Regular readers may recall (particularly since we keep hammering this point) that the rumors prior to the March Apple Event evolved hugely from their origins six or seven months out (Apple Watch 2 with all-new hardware! ) to the week before (woven nylon bands!). Right on schedule, we're seeing the first wave of walkbacks on previous rumors about the "Apple Watch 2" (again) as well as the expected "iPhone 7" that is expected in September. There is also apparently a new gathering of ninjas at Apple.
The new assemblage of dark-clothed silent assassins are planning to bump off the present system of finding apps in the iOS App Store, which to be fair has not scaled at all well to an inventory of 1.5 million or more apps, and needs killing. Bloomberg reports
that a "secret team" of about 100 employees (let's put aside, for the moment, that nearly all the teams at Apple are "secret") are working on a plan that may or may not include the notion of "paid search," i.e. what Google does for a living.
The idea is that developers would pay to have their apps more prominently highlighted, which of course would open the door to two end results, as we have seen with Google: rich developers get richer because they can promote more, or craptastic apps with a big initial budget can make a huge undeserved splash, and everyone feels ripped off later. This doesn't sound very "Apple-esque" to us (presently, recommended apps on the App Store come from picks by Apple's staff, and are not for sale), but we can't really argue with the results: Google has turned their "paid search" system into a gigantic multibillion-dollar business.
Supposedly, this idea is the brainchild of Apple Vice President Todd Teresi, formerly the head of iAd, and engineers who previously worked on that project. But hold on a minute: wasn't iAd largely dismantled because Apple has recently been moving itself away
from collecting extraneous data about users? When it was doing iAd, that unit by necessity had to gather all kinds of detailed stats on users (as all mobile advertising agencies do) such as how long you play a given game, how often the ad was pushed to you, how often you responded to it, and so forth.
Apple had strict guidelines that kept that sort of data limited to use by developers and other ad buyers (rather than used company-wide, as Google or Facebook, for example, do), but developers were always unhappy about the fact that there were some stats Apple just refused to collect (News and Newsstand publishing partners have made similar complaints for some time) that others would provide them. Apple has committed to gathering as few details about its users as it can, except to make certain core functions work (like Maps).
So the idea that Apple is considering getting back into the "collect a lot of stats on users and sell them to developers and advertisers" seems a little odd to us, but again we have to acknowledge that paid search has worked out well for developers and Google alike in the mobile advertising world, so we can't completely rule it out. Apple's primary source of income from the App Store now is the 30 percent "distributor" cut it gets from sales; that generated about $20 billion for the company in revenue last year, though the profit out of that is likely to be a small fraction of that number.
By comparison, Google -- which generates 96 percent of its income from mobile and desktop advertising -- made $67.39 billion in revenue. We're not big fans of the "pay to play" system for developers, as it generally hurts smaller studios, so we hope Apple will figure out something better than Google's system that still manages to make money and help the genuinely great apps "rise to the top" of the App Store.
Apple Watch "2" -- this time it's personal
So the whole "Apple Watch 2 coming in March/April" thing from late last year turned out to be a big bust. Once it become obvious that no such thing was happening this spring, the pundits simply moved the goalposts to this fall -- as we said at the time, if Apple was going to do a new Watch model, it would make more sense to do so closer to Christmas, right? So now the conventional wisdom is that Apple will show up this new Apple Watch at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, and it will be available for sale in September.
Color us still skeptical on the claim of an "all new" Apple Watch coming out less than two years after the first one, particularly when there's a lot still to do for the existing product as-is: through software (we did expect to hear about watchOS 3.0 at WWDC), through new band ideas (more materials, possibly some sensors incorporated into bands, that sort of thing), and new case materials (where's our titanium Watch? Our platinum Watch? And didn't we learn from the 1996 Doctor Who
TV-movie that the best clocks are made of beryllium?).
While we certainly can't claim to know the mind of Apple better than others, we just think the Apple Watch is not on an iPad- or iPhone-like replacement cycle. It seems like that sentiment, which we've expressed for some time now, has started to catch on: the latest rumors about the "Apple Watch 2" are now walking expectations back a bit, picturing something more like the kind of modest upgrade to the original hardware that the iPhone "s" models get following the initial whole-number design change.
This revision comes from "insider" KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo
, who is essentially repeating his (to be fair, nearly accurate) expectations for what he called the "iPhone 6c," saying that 2016 Watch revision coming this fall will only reflect "spec improvements" (such as a faster processor
or possibly more storage space) with "limited changes" to the form factor. Last week, we freely speculated that perhaps Apple was considering a new version
of the existing Sport Watch that was more independent of the iPhone and more focused on health, fitness, and wellness.
That's certainly the kind of thing we'd like to see rather than analyst Brian White's vision of a 40 percent thinner model
(which would, by necessity, have less battery life). On the other hand, if you had a Watch that only did the health stuff and not most of the other functions, maybe you could
get it up to 40 percent thinner ... so maybe we're on to something after all. Ming-Chi, on the other hand, has turned kind of sour on the Apple Watch in recent month: despite health evidence that Apple sold around 16-20 million units in calendar 2015, Ming-Chi said it was more like 10.6 million units, and that the company will sell only 7.5 million Apple Watches in calendar 2016, even with this "new" model coming out.
While income gains from the division of Apple that includes Apple Watch (and Apple TV, and other non-"marquee" products) would suggest he's not just wrong but way
off, Apple does not release sales figures for the Apple Watch, so we can't be sure about that. Ming-Chi says, and we think he's mostly right, that the wearables market is still "immature" -- but we think Apple users tend to be eager to be on the cutting edge, which may offset the gloom he casts on the wearables industry generally. He certainly seems to be right if you exclude Fitbit bands and Apple Watches, though -- outside of those two products, the market for wearables is tiny.
The iPhone 007 -- James Bond edition!
Speaking of products expected this fall, the rumor mill on the "iPhone 7" has been pretty quiet, with just some polishing of existing rumors being done. One interesting new possibility seems to stem from a bit of speculation by display analysis company DisplayMate, where the company raved about the superior display quality of the latest 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and wished that the "True Tone" ambient lighting sensor seen in that device, along with the improved quality of the overall display, migrates to the next iPhone.
Essentially, the rumor mill has decided that's a great idea -- because it is, and so we certainly hope that the "iPhone 7" -- which is said to largely resemble the iPhone 6s in terms of exterior design, disappointingly -- will sport many of the rumored features to help distinguish it from the iPhone 6s line, since the exterior may not be significantly different. There's certainly still the possibility that at least one model will sport the "dual camera" option discussed previously, and what we think is the less-likely but possible option of the addition of a Smart Connector (as seen on the iPad Pros) to allow a hardware connection to chargers and keyboards.
The speculation still believes Apple will take out the headphone jack, make the iPhone 7 as thin (or nearly so) as the current iPod touch (6.1mm instead of the current 7.2mm), with true stereo speakers (a first for the iPhone, though not much of a selling point it must be said), and either Lightning or Bluetooth EarPods to be included with the new phone, since the headphone jack won't be there. We're not too sure about the wisdom of making the iPhone 7 even thinner -- we, like most users, would gladly keep it at the present thickness or even a wee bit thicker in exchange for even better battery life.
Okay, not actually two-dimensional, but if new rumors are to be believed, the already whisper-thin 12-inch Retina MacBook is going to get even thinner in its next revision. The problem with this -- beyond the possibility of MacBooks that could blow away in a strong breeze -- is that the report comes from DigiTimes,
of which we will simply say that it makes Ming-Chi Kuo look like a sage time-traveller from the future in terms of comparative accuracy of predictions.
The report says that the key to the 2016 MacBook revision is a new hinge design made from metal-injection molding that will allow the unit to achieve new levels of thinness. The unit, which could be revealed as early as the end of this month, will celebrate its one-year anniversary this month, so the timing could be right for an update. As we reported last week in this space, rumors have it that the MacBook line will gain at least a "spec bump," while the MacBook Air line as we know it will be killed off, replaced with at least a 13-inch thinner version under the MacBook banner (and possibly larger models), and thus gain (at last!) a Retina display. The 11-inch MBA will probably be killed off outright.
If the rumors are true and the MacBook line jumps to equivalent Skylake chips from Intel (as some revised MacBook Pro lineups are expected to do with their class of processors), this would make the new models up to 30 percent more battery-efficient, and increase CPU speed by 10 to 20 percent, with an even more impressive boost in graphics performance (20 to 40 percent).