Apple will reportedly hold key iOS features until 2019 to focus on bug fixes and speed


Apple plans to launch 2018’s iOS update without major new features in order to focus on quality assurance and performance issues, Axios reports. The company typically offers a new iOS developer preview every June at its Worldwide Developers Conference, followed by a public release in September, leveraging major features to sell newly released devices.

According to the report, Apple software chief Craig Federighi announced the decision to employees earlier this month, following several months of criticism over the quality of Apple’s software. Federighi’s team has faced serious issues, ranging from security and battery performance to gaps in Siri, while delays in the release of AirPlay 2 have impacted the HomePod’s ability to stream stereo and multi-room audio.

Major new features expected to be pushed to 2019 include revised home screen and CarPlay user interfaces, as well as updates to the Mail, Camera, and Photos apps. The 2018 release of iOS is planned to include improved augmented reality, health, and parental control features.

Axios says that Apple plans to focus primarily on making “iPhones more responsive and less prone to cause customer support issues,” but adds that some team members question whether Apple will be able to actually deliver superior software quality in the end. Moreover, the impact on sales of iOS devices is unclear, as “customers tend to pay for features more than security and reliability,” which they can’t assess when making purchases.

Apple – VentureBeat

What to expect from Apple’s HomePod launch


Two Fridays from now, Apple’s HomePod will arrive in stores. While hard-core Apple fans will get to enjoy the most exciting unboxing experience since December’s iMac Pro launch, everyone else will be waiting on the sidelines for real world opinions on the $ 349 smart speaker.

Given how hot the smart speaker market has been recently, why wait? Apart from its high price, HomePod is launching in what some might call “beta” form, including some rough edges and omitting some promised features. Here’s what you should expect next week.

5. Debates over the audio performance given the $ 349 price tag

Using nearly identical language to its pitch for the ill-fated iPod Hi-Fi, Apple is marketing the HomePod as a “reinvention” of home audio with “high-fidelity” sound. Specifically, Apple claims that HomePod will deliver “the highest-fidelity sound throughout the room, anywhere it’s placed.” That’s a tall order for a tiny speaker — and for audiophiles, all but impossible to take seriously.

At the $ 349 price point, great all-in-one speakers virtually always include stereo sound, created using a mix of high-pitched “tweeters,” mid-frequency “midrange drivers,” and low-pitched “woofers” to faithfully reproduce audio recordings. For HomePod, Apple did away with the midrange drivers — a point underscored by a Wired reviewer — and instead used a collection of seven tweeters and one woofer to perform audio, plus six microphones to hear voice commands. Want stereo? Whenever Apple releases a software update, HomePod will let you upgrade to stereo by purchasing a second speaker at full price.

It remains to be seen whether these choices will prove to be controversial in practice, but on paper, there’s plenty of room for audiophiles to write HomePod off: A $ 349 monaural speaker with no midrange drivers and a fairly small bass driver shouldn’t be expected to “rock the house,” despite Apple’s claims. However, it would be no surprise at all if HomePod outperformed smaller and less expensive speakers, including virtually every smart speaker released to date.

4. A “good” overall audio experience

Many of the initial HomePod first listen articles produced by Apple-selected publications begin with a disclaimer: The writer explains that he or she isn’t an audio expert, and doesn’t know what great sound is, but enjoys music as much as or more than the next person.

Ideally, people with comparative audio expertise should be reviewing expensive speakers. But in reality, audio experts represent a very small percentage of the population, and most people just buy good-looking audio gear that’s heavily marketed as sounding good. That’s why Beats headphones and Bose speakers have done so well, audiophiles be damned.

By targeting the smart speaker market in particular, HomePod has a low audio quality bar to hurdle — most of the speakers in the category were designed to sell for half or less the price of a HomePod. Most weren’t really made for music playback; they were designed around AI assistants. So the good news is that the music-focused HomePod will sound better than all of them, and likely will maintain that “lead” until a serious audio company decides to play at the same exact price level… or unless, like the iPod Hi-Fi, Apple just kills the HomePod because it’s at the wrong price point.

3. Issues with iTunes streaming, including iTunes Match

One of the most surprising and concerning omissions from the HomePod discussion is support for music libraries other than Apple’s. Thus far, HomePod has been pitched as a companion for Apple Music, and there have been conflicting reports on how it will perform with audio stored on a computer, audio stored on Apple’s iTunes Match service, and audio stored solely on a device.

Based on what Apple has said, HomePod should be able to stream audio from the Apple Music service without issues, and you may be able to stream music stored with Apple’s iTunes Match service, too. But if your music library is stored on a computer or on your device, you will probably have to manually stream tracks to HomePod over Bluetooth just like any other speaker.

2. Siri hiccups

Some people gave up on Siri so long ago that they’ve disabled the feature through its past two or three generations of step forward-step back improvement. If you haven’t used Siri in a while, turn it back on: Even if you’ve recently gotten used to Alexa, you’ll probably be impressed by how much smoother Siri’s multi-lingual voices now sound, and some of the responses you can get to inquiries.

Unfortunately, Siri still stumbles a lot, and unlike Alexa, there’s no way to have something even vaguely resembling a conversation. Over the years, Siri has been justifiably mocked for misinterpreting phrases and proper nouns, so it’s unclear how HomePod will fare when asked to pluck individual tracks from a library of over 40 million songs. The feature has apparently been improved recently with music-specific knowledge to improve Siri’s functionality as a “musicologist,” but beyond music, there’s a lot Siri still can’t do that Alexa can. Expect to see this discussed at length when HomePod launches.

1. Auditioning challenges, and a lot of returns

One of the biggest issues with HomePod is that you can’t really experience it properly in a store. Apple’s own retail locations aren’t the best spaces to try speakers, and really testing one’s capabilities can make other people uncomfortable — who wants to be the one turning Siri up to its peak volume in the corner of a crowded Apple Store? The best place to experience a HomePod will naturally be your home, which means shelling out the cash to test it for yourself.

Because the $ 349 price point isn’t “cheap” for most people, we’d expect to see people posting on social media that they’ve given HomePod a shot and decided to return it. Thankfully, the Apple Store makes this very easy during the 14-day period after you receive the product.

If HomePod doesn’t live up to the initial hype, you can also expect to see plenty of refurbished HomePods at the Apple Store a few months down the line. Perhaps by then Apple will have the rest of HomePod’s originally promised features working, too, making a discounted post-launch purchase more sensible for initial hold-outs.

Apple – VentureBeat

Apple reportedly halves iPhone X production after disappointing holiday sales


Starting at $ 999, the iPhone X is Apple’s most advanced model to date, but it’s apparently not selling well enough to keep manufacturing at current rates. Nikkei reports that Apple is cutting iPhone X production in half due to slower-than-expected sales in the U.S., Europe, and China, notably after less than three months on the market.

According to the report, Apple is cutting its iPhone X production targets from 40 million units in the quarter to around 20 million units, as inventories have swelled. Nikkei notes that the cuts will “have a domino effect on manufacturers” supplying parts for the iPhone X, with a likely impact totaling billions of dollars.

One possible casualty for both Apple and other manufacturers is a slowdown in their expected shifts from LED to OLED screens. Well-sourced analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has forecast that Apple will release a larger OLED version of the iPhone X and a mid-range LED model later this year.

Rumors of iPhone X production cuts have been swirling for a month thanks to a post-Christmas report from Taiwan’s Economic Daily News, which claimed that Apple’s initial manufacturing target of 50 million units had been cut to 30 million units. Apple did not comment on that report, and its shares dropped; they have fallen around 2% today, and are near a three-month low. Over the past week, further rumors have suggested that the iPhone X will be discontinued after only a year on the market, causing some prospective customers to question its future.

Historically, Apple has refused to provide specific sales figures for individual iPhone models, saying that it wanted to keep competitors from targeting particularly popular devices. But reputable reports of large supply chain cuts can provide some insight into sales trends, as can major changes in the average selling price of iPhone devices. Apple’s quarterly earnings release on February 1 will provide further insight into the iPhone X’s impact on overall iPhone sales.

Apple – VentureBeat

ProBeat: Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are bringing back the browser wars


This was a big week in browser news: Google launched Chrome 64 and Mozilla released Firefox 58 in the span of just over a day. But the timing isn’t what’s interesting (both browsers get new versions every six weeks or so) — except for the fact it coincided with Mosaic’s 25-year anniversary — it’s the significant additions and improvements that point to a bigger trend. The browsers wars are heating up again.

I pay close attention to browser updates. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine, but I do justify it, to anyone who will listen, by saying that browsers don’t get enough coverage relative to how much time we spend in them.

2018 will be about ads and performance

2018 is already looking like it will be much more eventful than the past few years. This is largely thanks to Google — unlike Microsoft, the company is not taking its lead in the browser market for granted. Google is doubling down on the user experience by focusing on ads and performance, an opportunity I’ve argued its competitors have completely missed.

Chrome got a stronger pop-up blocker this month, but that’s nothing compared to what has already been announced for 2018. Google’s browser will soon no longer autoplay content with sound, take on third-party software injections, and crack down on unwanted redirects. Oh, and a built-in ad blocker is coming next month.

And that’s just what Google has talked about publicly. There’s undoubtedly plenty in the pipeline that’s slated for release this year.

Meanwhile, Mozilla has released a major revamp of Firefox, dubbed Firefox Quantum. That was version 57, we’re already on 58, and there’s a lot more where that came from. The speed improvements are massive, and coupled with Tracking Protection, they blow Chrome out of the water.

Mozilla is finally back in business. I’m not at all saying Firefox will, or even can, unseat Chrome, but it’s finally worth taking into account again.

Apple and Microsoft are still big players in the browser space, but they continue to move very slowly. Nevertheless, Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention push in Safari is worth … tracking, and Microsoft’s Continue on PC efforts show plenty of promise.

Mobile and beyond

I could be completely wrong that 2018 will be a pivotal year in the browser wars, and there’s nothing that gives me more pause than the state of mobile browsers. Because of the Android-iOS duopoly, there simply isn’t anywhere near as much innovation on phones and tablets as there could be. Add to that Apple’s requirement that all iOS browsers use WebKit/WKWebView and the general domination of Blink/Chromium on Android, and you’re left with a boring browser battle.

Former president of Microsoft’s Windows Division Steven Sinofsky put it best:

Yes, it’s great that Chrome’s aforementioned stronger pop-up blocker arrived not just on Windows, Mac, and Linux this week, but on Android as well. (The iOS version is often behind, so we’ll see where it lands in a few months.)

And yes, Mozilla should receive buckets of praise for its mobile endeavors given it’s the only one without an operating system of any kind. Firefox Focus is a brilliant offering on Android and iOS, to the point where I wonder if Firefox for Android and Firefox for iOS are worth the separate efforts.

But everything else I mentioned above is largely about the PC. And while that’s great for people like me who spend hours at a desktop and laptop all day, it’s simply no longer where the biggest impact lies.

Users want powerful extensions on mobile, for a start. Mozilla beat Google to the punch here, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Users also want better communication between their computers and phones. Apple and Microsoft have a distinct advantage here, but neither are really blowing the rest out of the water.

And of course, users could always use significant speed improvements on mobile, where loading times can be particularly abysmal and where there are many more factors that can make an impact. Hopefully we don’t need to wait for 5G to move the needle.

If the browser wars keep heating up this year, they’ll hopefully trickle down to mobile soon enough. Extensions, syncing, and speed are all areas that deserve attention.

This browser geek can’t wait.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.

Apple – VentureBeat

Apple chip maker TSMC plans 5-nanometer chips for 2020, 3-nanometer in 2022


Apple’s chip manufacturer TSMC today broke ground on its first 5-nanometer fabrication facility in Taiwan, promising that 5-nanometer chips will be commercially available in 2020, with 3-nanometer chips planned for 2022. The tiny new processors will guarantee that future smartphones continue to shrink while offering superior performance and battery life to today’s models.

First shown in physical form by IBM and Samsung last June, the 5-nanometer chip process is capable of squeezing 30 billion transistors — digital on-off switches — into fingernail-sized chips, doubling or tripling the transistor counts of 10-nanometer chips. TSMC’s 5-nanometer process uses extreme ultraviolet lithography, requiring an expensive super-fine laser that has only recently become commercially viable.

Smaller, higher density transistors let chipmakers choose between faster performance, longer battery life, or a balance of speed and battery improvements. A 5-nanometer chip might be four times as power-efficient as a 10-nanometer chip while offering the same performance, or four times as fast with the same battery life. Vendors commonly choose something in the middle, such as twice the speed of a prior chip with half the battery drain.

Though many companies manufacture chips, Intel, Samsung, and TSMC are the industry’s three leaders, fabricating chips used by top consumer electronics brands. For instance, IBM relies upon Samsung, while Apple and Qualcomm alternate between TSMC and Samsung for their self-designed chips. Chipmakers earn business by delivering millions of trouble-free parts on schedule, but demanding customers require cutting-edge fabrication techniques that only leading manufacturers can afford. Unlike TSMC, Samsung stumbled on 7-nanometer manufacturing, the interim step between 10- and 5-nanometer chips, and lost some of Qualcomm’s business as a result.

TSMC’s new facility will have a three-phase ramp-up over three years, eventually producing over half a billion 5-nanometer chips per year in Tainan’s Southern Taiwan Science Park when 5G smartphones are in peak demand. The company is investing over $ 17 billion in the factory and $ 24 billion in 5-nanometer technology as a whole, with plans to fabricate 3-nanometer chips in the same location.

Apple – VentureBeat

The experts give a mixed outlook for game company acquisitions


Is the next $ 10 billion game company acquisition right around the corner, or have all of the investors and acquirers moved on the more fruitful markets of Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and blockchain?

Gaming has been around forever and it has grown into a $ 116 billion industry, according to market researcher Newzoo. It continues to have a rich cycle of startups, which grow up to disrupt bigger companies and then are acquired by the master strategists. Platform companies hover over the market, as they see gaming as a key to making their platforms more popular. There are many reason for acquisitions. So will game company mergers and acquisitions rise or fall?

I moderated a panel on that topic of acquisitions in the game industry at Casual Connect USA 2018 in Anaheim, California. The panelists included Scott Rupp, U.S. managing director for Modern Times Group; Shanti Bergel, executive vice president at FunPlus; Michael Chang, senior vice president for corporate development at NCSoft West; and Chris Heatherly, executive vice president of games and digital platforms at NBCUniversal.

Here’s an edited transcript of our panel.

Above: The crowd at Casual Connect USA 2018.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Scott Rupp: I’m the U.S. managing director for Modern Times Group, which is a publicly-traded European media company based in Stockholm, with about $ 2 billion in revenue and a $ 3 billion market cap. A third of our business is digital, and the balance is TV. Within digital we’re very active in gaming, esports, and digital video. In gaming we own Kongregate and InnoGames, and in esports we own ESL and Dreamhack.

Shanti Bergel: I’m the EVP for a company called FunPlus. FunPlus was a startup. We raised about $ 75 million in venture capital, and then had an exit event. We sold, in an asset sale, our casual games division for $ 1 billion to a Chinese company in 2016. We still retain our mid-core game portfolio, and we’re a fully independent company now. The asset sale liquidated our investors. The entire company is now owned by the two founders.

We have our mid-core game portfolio, which includes a game called King of Avalon, which is one of top 20 grossing games in the world. We’re now investing in other companies in an area we call digital entertainment, which includes games, but isn’t limited to them. For example, we’re an investor in an esports team called Cloud 9, and we’re investor and part operator in a mobile streaming company, as well as some other content plays in digital entertainment.

Michael Chang: I work at NCSoft, one of the world’s largest publicly traded game companies. We’re best known for PC MMOs, but recently we’ve had success with mobile products. The mobile Lineage, which launched in Korea alone, did about $ 700 million in six months. I do investments and acquisitions for the company. We’re looking for people to back. Before this I used to do M&A for Electronic Arts, along with Shanti here.

Chris Heatherly: I’m EVP of games at NBC Universal. We’re out of the Universal Studios group. I came to Universal to help transition our model from primarily licensing over to publishing. I spent the last year building a team and working with developers in order to develop games with our IP that we can publish. In addition to that, I advise, within the company, on other things that touch the games industry – things like VR, esports, investments through things like Comcast Ventures. I touch all of those things, at least as an advisor.

Above: DLink showed off wireless VR via WiGig technology.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: This is about acquiring game companies. Earlier this morning, Eric Goldberg moderated the session on investing in game companies. I was curious what you guys think about what’s hot for investments now, particularly because that’s the beginning of the eventual acquisition process. We’ve gotten a good sense that VR is cooling down, but esports is heating up. That’s the general vibe. Scott, did you have any other takeaway from that session?

Rupp: Certainly esports is hot. As we think about areas to invest in for our venture fund, it is focused on esports and gaming. We’re interested in certain sub-themes within those categories. In esports we’re looking at mobile esports and analytics and analogous pieces to other pieces of the traditional sports ecosystem.

For gaming, we think there’s a huge hole in the market to back developer-publishers. There’s a lot of value to be created there. There’s a healthy VC market in Europe, but not as many active investors here in the states. We see a gap there. But we’re looking at every evolution in publishing. We’re looking at alternative ways to drive discovery, alternative ways to finance games, alternative ways to market games. There’s a lot of fertile ground across the space.

Bergel: Our take on investments—at a very high level, in terms of maturity, mobile for example is quite mature. We’d be more likely to acquire proven quantities in mobile than we would in an environment like instant gaming or games for voice on Echo or Google Home. Those are areas where we see people attempting to build new businesses now and it’s an interesting place to invest.

Typically, as an investor, you think about the early stage, where new markets might grow, but we’re not quite ready to jump in there with our internal development studios, which are committed to more mature businesses. For example, King of Avalon, that’s a standing dev team of some size. We can’t easily just take them off that, because it’s a very large revenue driver for us. It’s incumbent upon us, if we want to participate in some of the new platforms that are up and coming, to work with folks that are outside the company and invest in their ideas and try to identify places where we can be helpful to people who are developing what might be a next-generation business.

Chang: By a show of hands, how many of you would be excited to start a new mobile gaming company now? Just a few hands. That’s boundless optimism there. Number two, how about starting a new PC or console game studio? Facebook instant games? Games for Amazon Alexa or Google Home? Interesting. How about AR? Mixed reality? Pretty brutal right now. It’s an interesting indication.

I think there’s an interesting dynamic going on here. The gaming market have never been larger since I joined in 2010. Everyone’s a gamer. Everyone has a phone right now. But the opportunities for independents are a lot more interesting, shall we say, than when we started these conferences in Seattle. In 2010 there were all the games from Big Fish, all the PC client downloadables. That’s all gone to Facebook and free-to-play mobile. New Xbox, new PlayStation, VR came and did one of these. We’re all looking for something in AR, Facebook Instant, audio games.

These are the biggest markets ever, but it’s also the most challenging. We’re all looking for the new area. We don’t have that next platform. It’s changing the dynamics of what kinds of deals we do right now and the types of things people should be working on, at least in the short to medium term.

Above: VY Esports wants to match brands and esports events.

Image Credit: VY Esports

Heatherly: I’m a little more bullish. I feel that the investor community is ultimately too bearish on the whole market. It’s the biggest, most monetized game market that there’s ever been. Everyone in the world is playing games now. If you look at companies like Playrix—there are probably four or five new entrants in the top 20 grossing every year.

I think the challenge with free-to-play games on mobile is that there are very few people that are going to do it well. You have to do a lot of things right. You have to build the infrastructure. The investments are significant, and then there’s the UA expense. Good teams that are good at free-to-play are breaking through and making a lot of money. But that’s an admittedly small number of companies given the difficulty factor.

The Instant Games market is very interesting, although I worry about the—there’s going to be a lot of casualties there if the platform dies. Facebook is going to make the economics challenging. How many people here have played Facebook Instant Games? What’s driving the market is what drove the early Facebook web games. If Facebook ever throttles back the virality like they did on Canvas they can kill that market overnight, which has to make one a little bit nervous.

Long term, even VR, I’m not ready to count that out. It’s going to be several years, but people just need to buy headsets. The barrier to entry, the cost, the complexity of systems—when we start getting into six degrees of freedom and wireless headsets, we’ll start to see if that’s a market or not. But there are more ways to play games than ever before, and new ways to make games are being invented, like HQ. For those who haven’t seen it, HQ is a game show that’s livestreamed. These guys are getting more than a million concurrent players right now, MMO-sized numbers. The appetite for games is endless. The challenge is in marketing and user acquisition, but there’s no better time to make games, in my opinion.

Bergel: Just to nuance that point, I agree that there are amazing opportunities in the space. However, if you look at the companies that are making conventional plays, Playrix is an old company. It’s not a company that came in last year and jumped to the top of the charts. The presentation right before we came on, about Game Insight—a super compelling story, the success of Guns of Boom. But Game Insight is also not a new company. Our company was founded in 2010 and we had a huge exit. But we’ve been working at this for a long time.

To start a mobile game company right now, as an investor, I would worry about that. I would think, okay, how far do you have to go to be market competitive with the people who are up here right now? What are you bringing to the table? If you used to work at Supercell or EA or Machine Zone, those are all good things, but how fast can you come up to speed from a live ops perspective and beat the guy next to you?

Chang: We have to be very creative now. Whether it’s influencers or esports, creating something to drive discovery, something to drive more customer acquisition—we have to be very clever now. We have to have some unique differentiation. We’re having to be stock pickers, versus just betting on the stock market.

Above: Dan Fiden, chief strategy officer at FunPlus.

Image Credit: Dean Takhashi

GamesBeat: I interviewed Dan Fiden back in February of 2016. I’m curious how some of the thinking may have changed since then. At the time he was saying everyone else was swimming in the same direction, into new platforms that have zero penetration like VR. He wanted to take his $ 50 million fund and invest it in mobile games. But it seems like now that’s not an automatic strategy for you guys.

Bergel: In 2016 that was more of a reasonable thing to say. But even so, it is being said from the point of view of a company that has a lot of resources to bring to bear. Why would you take money from FunPlus in 2016? Because we know a lot about certain aspects of the mobile market. We can add a lot of value from an operations perspective. What a lot of western developers are missing when they come to this market—there’s an understanding of LTV, an understanding of live operations, an understanding of how to arbitrage CPI and LTV effectively. Those are things that FunPlus, in an internal analysis, thought we could bring to bear as far as being a good partner to companies that might be coming up.

Full disclosure, everyone who came through that door got measured alongside the same criteria we’d use for an internal studio. It’s a competitive filter. It’s not an act of charity to establish a $ 50 million fund and say, “Hey guys, let’s go make some games.” The investment criteria for a nascent category are much more relaxed. It’s much more about exploration and R&D. Whereas in a fully developed category, where we can see all the numbers on AppAnnie, it’s a different thing. That’s why we as a company look at acquisition for that bucket as opposed to investment.

GamesBeat: One point is that this is a very fast-evolving thing. Your thinking in different sectors is often changing.

Bergel: For sure. Two year is an eternity in mobile.

Chang: To that point, in gaming right now, people capture very quickly. I grew up in the world of venture capital, where you’re trying to invest in small, but rapidly growing markets, so when the larger guys come in you can defend that position.

We talked about Facebook Instant Games today. Zynga is there. They haven’t missed this one. They have Words with Friends in there. There are large guys in that market, because they’ve seen the virality that they remember from the Facebook Canvas days. They’re not seeing the retention, but they’ll see ad monetization and in-app purchase monetization coming up. They’ll see combinations of chat bots and other things that make games more immersive.

We’re asking and encouraging you, because we’re all investors here, to find those undiscovered and untapped markets, where you can be a leader in a small, but ideally long-term market in the future. If you can find those and defend that position, you’ll have something of great value that someone can pay you for or fund you for in the future.

Above: Pitchbook’s list of the biggest game and gambling industry deals.

Image Credit: Pitchbook

GamesBeat: Chris, you know about changing patterns in the business from your previous experience at Disney. There’s almost a cyclical pattern to Disney’s interest in games.

Heatherly: For entertainment companies–our view at Comcast Universal is that—Comcast started off as a cable company. It’s become a broadband company. The people in the company know what’s going down those pipes is what’s growing broadband views. Some of it is streaming video, but a lot of it gaming. We have a management team that has a very progressive view toward the games business.

We’re heavily invested in traditional media assets already. We have a lot of capital, but we’re in search of something new. One of the things that I think is attractive to our company is that games are adjacent to both the things we do in the cable business and the things we do in the entertainment side of the business. It’s a new media business we’ve found. That’s the opportunity for us.

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Apple – VentureBeat

Apple finally gets Cupertino’s permission to occupy parts of Apple Park spaceship building


About one year after construction on the first phase of Apple Park was originally scheduled to be finished, the city of Cupertino has finally granted Apple a series of temporary occupancy permits that allow employees to move into parts of the main building.

According to a spreadsheet compiled by Albert Salvador, a Cupertino building official, Apple received temporary occupancy permits on December 30 for five of the 12 sections of the massive circular structure. The company had actually received a previous temporary occupancy permit back in July for one section of the headquarters that contains the restaurant and atrium.

It appears Apple is on track to receive temporary occupancy permits for all the other sections between the end of January and March at the latest, according to the spreadsheet dated January 17.

The permits have allowed larger numbers of Apple employees to begin the move-in process this month. There have been scattered references to the move across social media, though Apple has reportedly kept a pretty tight lid on social media sharing.

Last February, when Apple announced that the name of the new campus would be Apple Park, the company also said the new headquarters would be “open to employees” in April 2017. That proved to be overly optimistic.

By May, the company had only received an occupancy permit for the central utility plant. In August, Apple was awarded permits for the Story Office Building. On Sept. 1, the visitors center was approved, along with a temporary occupancy permit for the Steve Jobs Theater, just in time for the company’s iPhone event to be held there in September.

At that event, CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the delay and said: “We’ll start moving into Apple Park later this year. Of course, such a large move, it’s really more of a process, and the first step is the opening today of the Steve Jobs Theater.” In November, the company received a temporary permit for its R&D North building, though it’s still awaiting one for R&D South.

It’s no surprise, of course, that such a massive and complicated projected would face some delays. It would be rare in the construction world for any large-scale project to land on time. Apple’s exacting demands on the design no doubt added to the challenges here.

Still, it also means that Apple is largely at the front-end of the massive logistics challenge of relocating 12,000 employees in the Bay Area. That’s naturally bound to cause some disruption, and the question is to what degree that can be minimized. Disruptions may also include ongoing work in the building.

In an email, Salvador explained that temporary occupancy permits have a “list of exclusions” that still place some limits on how the space can be used.

“For example, if a building (or portion of a building) is complete but the site work is still under construction, I would be able to grant a temporary occupancy as long as there is a delineated path to allow the occupants of the building safe passage to a public right-of-way,” he wrote. “I would not issue a final certificate of occupancy until all the work is complete on the entire site. Appropriate barriers are required to keep occupants away from any portions of the building or site where construction is still in process.”

Yet it’s clear the settling-in process is well underway. The company plans to hold its annual shareholders meeting at Apple Park next month.

Meanwhile, the company said earlier this month that it’s still hiring like crazy and announced plans for a new Apple campus somewhere in the U.S. later this year.

Apple – VentureBeat

Apple reportedly plans major iBooks update to challenge Amazon in audiobooks and ebooks


Apple’s iBooks app, which was released alongside the iPad and an iBook store in April 2010 as a challenger to Amazon’s Kindle business, is reportedly about to see its first major upgrade in nearly eight years. According to Bloomberg, iBooks is being redesigned with a new bookstore, a spotlight on the user’s current places in books, and improved audiobook integration, all under a slightly tweaked name: Books. The new name first appeared in the beta version of iOS 11.3 released yesterday, but the new features are expected to arrive “in coming months.”

Apart from an iOS 7 makeover that visually neutralized its textured interface, and the addition of textbook support, the iBooks app has changed little since its launch. Currently, a five-tab interface focuses first on a virtual bookshelf, followed by three bookstore search tabs and a fifth tab spotlighting prior store purchases.

Inspired by recent changes to the News and App Store apps, the updated Books app will reportedly contain a new tab called Reading Now to highlight books currently being read, as well as a dedicated tab for audiobooks. Apple will also likely cut the current four store tabs down to one or two. The redesigned store will be akin to the iOS 11 App Store.

Apple’s changes to the Books app coincide with its hiring of Kashif Zafar, a senior vice president of Amazon’s Audible audiobooks group and former vice president with Barnes & Noble’s Nook division. Bloomberg reports that Zafar is leading Apple’s new Books effort, which had stalled after an April 2012 Department of Justice lawsuit and subsequent $ 450 million fine for conspiring to raise ebook prices. Since the lawsuit, AuthorEarnings says that Amazon’s share of the U.S. ebook market has grown to over 83 percent as of 2017, and Apple’s has shrunk to 9 percent.

Apple – VentureBeat

Why breaking up Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook could save capitalism


If you want to get an idea of how quickly sentiment has shifted against U.S. tech giants, just listen to NYU professor Scott Galloway.

The marketing professor is a self-professed fan of companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon. He’s made a bundle owning their stocks, some of them are clients of his, and he even wrote a book last year called The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Over the past two years, Galloway’s annual talks at the DLD Conference in Munich analyzing their prowess and success have gone viral on YouTube. (See his 2015 and 2016 talks embedded below.) This week, however, Galloway returned to DLD to give a talk called “The breakup of big tech” that cast the four in a very different light.

“This started out as a love affair. I want to be clear,” he said. “I love these companies.” He then shifted gears: “After spending the majority of the last two years of my life really trying to understand them and the relationship of the ecosystem, I’ve become 100 percent convinced that it’s time to break these companies up.”

It’s an audacious claim from anyone, even more startling coming from someone who has been such a close and bullish observer of these tech giants. Yet for Galloway, it is clear that the four companies have simply become too big, and too powerful.

“The premise of my book is that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are our new gods, our new source of love, our consumptive gods,” he said. “And as a result of their ability to tap into these very basic instincts, they’ve aggregated more market cap than the majority of nation’s GDP … I think these entities are more powerful than any entity, with maybe the exception of China and the U.S.”

Galloway said he wasn’t making his argument based on many of the current emotional outcries against the companies, though these are important to note. And he proceeded to list what he considers to be these giants’ numerous sins.

“There are reasons to be angry at them,” he said. “They basically power fake news … So the notion that our platforms have been weaponized by the intelligence unit of a foreign adversary was initially responded to by Facebook as crazy, that we were crazy for thinking that. Then we found out it was millions of people, and now we’re finding out it was hundreds of millions of people who were exposed.”

He argued that given emerging research on the impact of social and digital media, no teens should be allowed on social media before they are 18 years old.

“Here’s a ranking of the most powerful people by Forbes,” he said. “This an insult to Americans. The most powerful person hands-down in the world is Mark Zuckerberg. He can turn off or on your mood. He can take any product up or down. He can pretty much kill any company in the tech space. We’re now finding that teens are more prone to depression because of their time on social media. If there was an ice cream company that was making teens more depressed or more susceptible to suicide, we wouldn’t be seating that person next to the president at meetings in Silicon Valley.”

These companies attempt to mask their problems behind empty rhetoric, such as by claiming they are simply neutral platforms, that they can’t do anything about such issues, or that sometimes innovation can be challenging.

“When you hear ‘innovation’ at events like this it means ‘elegant theft’,” he said. “That means we know we’re wrong, but we have no intention of doing anything about it.”

He added, “My other favorite: ‘We need to do better’.”

While such lack of accountability has clearly infuriated Galloway, he said much of the blame lies with users. By not electing politicians who would scrutinize and correct such behavior, citizens have given their tacit endorsement.

Even when companies are caught, mostly by European regulators, for violating antitrust rules or taxes or privacy laws, the fines, with numbers that sound big, are in fact miniscule, given the wealth accumulated by the four giants.

“We are telling these companies that the smart thing to do is lie and break the law,” he said. “They are doing their job, which is to make more profits. Who screwed up here? The man in the mirror.”

All this, however, is not a reason to break them up. The real reason to break them up is because they have made too many markets anti-competitive.

“The markets are failing,” he said. “The key to competitive markets is that no one company has too much power. And we have blown way by that.”

Galloway said power can’t be measured by market share alone, citing the frenzy created around Amazon’s search for a second headquarters.

“The most egregious example of a society where we no longer worship at the altar of kindness and character but of innovation and money is the shitshow called HQ2 going on with Amazon, where basically governments have decided to turn over their civic responsibilities and taxation authority to the Seattle Giant,” he said.

He pointed to other stats around Amazon, such as its stock price, which seems to indicate investors believe it will attain monopoly pricing power, or its large market share in ecommerce, cloud computing, and smart speakers. Galloway said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likely knows his power is going to eventually provoke greater scrutiny, which is why he bought the Washington Post and has dramatically expanded Amazon’s lobbying team in D.C.

Meanwhile, Google now controls around 90 percent of search in some places and has been accused by European regulators of using that power to send traffic to its own services over other competitors. Facebook, by controlling most of the top apps, now “owns mobile.” “Your mobile phone is a delivery vehicle for Facebook,” he said, adding that this is allowing it to smother competitors like Snap.

He’s not surprised by the growing backlash against these companies, considering how they conflict with our notions of the role technology should play.

“So why are we so angry?” he said. “I think we’ve gotten spoiled with technology. We’ve come to believe that technology is about the betterment of man.”

In previous eras, that meant harvesting the minds of the best and brightest to do things like put a man on the moon. But despite having far more powerful technology at their hands, the best and brightest in Silicon Valley today have far different priorities.

“And why has the greatest collection of creativity, IQ, and capital been brought together?” Galloway said. “One collective mission. I’ve studied these companies, they’ve all been brought together not to create comité of man, not to solve world hunger, they’ve been brought together simply to sell another fucking Nissan.”

Breaking them up, in Galloway’s view, would unleash greater competition, which would create more jobs, a broader tax base, and more innovation. He pointed to the U.S. Department of Justice’s case against Microsoft in the late 1990s, which — even with a mixed result — delivered a message to stop killing small companies.

“Otherwise, Google would never have been born,” he said.

He knows Silicon Valley and the tech giants will forcefully resist any efforts to resize these monoliths and will try to paint breakup advocates as liberals and weak, afraid of competition and innovation. He said that’s why it’s important to remember that the truth is just the opposite.

“The reasons we break them up is because we are capitalists,” he said. “These markets are no longer competitive. They can no longer resist abusing their market power.”

“We don’t break these guys up because they are evil,” he added. “That’s bullshit. They are no less or more evil than us. We don’t break them up because they avoid taxes. It’s our job to hold them accountable. We don’t break them up because they destroy jobs … We break these guys ups up because we are capitalists and it is time.

 

See the full list of videos from the DLD Conference here.

Apple – VentureBeat

Apple’s Xcode 9.3 beta helps developers cut iOS and macOS battery drain, go fully 64-bit


In addition to the release of iOS 11.3 and macOS 10.13.4 betas today, Apple debuted the first beta of Xcode 9.3, the latest version of its software development tool for Apple devices. Most noteworthy in version 9.3 is an updated Energy organizer feature designed to help developers reduce mobile battery drain.

During testing, the Energy organizer will let developers know when foreground apps, background apps, and app extensions exceed a certain CPU threshold, causing excessive battery drain. After the app is released, the Energy organizer will let the developer receive app-specific crash reports with energy issues from users who opted in to sharing app analytics.

In addition to the expected bug fixes and Swift compilation speed improvements, Xcode 9.3 also heralds the end of 32-bit app support in macOS, which will soon require apps to be fully 64-bit. To that end, Apple is introducing a 64-bit testing mode, enabling Mac developers to test apps for 64-bit compatibility. Apple said in June 2017 that “macOS High Sierra will be the last macOS release to support 32-bit apps without compromise.” iOS 11 ended 32-bit app support for Apple’s smaller devices last year, promising improved processor performance.

Apple’s obsession with efficient processor and battery use dates back far before the iPhone throttling fiasco. As just one example, the company’s late CEO Steve Jobs publicly called out Adobe’s Flash extension as a battery hog, performance killer, and crash inducer, refusing to allow it on iPhones, iPads, or iPod touches. After Jobs’ death, the company maintained the iOS ban, later disabling Flash by default in its macOS Safari browser to improve laptop performance and battery life.

The Xcode 9.3 beta is available now to registered Apple developers through the Mac App Store.

Apple – VentureBeat