Apple issues weak response to Spotify’s claims of discrimination

Apple has presented its side of the dispute with Spotify, claiming it is treating the latter the same as other apps and it is reasonable to charge 30% of premium payment to apps.

Shortly after Spotify filed a claim at the EU against Apple for being discriminated by the latter’s App Store rules and practices, Apple released a statement to deny these claims and throw the accusations back at Spotify.

Apple argued for the 30% charge of premium paid to apps on App Store platform with a few justifications. “Apple connects Spotify to our users. We provide the platform by which users download and update their app. We share critical software development tools to support Spotify’s app building. And we built a secure payment system — no small undertaking — which allows users to have faith in in-app transactions,” the statement said. Apple also hastened to add that Spotify has left out policy that the revenue share will drop to 15% from the second year on.

On Spotify’s argument that Apple has restricted payment methods to Apple’s own payment system only, Apple retorted that it demands all “digital goods and services that are purchased inside the app using our secure in-app purchase system”.

There are a few layers in the reading of the attrition when each side is only talking its own side’s truth, but there are also bigger questions related to the whole digital economy. There are minor inconsistencies in Apple’s statement, for example it claimed that Spotify has made “substantial revenue that they draw from the App Store’s customers”, only to contradict a few lines below by playing down the App Store’s significance by saying “only a tiny fraction of their subscriptions fall (sic.) under Apple’s revenue-sharing model.” And there is no need for Apple to use the dubious accusation that Spotify is suing music creators. They (Spotify, Google, Pandora, Amazon) are not. They are appealing to overturn a court decision to increase royalty payment by 44%.

There is as much left unsaid as said. For example, Apple failed to address Spotify’s concern that Apple is both operating a platform and distributing its own competing products, in this case Apple Music. This was a point brought up in a conversation The Verge had with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who did not include in her first list of companies to “break up”. “It’s got to be one or the other,” Warren told The Verge referring to Apple. “Either they run the platform or they play in the store. They don’t get to do both at the same time.” This resonates with Spotify’s accusation that Apple is being both the referee and a player.

It also does not give out the reason why Spotify, or any apps, should not have the option to handle payments within the app with equally safe payment system (e.g. credit cards).

Then there is the broader question whether app stores should be allowed to collect a commission fee for apps distributed on its platform. Technically Apple, and other applications stores like Google’s Play Store, could argue that they are a distribution channel and a retail outlet. Like other channels and retailers, they must charge a fee to sell the products. This side of the business would not be so significant for Apple earlier, as it was mainly using the app ecosystem to sell, and lock consumers in, iPhones. It is getting more meaning for the company now that the iPhone sales are slowing down while “Services” has become a meaningful part of the business. That is also a key reason why both Apple and Google are actively encouraging apps to move to subscription model to generate recurring income for the platforms.

But there has never been any justification why the fee should be as high as 30%, and Apple and Google have been well synchronised with their charge level (as well as dropping the fee from second year onward to 15%). This has become a significant additional cost for the app developers. Some with deeper pockets could absorb the cost and keep the retail price similar to other platforms (e.g. The Economist magazine). Those businesses operating on low margin or on a loss have to move the additional cost to users who opt to pay for the premium inside the app (e.g. Spotify). Other businesses simply choose to disable the option to upgrade to premium inside their iOS app to avoid the fee (e.g. the Financial Times newspaper).

Apple used Spotify’s partnerships with carriers as a supporting argument for the charge, saying “a significant portion of Spotify’s customers come through partnerships with mobile carriers. (This) requires Spotify to pay a similar distribution fee to retailers and carriers.” This may or may not true as each carrier deal with OTT services is different. Even if this is accurate, mobile carriers most likely are following the Apple’s and Google’s benchmark rather than the other way round.

Apple will struggle with 5G for years – analyst

Not only will Apple lag its competitors by at least a year in launching a 5G phone, it might still suck anyway according to a semiconductor analyst.

Bloomberg apparently got hold of a research note from Matthew Ramsay, who heads up the TMT semiconductor business at Cowen. He seems to reckon Apple has boxed itself into a corner by ditching Qualcomm as a 5G modem supplier and is now seriously short of good options in that area. He also expressed surprised that Apple has allowed this situation to develop.

Ramsay detailed four main options for Apple for 5G, but he doesn’t think any of them are great. The first is what is generally assumed: that Apple will launch 18 months behind the competition with an Intel 5G modem that is expected to be inferior and not even support mmWave. The recent MWC show saw the first 5G phones launched but Apple tends to announce new iPhones in September, hence the big lag.

Rubbish option number two is to see if anyone else can help Apple out on the modem side of things. But Huawei is off the table due to all the aggro it’s getting from the US and Samsung would be likely to ruthlessly exploit its overwhelmingly strong bargaining position, since it’s another of the long list of companies Apple is on frosty terms with. Other than that there’s Taiwanese MediaTek, but Ramsay seems to think it’s even further behind than Intel.

A third, highly implausible, option would be for Apple and Qualcomm to kiss and make up. Not only does there seem to have been too many things said that can’t be unsaid in their bitter legal dispute, but that would be an utter humiliation for Apple and surely Qualcomm wouldn’t be able to resist imposing punitive terms. Having said that, sometimes pragmatism and enlightened self-interest prevail, but we would be amazed if they did in this case.

The last option would be for Apple to buy Intel’s modem business from it in order to accelerate the development process. This would be expensive but Apple can certainly afford it. There is, however, no guarantee Apple would improve on Intel’s efforts since modems are hardly a core competence. It’s even less likely that Apple would be able to make a material improvement in the next year or two.

A fifth option not posited by Ramsay would be for an even longer delay in bringing a 5G phone to market. Apple is brilliant at marketing and could easily throw resources at belittling 5G in the short term to downplay the significance of its absence from that market. That argument would certainly find some sympathy from us in the short term, but it would surely start to wear thin before long.

Apple and Goldman Sachs may soon issue a credit card together

The Wall Street Journal reports that the iPhone maker from Silicon Valley and the Wall Street stalwart are mulling over the idea of jointly issuing a credit card to Apple users.

Quoting people familiar with the situation, the paper claimed that Apple and Goldman Sachs may start a trial of the card on their own staff in the coming weeks before it is launched later in the spring. A similar partnership was earlier reported in May 2018 by the same paper.

If this does happen, it will not be the first time Apple takes part in card issuing. The company has already partnered Barclays to issue Barclaycard with Apple Rewards, by which users can earn points from purchases made at Apple or elsewhere, which can then be converted to Apple Stores or iTunes Store coupons.

Nor is Apple the only internet company to issue bank cards. Amazon, for example, has partnered with multiple banks (including RBS and NatWest in the UK) to issue different kinds of credit, debit, cash-back and other types of cards with different benefits.

Where the Goldman Sacks card will be different, according to the WSJ article, is its tighter integration with features offered by the Apple Wallet app on the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

By now, users of Apple Wallet can store in the app “credit, debit, and prepaid cards, store cards, boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons, rewards cards, student ID cards” etc. Then users can use “passes on your iPhone to check in for flights, get and redeem rewards, get in to movies, or redeem coupons. Passes can include useful information like the balance on your coffee card, your coupon’s expiration date, your seat number for a concert”, and so on.

The speculated card is said to work with these Wallet functions as well as with upcoming features. For example, Wallet may keep spending limits, track rewards, encourage users to pay down their credit card debt, and manage balances. These will not be fundamentally new ideas. Apple Watch is already attempting to improve the user’s physical wellness, and the recent update on iOS has added notification of user’s screen time.

This may bring addition benefit to Apple, at a time when its Products business is slowing down while Services is growing to be more important. As a concrete example, Apple could get higher commission fee from transactions on its own cards then on those made through Apple Pay linked to cards issued by other institutions.

For Goldman Sachs, on the other hand, the main driver would be the iOS users. Traditionally an investment and wholesale bank, Goldman Sachs only recently opened an online retail banking business in the shape of Marcus by Goldman Sachs. A joint credit card would be a good channel to access the iPhone users, which are believed to be higher spenders among smartphone users. Eventually, WSJ claimed, the card may expand to offer personal loans, wealth management services, and other financial products, which would be closer to Goldman Sachs’ heart.

The secondary market is becoming a primary consideration for smartphone vendors

With western smartphone markets in steep decline the secondary market is gaining traction as a counter-intuitive way to reverse that trend.

On first inspection a vibrant secondary (i.e. used) smartphone market seems like a threat to sales of new phones. Why would you bother buying a new one when you can get a decent second-hand one for a fraction of the price? But dig a bit deeper and you can just as easily conclude that making it easier for people to flog their old phones could incentivise them to upgrade more frequently.

The latter position is one adopted by smartphone security specialist Blancco, which has just published a report entitled ‘The Critical Importance of Consumer Trust in the Second-Hand Mobile Market’. The report is based around a survey of 5,000 punters from the UK, US, Germany, India and the Phillipines, which looked into their attitudes towards the secondary smartphone market.

As with all reports published by a company with a product or service to sell, it’s safe to assume there is a business reason for such an undertaking. In this case one of the things Blancco does is manage the data erasure on used devices when they’re collected to make sure no consumer data is hacked/breached/misused, so they have an interest in generating demand for such a service. That said, let’s have a look at the findings.

58% of those surveyed had never traded in a device and in the first table below you can see the stated reasons why. Cutting to the chase, people were then asked how concerned they were about their data security if they were to flog their old phone and, as you can see from the second table, the majority of people in all the countries surveyed had at least some concern.

Blancco table 1

Blancco table 2

“The secondary mobile device market is a huge success story,” said Russ Ernst, EVP, Products & Technology at Blancco. “Each of its major stakeholders – operators, OEMS and 3PLs [third party logistics] – have so much more value to extract from it as more global consumers choose to sell or buy used equipment if they trust in the process of used device collection and redistribution.

“Without a common, mandated and regulated rule book for smartphone processing, the ecosystem will be subject to abuse and malicious attack. The current ecosystem is made up of multiple stakeholders that collect devices from various touchpoints and redistribute them to many other parties.

“Since the speed of device processing is the only critical success factor, and as more devices flood the market, the chances of data breaches or issues related to data misuse will become increasingly likely. The secondary device market remains an amazingly lucrative and exciting opportunity for everyone, but only if it retains full consumer confidence built on trust and data integrity.”

Apple is being especially proactive in the secondary market by letting its loyal punters trade in their old iPhones as part of the price of a new one. The UK trade-in page makes it very easy to get a valuation and cleverly they will even accept non iPhones. Having said that they’ll only give you £445 for a 64GB iPhone X that they can resell for twice that amount so they’re not being that generous.

But Blancco does seem to have a point about the growing secondary market and it stands to reason that trust plays a big part in it. Presumably Apple fanboys are more likely to trust Apple itself than their operator or some random third party. While we don’t accept it as a given that a strong secondary market necessarily equals a strong primary one, it looks like there’s at least some money to be made from being a trusted reseller.

Apple slaps Google and Facebook on the wrist

One day after Facebook had its enterprise developer certificates revoked by Apple, Google ran into similar troubles with the iOS and App Store owner.

It turned out that Facebook was not the only naughty player attempting to circumvent Apple’s rules to forbid apps developed under enterprise certificates to be distributed outside of the company. Google was found to have distributed a data monitoring and survey app called Screenwise Meter. The app comes with Apple’s enterprise developer certificate granted to Google and has been distributed to a “panel” selected and maintained in partnership with the research firm GfK. The panel may include users as young as 13, or with the parents’ consent, those under 13 though the data monitoring method will be modified.

It is not clear if it was a reaction to the revocation of Facebook’s certificates, but Google stopped the distribution of Screenwise Meter before Apple acted. “The Screenwise Meter iOS app should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake, and we apologize,” Google said in a statement on Wednesday. “We have disabled this app on iOS devices. This app is completely voluntary and always has been. We’ve been upfront with users about the way we use their data in the app, we have no access to encrypted data in apps and on devices, and users can opt out of the program at any time.”

However, Google’s developer certificates were still made invalid by Apple on Thursday, reported first by The Verge. This resulted in Google’s pre-release beta apps as well as employee-only apps, for example those for using Google’s shuttle bus or coffee shops, stopping working. (One cannot help but wondering how many employees in Google, which controls Android and releases its own Pixel smartphones, are using iPhone as their primary devices.) The tone from Apple, however, was much reconciliatory. “We are working together with Google to help them reinstate their enterprise certificates very quickly,” said the statement from Apple to BuzzFeed.

In comparison, Apple was much sterner when pulling the plug on Facebook. “We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple.”

To look at the two cases together, there are two types of issues Apple needs to deal with. To borrow the economics jargons, one is normative, i.e. based on principles, another is positive, i.e. based on facts. On the normative side, Apple should clarify whether Facebook and Google were punished for launching apps gathering users’ private data or for distributing the apps under the wrong type of certificates and through unofficial channels, i.e. not using the App Store.

Although most media coverage was focused on the Facebook app gathering user data, it looks that Apple was more annoyed by the fact that Facebook (and Google) has abused its enterprise developer certificates. It said in the statement related to Facebook: “Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case (of Facebook) to protect our users and their data.”

However, what drove Facebook to distribute “Facebook Research”, the app in question through unorthodox channels, looks to be that Apple has banned apps to gather user data as detailed as app history, private messages, and location, from being listed in the App Store. In its “App Store Review Guidelines”, Apple stated “5.1.1 Data Collection and Storage: (iii) Data Minimization: Apps should only request access to data relevant to the core functionality of the app and should only collect and use data that is required to accomplish the relevant task. Where possible, use the out-of-process picker or a share sheet rather than requesting full access to protected resources like Photos or Contacts.”

The rule above would be caught in a paradox in cases where the “core functionality” of an app is to gather detailed user data and is explicit with it. That was the case with “Facebook Research”. Facebook said in its statement: “Key facts about this market research program are being ignored. Despite early reports, there was nothing ‘secret’ about this; it was literally called the Facebook Research App. It wasn’t ‘spying’ as all of the people who signed up to participate went through a clear on-boarding process asking for their permission and were paid to participate. Finally, less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens. All of them with signed parental consent forms.”

As an aside, despite the repeated furore towards Facebook recently, neither users nor advertisers seem to be deterred. The Q4 results recently published showed that in Europe, where GDPR went into effect mid-2018, Facebook’s monthly active users went up from 375 million in Q3 to 381 million, and the average revenue per user in Europe jumped from $8.82 in Q3 up to $10.98.

If Apple was unhappy with companies distributing apps developed under enterprise certificates to users outside of the enterprises, there would come the positive side of the issues, i.e. related how Apple implements the rule. Whether Apple was punishing Facebook and Google as a deterrent to other companies that have or might have distributed apps externally using enterprise certificates, or it will go after all offenders, remains to be seen.

If it was the former tactic, an old Chinese saying that goes “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey” would summarise it well, though the two chickens Apple has put the knife in are much fatter than most monkeys. On the other hand, if Apple were true to its word that it would act on “any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers”, it may find a long line of chickens (or monkeys) standing in the line. Alex Fajkowski, a Twitter user and iOS app developer, suggested that both Amazon and DoorDash were distributing apps to recruit temporary deliverers. Then a longer list of companies suspected of doing the same thing was drawn up, including companies like Square and Sonos (though Sonos looks to have removed the page recently).

Looking at it either way, it is clear that Apple is tightening the control over its already tightly controlled ecosystem. With Services becoming increasingly important, Apple would not want to see any loss of revenues from iOS apps distributed outside of App Store, nor would it want to be seen complacent or even complicit in any comprise of users’ privacy. Or, standing up to the internet giants which have been on the receiving end of much anger, could score a PR victory for Apple.

Both Facebook and Google had their enterprise certificates restored by Thursday evening.

Full-year global smartphone market declines for the first time

For five consecutive quarters the global smartphone market has registered year-on-year decline, marking the first time it has shrunk on annual basis since the first iPhone defined the category in 2007.

The size of the contraction is believed to be around 4-5%, according to some research firms. Among the leading smartphone makers, Huawei was the only one that has bucked the trend by increasing its sales volume and vastly improving its market share. By some estimate it is almost neck and neck with Apple.

“Huawei grew 35 percent and shipped a record 205.8 million smartphones globally in full-year 2018,” said Woody Oh, Director at Strategy Analytics. “Huawei is now just a whisker behind Apple, who shipped 206.3 million iPhones last year. Huawei is massively outgrowing the iPhone and we expect Huawei to overtake Apple on a full-year basis worldwide for the first time in 2019.”

In general, the leading Chinese brands, including OPPO, vivo, and Xiaomi (in addition to Huawei) have been aggressively expanding overseas to compensate the weak domestic market. According to the estimates by Counterpoint Research, 46% of the Chinese brands’ total volume was shipped outside of China, up from 33% a year ago. “The collective smartphone shipment growth of emerging markets such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Russia and others was not enough to offset the decline in China, which was responsible for almost 1/3 of global smartphone shipments in 2018. With China showing little or no sign of recovery due to various politico-economic factors, Chinese brands are looking to expand overseas,” said Shobhit Srivastava, an analyst from Counterpoint. “To increase market share, Chinese brands have been aggressive in both hardware/software design and marketing.”

Despite being badly hit in the smartphone market in 2018 (and foreseeing continued difficulties in 2019), Samsung was still able to hold on to the overall market leader position. “Samsung shipped 69.3 million smartphones worldwide in Q4 2018, dipping 7 percent annually from 74.4 million units in Q4 2017. Samsung remains the world’s number one smartphone vendor, despite intense competition from Apple, Huawei and others across core markets of India, Europe and the US,” commented Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics.

Calculating Q4 was made further complicated as this was the first quarter that Apple would not publish the iPhone shipment volume (though it continues to publish iPhone revenues). We sampled three research firms’ published numbers on the market size and vendor share, each of them making their judgement call on Apple as well as other firms that do not publish their shipments.

Both Counterpoint Research and Strategy Analytics believed Apple sold 66 million iPhones in the final quarter of 2018, presumably by applying the announced year-on-year 15% decline of iPhone revenues directly on the volume. This is a crude methodology, as it would assume the average selling price (ASP) of the iPhones has remained constant from a year ago. The new models released in 2018 were sold at much higher price points than their predecessors from 2017. To couple this with Apple’s decision to discontinue some older, cheaper models, the iPhone ASP should only go up, which means its volume decline should be bigger than 15%, though by how much is anyone’s guess.

On the other hand, Canalys estimated that 71.7 million iPhones were sold in Q4, or a 7% decline from Q4 2017. As a matter of fact, the firm, based on this estimate, declared that Apple overtook Samsung to be the market leader in Q4. This calculation implies Apple must have vastly discounted the iPhones to drive up volume. This is not entirely impossible, but it has not been reported broadly.

Smartphone 2018

Qualcomm’s business model hangs in the balance as FTC case concludes

The US Federal Trade Commission accused Qualcomm of abusing a monopoly two years ago. Now a judge is set to decide if it was right to do so.

The original accusations coincided almost exactly with the commencement of hostilities between Qualcomm and Apple, with the latter saying the former was getting away with overcharging for its mobile chips thanks to having a monopoly in that market. The FTC case pretty much echoed that claim, with accusations of FRAND patent abuse thrown in for good measure.

It apparently takes a couple of years for this sort of thing to play out and the respective parties delivered their closing arguments recently. The FTC doesn’t seem to have made a formal announcement on the matter but credit to Cnet which has actually done some old fashioned reporting and sent someone into the court room.

Here’s the Cnet report from 15 Jan, which covers the FTC side of the case. The core of it seems to be that forcing companies who want to buy its chips to also take out patent licenses is wrong. It also claims that this process prevents other chip makers coming into the market and thus harms competition. Unsurprisingly a couple of Apple execs turned up to support the FTC case.

Among the FTC’s closing arguments is the warning that, if Qualcomm isn’t stopped, it will abuse the 5G market as it has previous once. But Apple’s own shift from Qualcomm to Intel chips would appear to contradict that assumption, as does Huawei’s recent launch of a 5G modem. These are also unhelpful in its bid to claim Qualcomm has a monopoly.

“The FTC hasn’t come close to meeting its burden of proof in this case,” said Qualcomm General Counsel Don Rosenberg in a press announcement. “All real-world evidence presented at trial showed how Qualcomm’s years of R&D and innovation fostered competition, and growth for the entire mobile economy to the benefit of consumers around the world.

“Our licensing rates – which were set long before we had a chip business, and revalidated time and again – fairly and accurately reflect the value of our patent portfolio. Qualcomm’s technology has been the foundation of a thriving, competitive industry.”

Now Judge Lucy Koh, who’s a veteran of this sort of thing, needs to weigh up all the evidence and arguments, and make a call one way or the other. The stakes are pretty high for Qualcomm as a decision against it would effectively be a decision against a big part of its business model. Expect Qualcomm’s share price react strongly either way when the decision is announced, which Koh warned might take a while.

Weak iPhone sales take bite out of Apple revenues

It might not come as a huge surprise, but the Apple financials are not as glorious and fruitful as the quarterly bonanza of yesteryear.

The devices market is plateauing, China’s economy is slowing, Indian consumers are more interested with other brands, iPhone sales are down, as is revenue and operating income, expenses are up. It doesn’t exactly paint a picture of serenity and profitability, but share price increased more than 5% in overnight trading.

CEO Tim Cook and his team did manage the situation quite effectively with a recent profit warning and have seemingly tabled a plan which has caught the interest of investors but let’s just put this overnight surge into perspective. The last couple of months have not been good for Apple. At the beginning of September, Apple share price was hovering around the $228 mark, while at the time of writing, it has declined more than 30% to $154. Cook should be nervous.

“Last night’s results beg the question, are investors falling out of love with Apple?” said Christopher Dembik, Head of Macro Analysis at Saxo Bank.

“The results of the former favourite stock – Apple was the fifth most traded stock by clients at Saxo Bank, behind Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and Tesla – signalling a tough climate for traders right now with a gloomy global economy, weak returns across the board and whispers of another recession on the way.”

Apple Topline

Overall revenues were down to $84.3 billion, 5% lower than the same period in 2017, though it was in-line with the revised forecast from a few weeks back. For the next quarter, revenue is expected between $55 billion and $59 billion, with a gross margin between 37-38%.

Looking at the results, the iPhone weighed Apple down heavily. Shipment numbers will no-longer be released by the team, though revenues for the cornerstone product declined an almost inconceivable $9.1 billion, a 15% year-on-year drop, to $51.982 billion. This is still a huge amount of cash, but such a dramatic decline indicates someone got something very wrong somewhere.

The last couple of months of 2018 were a scrap for Apple to justify the pricing of its flagship devices. Cook and his cronies seem to have accepted what many people were telling them; the devices have become too expensive. Moving forward, the team seem to have indicated there will be price reductions.

This is what Apple have specialised in over the last few decades; customer loyalty and sweating the brand. There aren’t many cults out there who can count on their followers as loyally as Apple can count on the iLifers, but when the company was innovating they could justify marking a premium on products and rely on the Apple followers to make purchases. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

If you look through the portfolio, none of the products are particularly mind-blowing. Yes, they might be high-spec and feature the Apple brand, but there has been little innovation in the last few years to justify the increasing prices. Married with consumers becoming more cash conscious, Apple has seemingly pushed its customers over the breaking point of what they are willing to spend.

That said, it isn’t just innovation which is to blame here, Apple is losing out to competitors in key markets. The Americas grew, though Europe, Japan and Greater China all declined. In the European and China markets, Chinese brands such as Huawei and One Plus has been gaining greater traction, with the price much more palatable for consumers. These are good devices which are offering just as technologically advanced features, suggesting Apple is losing the vice-like grip which it has on its customers.

Apple Breakdown

“And so, what we have done in January and in some locations and some products is essentially absorbed part or all of the foreign currency move as compared to last year and therefore get close or perhaps right on the local price from a year ago,” said Cook during the earnings call.

How much of an impact the price reductions will have remains to be seen, but what is worth noting is that there was some good news from the call. iPhone revenues might have plummeted over the period, but all other categories grew, including the much-valued software and services unit.

This is where Cook has been pinning his hopes, and there have been some gains. The software and services unit grew revenues by 19% year-on-year taking the total to $10.8 billion. Apple is attempting to evolve itself into a very different type of business, with recurring revenues as the ambition, though success has to be put into context. Yes, there have been gains, but it seems the dangers of the hardware world are being realised much faster than the benefits of software evolution.

Apple has largely struggled in the world of software and services, perhaps because its traditional business model is not suitable. When you look at where Apple has been successful in software and services, iTunes, AppleCare and iOS for example, these are all areas which tie the customer into the Apple ecosystem. They are products which build on the Steve Jobs mantra of ‘closed is better’. However, Apple will have to embrace a new mentality is it wants to succeed in the new world.

At CES, Apple captured most of the headlines without actually being there as it announced a content-based partnership with Samsung. Beginning in the Spring, new Samsung Smart TV models will offer iTunes Movies & TV Shows and Apple AirPlay 2 support for Apple customers. This is a good move from Apple, embracing the concepts of openness and collaboration which will be critical moving forwards.

Another interesting development, which has remained unconfirmed, is the creation of a Netflix-like gaming platform. Apple would herd developers and gaming content behind a paywall which will offered as a bundle service for customers. The subscription service would take Apple into a potentially profitable segment, which is set to boom over the coming years. However, this cannot be tied exclusively to Apple products and would have to demonstrate openness.

The last few months have shown that Apple is not immune to global trends and the need to evolve as a business is overdue. The reason companies like Google and Amazon never report revenue dips like this is they are constantly searching for the next idea. Apple might have been slow to react, but there is some progress being made. It just needs to be made quicker.

China’s smartphone market plunged by 11% in 2018

The smartphone market in China declined by 11% in Q4 2018 and by similar magnitude the whole year, according to numbers from the research firm Strategy Analytics.

Quarterly shipments of smartphones in China dropped from 121 million in Q4 2017 to 108 million in the last quarter of 2018. The annual volume in 2018 came down to 409 million from 460 million the previous year. The market registered a fifth consecutive quarter of contraction, largely due to longer replacement cycle and weak consumer spending, according to the quarterly update from the firm. In 2018, China’s economic growth came to the lowest annual rate since 1990, reported media recently.

No everyone suffered equally though. Huawei beat the competitors as well as the market by shipping 30 million smartphones in the quarter, capturing 28% of the market, giving it a clear market leadership position. “Huawei’s growth soared 23% annually and it is now the clear market leader. A strong product portfolio, famous brand and extensive retail channels were among the main success factors,” commented Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics.

While Samsung, the global leader in smartphone market, has long underperformed in China and is nowhere to be seen on the leader board, Apple’s woes also continued. It is now occupying the number four position on the chart, with 10% market share. “iPhone shipments dropped 22% annually and this was the firm’s worst performance since early 2017. Apple iPhone has now fallen on a year-over-year basis in China for 8 of the past 12 quarters,” said Linda Sui, Director at Strategy Analytics. Similar to what we have seen in India, the majority of the Chinese consumers, faced with the abundant choices offered by the Android products, do not see enough value for money in the iPhone. “Apple is in danger of pricing the iPhone out of China,” Sui added.

The intense competition in China is driving some local brands to look elsewhere for new opportunities. Xiaomi, which just dropped below Apple in the latest quarter in the Chinese market, is eyeing Europe and Latin America for new growth. OnePlus is another Chinese brand trying to gain a foothold in the mature markets with strong specs at appealing price level. However they may find the consumers in these markets less receptive to new brands. For example, a recent research done by Tappable, a UK mobile app developer, suggests only 34% of consumers would consider purchasing from less known brands.

SA China smartphone market 4Q18

Apple draws level with Qualcomm after Germany win

A German court has dismissed Qualcomm’s efforts to block iPhone sales in the country as ‘groundless’ as Apple hit back in the on-going global patent dispute.

According to Reuters, the regional court in the city of Mannheim threw out the case stating the patent in question was not violated by Apple’s installation of Qualcomm chips in its smartphones. Qualcomm has already said it will appeal the decision, as the pair trade blows in various courts throughout across the world.

This case focuses on the use of Intel-chips in certain Apple devices, with Qualcomm suggesting one of its patents had been infringed. The patent in question relates to power management.

Back in September, Qualcomm effectively accused Apple of corporate espionage, questioning how the gulf in performance when measuring its own chips against Intel’s could have been bridged so quickly. However, this argument clearly wasn’t enough to convince the Mannheim judge of wrong-doing.

Having already secured an order to block the sale of certain iPhones through a ruling in Munich, as well as a similar decision in China, Apple needed a win to halt the Qualcomm momentum. The pair have been trading blows over patents and royalties for years now, though the on-going case in the US could prove to be the most significant battle of the dispute.

The chipmaker is currently facing a FTC antitrust investigation, which has escalated to trial, currently being heard in the US District Court in San Jose, California. As you can imagine, Apple, Intel and various others have been playing the part of very proactive cheerleaders, urging on the FTC from the side-lines.

This trial has now concluded for the sixth day, with the FTC calling various witnesses from tech companies such as Apple, Samsung and Ericsson, as well as IP experts from consultancies and universities. The aim is to prove Qualcomm is effectively a monopoly, abusing this prominent position through excessive royalty payments and unreasonable licensing agreements for years.

With the FTC now taking a seat, the next couple of days will see the Qualcomm lawyers preach their case. Here, the team will aim to prove the royalty payments are justified, such is leadership position Qualcomm has worked up in the segment, and the licensing arrangement is the most beneficial and simplistic way to do business. The Qualcomm lawyers are certainly well practised in the art of arguing against antitrust accusations, so it will be interesting to see which way this trial heads.

While the win in Germany is certainly a positive for Apple, which has been on the losing side of a few of the recent skirmishes, the FTC trial is the big one for both parties.