huawei captured a record 18 percent global smartphone marketshare in Q1 2019. Huawei is closing in on Samsung and streaking ahead of Apple, due to its strong presence across China, Western Europe and Africa.”

“Apple iPhone shipped 43.1 million units to capture 13 percent global smartphone marketshare in Q1 2019, dipping from 15 percent a year ago,” said Woody Oh of SA. “Apple lost ground in China during the quarter and is struggling to make headway in price-sensitive India. However, decent price cuts in China and India during recent weeks indicate the iPhone will bounce back slightly in those two countries in the next quarter.”

While shipments might be going down the toilet, the total value of those shipments seems to be stable thanks to increasing average selling prices. “By revenue, the situation is healthier, due to higher average prices (like expensive iPhones),” said Mawston. “Global revenue today is broadly around the same level as the average quarter last year.”

smartphone shipments q1 2019

Apple investors hope short-term pain will lead to long-term gain

16% growth in the steadily growing software and services business seems to be enough to rally investor confidence in the face of declining revenues.

Perhaps this is another lesson Apple can teach the world; how to effectively manage investor expectations. Total revenues are declining faster than the service division is growing, but with a 5.4% jump in share price in overnight trading, Apple investors seem to be buying into the short-term pain, long-term gain message from the technology giant.

For some the earning call might have been a shock to the system, explaining the immediate 1.93% drop in share price before markets closed. Total revenues for the quarter ending March 30 declined to $58 billion, down 5.2% year-on-year, while iPhone revenues dropped to $31 billion, a 17.8% dent in the same shipment figures from 2018. But the services division is the glimmer of hope.

“We had great results in a number of areas across our business,” said CEO Tim Cook during the earnings call. “It was our best quarter ever for Services with revenue reaching $11.5 billion.

“Subscriptions are a powerful driver of our Services business. We reached a new high of over 390 million paid subscriptions at the end of March, an increase of 30 million in the last quarter alone. This was also an incredibly important quarter for our Services moving forward.

“In March, we previewed a game-changing array of new services each of them rooted in principles that are fundamentally Apple. They’re easy to use. They feature unmatched attention to detail. They put a premium on user privacy and security. They’re expertly curated personalized and ready to be shared by everyone in your family.”

Although the Apple DNA is not rooted in the software and services world, this has to be the future. Overarching trends are indicating hardware is becoming increasingly commoditized, refreshment cycles are growing, and consumers are less likely to pay a premium for trusted brands. Apple is a company which defied these trends for a period, though not even the iLeader could deny the inevitable.

This is the critical importance of the software and services division; renewed, recurring and new revenues to replace the increasingly difficult, demanding and diversified hardware world, which is epitomised by the dreary global smartphone market.

Although Apple recently decided against releasing shipment figures during its earnings calls, it is still breaking out the revenues associated with products. The iPhone, the segment which drove growth in recent years, declined by 17.8% year-on-year. Part of this can be pinned on changing consumer behaviour, though you also have to look at the individual markets.

In China, Apple has been struggling. Canalys estimate smartphone shipments in the market have declined 3% year-on-year for Q1, though the locals are turning towards domestic brands. In years gone, Apple was a brand seen as somewhat of a status symbol, though it appears this is a concept which is quickly dissipating as the firm only collected 7.4% of market share over the first three months of 2019, a year-on-year decline of 30%.

Total revenues for China have not declined quite as dramatically, a 21.6% year-on-on-year dip to $10.2 billion, though Apple is not alone. OPPO, Xiaomi and Vivo also saw their year-on-year sales dip, with only Huawei coming out on the up. Here, Huawei managed to grow its shipments by 41%, taking 34% of the Chinese market share for Q1.

Another challenging market for Apple has been India. The story here is more forgiving however, as this is a much more cash-conscious market. Apple will of course want to maintain it position as a premium brand, therefore India, despite all the promise it offers, is not tailor made for its ambitions. Until consumer attitudes shift towards more premium devices, Apple will struggle.

Globally the smartphone market has not been helping either. According to Strategy Analytics, shipments decreased 4% year-on-year for the first quarter, with Apple slipping to third place overall.

Market share Q1 2019 Market share Q1 2018
Samsung 21.7% 22.6%
Huawei 17.9% 11.4%
Apple 13% 15.1%
Xiaomi 8.3% 8.2%
OPPO 7.7% 7%

These figures are not the end of the world, but it is a demonstration of consumer trends. There might still be an appetite for purchasing new devices, though there is seemingly a preference for those brands which might are cheaper. Such is the minimal differentiation between brands these days, why spend a premium when there is little need?

However, there is hope for Apple. Consumers might be getting frustrated over a lack of innovation in the hardware space, leading to longer refreshment cycles and a preference towards cheaper or refurbished devices, but the introduction of 5G might well change this.

With 5G devices being launched consumers will have something different to think about. Although 5G-capable devices are certainly not a necessity, and won’t be for a considerable amount of time, the ability to shout about something genuinely new might reinvigorate consumer appetite for purchasing new, and premium, devices. This could work in Apple’s favour.

That said, with Apple unlikely to release a 5G-capable device until 2020, the next few quarters could also demonstrate similar year-on-year declines. Apple seem to be happy to swallow this decline, sacrificing the ‘first to market’ accolade, but this how Apple traditionally approaches the market; it doesn’t aim to be first, but best.

For the moment, and the long-term health of the company, this does not seem to be the central point however. Apple is seemingly attempting to slightly shift the focus of the business, becoming more reliant on software and services, and it does seem to be working. As you can see from the table below, the ratio is shifting.

Product revenue Services Revenue Ratio
Q2 2019 46,565 11,450 81.3/19.7
Q1 2019 73,435 10,875 88.2/12.8
Q4 2018 52,919 9,981 84.1/15.9
Q3 2018 43,717 9,548 82.1/17.9
Q2 2018 51,947 9,190 85/15
Q1 2018 79,768 8,471 90.4/9.6
Q4 2017 44,078 8,501 85.9/16.1

The results in the table above do look quite confusing, though you have to consider that Q4 is usually the period for Apple’s flagship launch, skewing the figures towards the product segment, while Q1 accounts for Christmas, again tilting the figures. The general trend is looking favourable for the software and services division.

The last couple of months have seen Apple release several new services which will continue to bolster this division also. Whether it’s the content streaming service, news subscriptions, credit cards, iTunes or the App Store, the business is driving more investment and attention to this strange new world of software and recurring revenues. The ratio should continue to balance out, though we strongly suspect it will never get close to parity.

Another factor which you have to consider when it comes to the investors is the monetary gain. Yes, the long-term picture is looking healthier, but the firm has also announced it is increasing the dividend by 5%. This will keep cash-conscious and short-term investors happier, encouraging more to hold onto shares despite the downturn in revenues. The team has also announced a share buy-back scheme, up to $75 billion, which could be viewed as another move to protect share price. Although these could be viewed as short-term measures to cool the market, the overall business is looking healthier.

Apple is recentring the business, with more of a focus on software and services. The firm has defied the global hardware trends for some time, but they do seem to be catching up. What is important however is the management team recognising hardware will not be a suitable floatation device for Apple in the long-run. To continue dominating the technology world, Apple will have to spread its wing further into software, just as it is doing.

And perhaps the most critical factor of this transformation; investors seem to have confidence in the team’s ability to evolve.

Apple starts to count the casualties of its poor 5G campaign

It looks like one of Apple’s most senior wireless engineers has cleared off, just days after the company lost its fight with Qualcomm.

The Information has reported that Rubén Caballero, a VP of Engineering in charge of wireless stuff at Apple, has left the building. One of its mystery sources said Caballero was ‘leading Apple’s charge into 5G’, which is especially appropriate considering his surname. Since that charge was resoundingly defeated by Qualcomm’s big guns Apple seems to have decided to discreetly disband its 5G light brigade.

As is its way Apple hasn’t offered any comment on the scoop but The Information says his work emails are bouncing back and his work phone has been disconnected so the circumstantial evidence is strong in this one. Additionally Apple Insider did a bit of sniffing around of its own and got another anonymous source to confirm Caballero’s departure.

Both stories feature a fair bit of speculation about why Caballero may have galloped off after 14 years at Apple, but to us the most likely reason for any wireless casualties at Apple must be the utter farce of its attempted collaboration with Intel. Since Intel was clearly hopelessly inadequate as a 5G modem partner, Apple CEO Tim Cook must have a pretty low opinion of any of his execs that told him otherwise.

Apple is facing complaints from developers for removing competing apps

Apps that help users control screen time have been removed or been demanded to curtail their features after Apple rolled out similar features.

Many app makers have claimed that their parental control and screen time alert apps have either been removed by Apple or have been asked to change the features, shortly after Apple rolled out similar features on iOS, reported The New York Times. 11 out of the 17 most downloaded apps of this category have been taken down, according to the research by the app analytics firm Sensor Tower and the NYT.

Apple included screen time control tools when iOS 12 was unveiled at the WWDC event in June last year, integrated in the Settings menu when the new OS was officially launched. They enabled parents to control how much time their kids can spend on iPhones and iPads, as well as alert users the time they spend on their iOS devices. But they are not as feature rich as some specialised 3rd party apps, the developers told the NYT. They were also not terribly robust. Only a few days after the new iOS was released to the public, many kids already found ways to bypass the control, according to the parents who shared their experiences on Reddit.

Apple’s official response claimed that these apps were removed to help “protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.” Its spokesperson also denied that the apps were removed for competition reasons, saying, “we treat all apps the same, including those that compete with our own services.”

However, both the timing and the reasons given by Apple would raise some eyebrows. While its defence of limiting the device management features for enterprise use is plausible, as was detailed in the response to MacRumor by Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP for Worldwide Marketing, some other key features that have been in place for years and have been repeatedly approved by Apple are being asked to be removed, some developers told the newspaper. For example, these apps support device level blocking of certain content while Apple’s tool only blocks content inside the Safari browser.

At least three of the app developers, Kidslox, Qustodio, and Kaspersky Lab have filed complaints at the EU’s competition commission.

It is less likely that Apple purges the competing apps for the revenue. On one hand, Apple does not directly get revenue from their screen time apps, it is included in the phone price. On the other hand, by taking down these apps Apple is losing its share of the payment the apps receive (30%). A more plausible reason to trigger the Apple action is these apps can be used cross-platform, which means parents on iPhone can control their kids’ screen time on Android. It is not entirely out of the question that Apple may be using some feeble excuses to lock in as many users as possible.

This is another example that Apple is taking its role as platform and curator of apps too far, and inadvertently lending support to the rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic presidential candidate for 2020, when she said, without naming Apple, that “either they run the platform or they play in the store. They don’t get to do both at the same time.” These complaints also sound similar to Spotify’s accusation that Apple is being both the referee and a player.

Intel admits losing Apple caused it to ditch 5G modems – well duh

Chip giant Intel silenced the non-speculation about it bailing on its much heralded 5G modem project by admitting it was due to losing Apple as a customer.

The scoop comes courtesy of the paywalled WSJ and passed on by The Verge. Intel CEO Bob Swan apparently fessed up to the WSJ saying “In light of the announcement of Apple and Qualcomm, we assessed the prospects for us to make money while delivering this technology for smartphones and concluded at the time that we just didn’t see a path.”

That comment was only a minor elaboration on what Swan said on Intel’s recent earnings call. “As you know, we recently sharpened our 5G focus,” said Swan, in textbook earnings call language. “When it became apparent that we don’t have a clear path to profitability in 5G smartphone modems, we acted. We are now winding down that business and conducting a strategic assessment of 5G modems for the PC and IoT sectors while continuing to meet our current 4G customer commitments.”

Now it’s debatable how much profitability Intel would have derived from its 5G modem sales to Apple if some commentators are to be believed, so the ‘path to profitability’ bit seems like a massive euphemism for ‘likelihood that we will ever deliver a competitive product’ to us. To be fair to Swan there’s no nice way of publicly admitting abject failure so he’s entitled to dance around the issue a tad.

Since it’s now clear that Apple was the only significant customer for its 5G modem and it has apparently deemed it too much of a liability to stick with it’s worth reviewing Intel’s historical pronouncements on the matter.

Intel reckons it has the first global 5G modem

Chip-makers embark on pre-MWC 5G virtue-signalling frenzy

Intel continues to insist it’s really good at 5G

Intel triggered into joining Qualcomm Apple spat

Intel brings forward ‘launch’ of 5G modem in bid to silence doubters

In hindsight it’s all a bit tragic isn’t it? While we don’t doubt Intel genuinely wanted to compete in the modem market it also seems to have been played like a fiddle by Apple. The fruity gadget giant used Intel as a pawn in its hostile negotiations with Qualcomm and dropped it like a bad habit as soon as that became convenient. Cold.

Intel had so little faith in the product of what must have been billions of dollars of effort put into 5G modem development that as soon as its sugar daddy went back to its former partner it pulled the plug immediately. It must surely have seen this coming for a while with all the talk of Apple trying to develop its own modems, so it was just a matter of when it owned up to its 5G failure.

To be honest 5G modems seem to be the least of Intel’s problems right now so it may have been grateful to have ditched that distraction. Swan was forced to also admit Intel was revising down its full year revenue outlook by a whopping $2.5 billion on the earnings call, driving Intel’s shares down 8% at time of writing.

“Our conversations with customers and partners across our PC and data-centric businesses over the past couple of months have made several trends clear,” said Sawn. “The decline in memory pricing has intensified. The data center inventory and capacity digestion that we described in January is more pronounced than we expected, and China headwinds have increased, leading to a more cautious IT spending environment.

“And yet those same customer conversations reinforce our confidence that demand will improve in the second half. So we’ve reassessed our ’19 expectations based on the challenges we’re seeing. Our full year outlook is now $69 billion in revenue, down 3% year-over-year and down approximately $2.5 billion from our previous estimate.”

We had a chat about the Apple/Qualcomm/Intel thing on the most recent podcast, which you can access here.