Despite the efforts from some of the usual offenders to brand Apple as a failure or potential failure, it’s no secret that the company evidently did quite well during last year’s holiday quarter. According to one survey, from an analytics company known as Flurry, some 51.3% of new mobile devices activated around the world had the Apple label on them. That’s just incredible, although I’m sure there are terms and conditions involved. So, for example, Flurry monitors gear registered with app stores. What this means is that feature phones, which don’t reach those app stores, aren’t being counted.
Still, in the arena that counts, Apple trounced Samsung, which recorded 17.7%. The other companies had even less. Again, even Samsung sells lots of low-end gear that doesn’t register at Google Play, so their numbers in a survey of this sort are apt to be quite low in proportion to what they really sold.
Before Apple fans crow too loudly, remember this is just one survey, but even if the data is off by a reasonable amount, it’s still quite a significant coup for the company. A lot more will be known when Apple discloses quarterly revenue and profits later this month. So far the signs are very favorable, and I wonder how the critics will deal with this development, other than to suggest that it must have been a fluke.
In any case, on this week’s episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented commentator Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. His bill of fare this week included those annoying inconsistencies in the way apps are approved for Apple’s App Store. He covered the future of the iPad, the ongoing success of the iPhone, and what we might expect from the next Apple TV.
You also heard from cutting-edge columnist Peter Cohen, Managing Editor for iMore, who talked about the recent curious lawsuit claiming Apple is cheating customers out of usable space on iOS gear and the schemes used by some media pundits to attack Apple, such as citing false or misleading statistics about product demand and customer satisfaction. He also addressed the ongoing questions about the future success of the iPad, and what Apple might do to make it a more compelling device for productivity. And what about the future of Apple TV?
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If early indications hold true, the iPhone did extremely well during the recently-ended holiday season. While actual sales won’t be known till Apple releases the quarterly numbers, it’s very likely there was a fairly substantial increase. Apple clearly did the right thing in deciding to build larger iPhones. The real question is whether the legacy iPhone 5s did well, and whether a new smaller iPhone will be in the offing for later this year.
It’s very likely Macs did quite well too. The new iMac 5K, costly by PC standards, was in short supply for a while, and I’ve heard from lots of people who opted to buy one. This is the sort of computer that serves both pros and consumers quite well for specific needs that might formerly have been met by a Mac Pro. It doesn’t kill the Mac Pro, but lessens the need to have one for many users at a huge cost savings.
The iPad is the question mark. Reports of tablet activations were down substantially, and one estimate had Apple selling roughly 10% fewer units for 2014. It’s still a substantial number, but it’s clear the iPad has confronted headwinds, and it’s an open question how Apple plans to deal with the situation. Will the marketing deal with IBM deliver far more iPads into the enterprise to compensate? Will Apple devise more features to push them into the hands of consumers? Is the longer replacement cycle a large part of the problem?
So the jury is out about the potential of the iPad. That seems sure. While it’s clear many users have found ways to make them productive, and graphic artists seem to appreciate the ability to use a finger or stylus to create artwork, I’m still on the fence about how well an iPad fits into my workflow. I’m still looking for answers, and will try more accessory keyboards to see how they fit.
But what about that other product, the one formerly labeled a hobby? Although there has been periodic speculation on what Apple is going to do with a next generation Apple TV, there was no news to speak of in 2014. My Apple TV, acquired in 2012, has worked well enough, but the remote is toast. I’ll replace it eventually when I decide I want to waste $19. Meantime, I’m using a Logitech Harmony 900 universal remote, which seems to access all the functions. It’s not as small, cute and minimalist as Apple’s. It’s a traditional remote with loads of buttons and touchscreen features that may or not work depending on the device you’re running.
In any case, it’s clear to me that the Apple TV remote may be adequate for a fairly simple device without lots of functions, but it can get annoying to have to navigate multiple menus that aren’t capable of direct access with a dedicated button. But that’s just one shortcoming. As Apple adds more and more channels, clutter becomes a problem if you want to keep them all displayed. You do have the option to rearrange and hide app icons as needed, so the services you’ll never use don’t fill up the visible space.
So the question comes to the fore: Just what was this amazing, magical interface that Steve Jobs boasted about back in 2011? Where is it? Is it even real? Perhaps, knowing his time on this “plane of existence” was short, he said something to freak the competition, get them to waste loads of R&D dollars trying to figure out just what Apple was up to? It’s not that Jobs hasn’t exaggerated from time to time.
But while Apple appears to be standing still, at least in public, on that potential major Apple TV upgrade, other companies appear to be moving forward. It was recently reported that both Roku and the Google Chromecast outsell Apple TV. It’s not that Apple has invested anything in marketing their former hobby, so maybe it was hoped that a solution would be at hand by now.
Certainly Tim Cook has dropped broad hints as to how old fashioned the TV environment in one’s living room seems, but that raises loads of questions as to what needs to be done to bring that experience into the 21st century. Is Apple even considering a smart TV set, or is that best left to all those other companies who continue to fight for market share in a saturated market?
Nowadays, TV makers are hoping you’ll buy 4K, officially called Ultra HD. But it takes a large screen or close-up watching habits to see much of a difference, although sales of such gear are on the rise. But there’s not much in the way of software, the movies and TV shows encoded in 4K and the means with which to play them on your new set. But at least the prices are coming down.
Once 4K hits major market penetration, there’s always 8K, but don’t get me started.
My feeling, not really out of the mainstream, is that Apple’s game plan revolves around a major revision to the Apple TV. Maybe there will be support for third-party apps, advanced gaming controls, Siri support, and perhaps even a new subscription TV service. But the latter requires making deals with the entertainment companies, and that’s never easy. Remember there’s the perception that Apple got off too easy when the iTunes music deals were struck.
Another possibility is that Apple TV could become a sort of TiVO alternative, putting your cable and satellite content in a new iOS-style interface of some sort. Logic dictates that these companies should jump at the opportunity to be able to hold onto customers at a time when some are cutting the cord. But logic and getting actual contracts with companies who want to keep control over their stuff isn’t going to be easy, assuming such deals are being considered. And if Apple TV is the front end set-top box for your cable company, what about iTunes integration? Aren’t rentals from iTunes competition for a cable company’s Pay-Per-View?
One would think Apple could deliver a new Apple TV now, and add software and usability enhancements over time. Would older Apple TVs be eligible for such upgrades? And what about 4K support, and is Apple waiting for new parts to offer a low price and higher resolution capability?
Yet another possibility is that Apple is working out a scheme to better integrate all the devices you connect to your TV set. Right now, it can be messy what with the set, the home theater audio system, cable/satellite box, Blu-ray player, gaming console and the streamer. Apple could combine three of these, while iTunes is intended, in part, to reduce or eliminate the need for Blu-ray except for the stuff you already have.
But don’t get too impatient. Apple has already been roundly criticized by many for trying to do too many things in 2014, thus hurting quality control. That may seem sensible and all, but the problems that have occurred of late seem little different from past issues. With more products and services in play, though, and with the intense attention focused on everything Apple does, it only seems worse.
To me it’s not so different.
In any case, I’m actually just an occasional Apple TV user. I mostly use the cable box, flaws and all, and only bring Apple’s set-top box into play when I want to rent a movie or present content on the TV via AirPlay from other Apple gear in my home. So a new Apple TV would have to offer a real compelling reason for me to consider buying one, real compelling.
I just want to make things clear. Apple Watch was not secretly released during the last holiday season. It is supposedly still on track to appear early this year, though early may be a gray area. It may not arrive until spring, but one guess is as good as another.
That hasn’t stopped some members of the media, or industry analysts, from conducting surveys about buying intentions. One survey suggested only a little over 5% of iPhone owners planned to get an Apple Watch, and remember that Apple’s smartwatch is essentially a fashionable accessory for the iPhone.
Of course, there are hundreds of millions of iPhones in use, and a heavy portion of those among the compatible models, beginning with the iPhone 5. So there are quite enough potential users to at least sell a few million during the first year. But these days, the critics expect Apple to sell tens of millions of anything to be successful. They forget that the iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs in 2007 with the hope, widely disbelieved at the time, that it would command one percent of the global handset market the following year.
First and foremost, even if the Apple Watch has a number of compelling features, and health and fitness are high on the list, it still comes with a serious limitation. It only works in the vicinity of the iPhone to which it’s paired. Apps will be hosted on your iPhone, which makes Apple Watch essentially a thin client, or a dumb network terminal. So it’s clear that Apple hasn’t discovered or invented some miracle technique to make it do most of its stuff as a standalone device. They haven’t reverse engineered alien technology either, at least not that I know of.
But I’d be very surprised if full standalone capability isn’t high on the agenda, at least when the hardware is up to the task of managing all those capabilities, and flash storage is cheap enough and dense enough to include an amount sufficient for your needs in such a tiny case. This is, after all, version one, and I suspect it’s meant very much to display its potential as a long-term product rather than excel in the sales department.
That doesn’t mean Apple wouldn’t want you to buy one and keep it for a few years, but that raises yet another question.
Apple has already confronted the longer upgrade cycles of the iPad. You buy a smartphone every year or two, but keep your iPad around three or four years — or even more — which may be one reason why sales growth has stalled. A watch, however, taken as a fashion accessory, may be intended to last many years. My cheap Guess watch has been around for over a decade that I recall; actually I don’t remember when I bought it, though I suspect it was an impulse purchase made while I was checking out the closeout bins at a local discount retailer.
My watch gets a new battery, one of those $6 affairs at Walmart, every few years. It keeps reasonably accurate time and only has a handful of surface scratches. So why should I spend upwards of $349 to have access to functions I haven’t found useful, at least not yet?
I expect loads of potential Apple Watch customers will have to justify buying something with lots of potential planned obsolescence because they are early adopters. Or they will feel it suits their fashion sensibilities. Don’t forget that Apple is very much about long-range plans, so even if the first Apple Watch doesn’t sell tens of millions of copies, very likely it’ll still be more successful than anyone else’s smartwatch, and will thus prepare the market for version two.
THE FINAL WORD
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