Taking a look back at another week of news from Cupertino, this week’s Apple Loop includes Apple’s response to falling iPhone sales, no 5G for next year’s iPhone, the return of TouchID, no new AirPods for Christmas, the first official iPhone XR cover, and the legend of the Apple Store.
Apple Loop is here to remind you of a few of the very many discussions that have happened around Apple over the last seven days (and you can read my weekly digest of Android news here on Forbes).
iPhone XR’s $300 Discount
Apple continues to react to the low sales of the iPhone with decisions that feel more panicked and planned. Take the latest $300 discount on the iPhone XR. Announced just over one month after it was launched, this is yet another sign that Apple’s 2018 portfolio of smartphones is not delivering the expected volumes. Sure you have to trade in an iPhone 7 Plus to get the discount, but Apple advertising a cut in iPhone process on its home page is not a good sign, as I reported earlier this week:
Although Tim Cook and his team are looking to move to services for more of its income, the “iPhone as a luxury item” approach requires a high ticket price that people are willing to pay (and Apple’s books require the high margins on the high price of these new smartphones).
If people are not willing to pay, then either Apple will have to get use to lower annual hardware sales (and a smaller pool of users to sell services and accessories to) or a direct cut in the price of the new iPhone family. The former will make it much harder to build up the services side of the business, while the latter would be a tacit admission that the pricing strategy of the iPhone is wrong.
More details here on Forbes.
Apple’s 5G Pain
Assuming that Apple can scramble through to September 2019 and the next annual iteration of the iPhone, what can Cupertino offer? There lies a problem. As the Android world embraces 5G partnerships in the US, UK and further afield, Apple will be left without a 5G handset in 2019… and may be waiting until Q3 2020 before the super fast connectivity can be offered to the iOS faithful. Bloomberg’s Apple team has the details:
As with 3G and 4G, the two previous generations of mobile technology, Apple will wait as long as a year after the initial deployment of the new networks before its main product gets the capability to access them, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the company’s plans.
… This time, 5G boosters argue the switch is a much bigger speed upgrade, making Apple’s decision to wait riskier. The networks will open the floodgates to new types of mobile computing, 5G advocates say.
Forbes’ Gordon Kelly looks at the potential impact that a two year wait could have on Apple:
In fact, 5G is so fast and reliable it is expected to replace home broadband and that changes the game for how we use and what we can expect from our phones. This is not a technology you bench for a few years.
5G causes a further problem for Apple as well. When the company does eventually get 5G into its iPhones, the technology comes with higher licencing costs than 4G which will drive up prices. For rivals, this is easier to swallow but Apple is already under attack for excessive asking prices and additional ownership costs.
More on the delays here on Forbes.
The Return Of TouchID
What can Apple offer in its next handsets? It looks like that the only step may be to bring back technology to the iPhone that it has quickly dismissed in a rush to offer something new on the iPhone X. Is it time to welcome back TouchID and fingerprint recognition on the iPhone?
The modern twist is the use of in-display fingerprint reader technology and Patently Apple notes that Apple is currently evaluating biometric sensor suppliers O-film, General Interface Solution and TPK Holding. Interestingly, this is said to be for next year’s iPads first but used as a trial ahead of introducing it in new iPhones.
Why iPads first? Apple is looking for a solution to reduce the bezel size and eliminate the home button on the iPad and iPad Mini ranges but avoid the cost of adding Face ID. An in-display fingerprint reader fulfills this job perfectly. It also gives Apple a lower risk product line to vet the technology before adding it into the premium iPhone and iPad Pro ranges.
Gordon Kelly discusses the idea here.
No New AirPods For Christmas
While there will not be an update to the AirPods before Christmas, a refresh of Apple’s wireless headphones is expected early in 2019. These won’t be the AirPods 2, instead they will feature new charging options and an improved carry case. Andrew Liptak reports:
There were rumors all summer that upgraded AirPods would debut during this fall’s product launches, but they never appeared on stage. If [analyst Ming-Chi Kuo]’s predictions are correct, the new models will have “wireless charging support,” although it’s not clear if that means an upgraded case or the earpieces themselves. There are some other changes that line up with prior rumors as well — Kuo says that the next model will come with upgraded Bluetooth specs, an upgraded hinge on the case, and that some internal components will be a bit more expensive. There have also been rumors that 2019 will also bring a new set of high-end AirPods that will be water resistant and will come with noise cancelation.
More at The Verge. As or the AirPods 2, a recently published patent suggests that Apple may look to make the Airpods symmetrical so that they can fit in either ear, and then use biometric recognition to work out if it is the right channel or the left channel:
The AirPods described in the Earbuds with compliant member patent would contain biometric sensors that are able to make certain measurements when touching the skin. Furthermore, sensors would determine whether an AirPod has been inserted in the right or left ear and adapt sound delivery and microphone use accordingly. Also, these new AirPods should fit and feel even better than the first-gen models.
More on the patent and new design at BGR.
Protecting Your iPhone XR
Following on from Daring Fireball’s note last week of the lack of official Apple cases for the iPhone XR… Apple has announced an official Apple case for the iPhone XR. To prevent the colourful choices of the XR behind hidden, the case is a transparent polycarbonate shell with flexible buttons. David Phelan picks out the pertinent questions:
It looks great, it’s a perfect fit and it sneaks a little round the edge of the phone so that the display is partly protected, unlike some cases where a screen protector is needed, too.
There are cases which offer better protection, such as Mous, and more colourful patterns than the simple effect here. But in terms of pure, transparent protection that lets you see the iPhone inside in all its glory, it’s pretty good.
More here on Forbes.
As Tim Cook’s Apple looks towards increased revenue from services, the Apple Store becomes even more critical to ongoing financial success. Jonny Bunning takes a closer look at what he describes as “a well-managed fiction story” of employees, banned words, and the idea of working not in a shop but for a higher calling:
Johnson and Jobs wanted ambassadors whose ostensible role was not to sell products – uniquely, Apple store employees receive no commission – but to create positive customer sentiment and repair trust in the brand when it broke. That was hard to do if your stuff was lumped in with everyone else’s in a big electronics store, overseen by third-party staff lacking any special expertise or interest in what you wanted to sell.
The goal was to take full control of the brand image while humanizing it. The problem, however, was that humans can be rather unruly.
More at The Guardian.
Apple Loop brings you seven days worth of highlights every weekend here on Forbes. Don’t forget to follow me so you don’t miss any coverage in the future. Last week’s Apple Loop can be read here, or this week’s edition of Loop’s sister column, Android Circuit, is also available on Forbes.