Tim Cook’s China statement soothes Apple investor freak-out

tim-cook-lightsaber-apple-ceo-war-happy-celebrating-good-star-wars

Apple investors are willing to overlook many things, but the health of the Chinese iPhone market isn’t one of them.

On news of a tanking Chinese stock market early today, Apple investors were running for the exits. Apple stock dove way below the $100 market for the first time this year — to $94.87.

Apple may be a little sensitive about China, too. Tim Cook this morning made a rare mid-quarter statement about the market in a note to CNBC markets expert Jim Cramer. It goes:

I can tell you that we have continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August. Growth in iPhone activations has actually accelerated over the past few weeks, and we have had the best performance of the year for the App Store in China during the last 2 weeks.

Cook gave no actual numbers, but the little he did say was apparently enough. Apple stock has now bounced back to pre-crisis levels at around $107 at the time of this writing (1 p.m. EST Monday).


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This isn’t the first time Cook has addressed fears about the Chinese market, and Apple’s dependence on hot iPhone sales there.

China’s stock market tanked back on July 6, too, remember, and sure enough Cook found himself reassuring investors after his company announced third quarter earnings July 21. Apple’s stock dropped 7 percent in after-hours trading that day, largely on worries over China.

Apple reported a decline in China iPhone sales of 21 percent from the previous quarter, but a 112 percent increase from the same quarter a year earlier.

During a conference call with analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple will continue to put the “pedal to the metal” in China, and that Apple might feel some bumps in the road but in the long term China will be a large and growing revenue source.

Cook has good reason for saying so. Apple’s large-screened phones sell best in markets where mobile bandwidth is plentiful, and the Chinese mobile carriers are just now building their LTE networks.

As of the end of 2014, the number of mobile Internet users in China reached 557 million (an increase of 56.72 million for the year), making it the largest smartphone market in the world, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

This means there will be fierce competition among companies like Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, and others for share in the emerging market. And there may be enough addressable market there to buoy up Apple’s iPhone’s sales for the foreseeable future.

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Microsoft launches Cortana public beta for Android phones

Cortana, a character in Halo, owned by Microsoft

Microsoft today launched Cortana for Android phones as a public beta that anyone can download. To try it out, all you have to do is become a tester using this Google Play link.

In May, Microsoft revealed that its digital assistant Cortana would be coming to Android and iOS. Last month, a beta build of Cortana for Android leaked, letting Android users give the assistant a try.

Cortana for Android is the companion to your Windows 10 PC. That means the app extends Cortana’s functionality across to your Android phone, so you can use the digital assistant on the go.

cortana_android_public_beta

Cortana for Android lets you start and complete tasks across devices, set and get reminders, search the web on-the-go, and track important information such as flight details. Unlike the leaked build, the public beta includes the ability to set Cortana as the destination for the home button press.

That said, Cortana for Android cannot do everything the assistant can do on Windows 10 for PCs or on a Windows phone. For example, toggling settings, opening apps, or invoking Cortana hands-free by saying “Hey Cortana” are only available on Windows devices. Microsoft did, however, add that this is “for now” so the company is clearly still working to figure out how best to add these features to Cortana for Android as well.

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Unifying identity data for a holistic view: what works, what doesn’t, and what you need to watch out for (webinar)

thumbprint magnifying glass

Join us for this live webinar on Thursday, August 27 at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern. Register here for free. 

Big data has sent marketers scurrying for quick answers to map the customer journey and serve up hyper-personalized experiences to prove their relevance to consumers. No question, data is arguably this decade’s most important gift to marketers.

In this webinar, VB analyst Andrew Jones will be revealing important findings from our latest report on Identity and Marketing including the many types of ID markers that can be collected, VB’s best bets for data collection and aggregation tools, and the best way to bring it all together.

However, not so fast on the identity charge, say some, including Zouhair Belkoura, who will be contributing a valuable perspective to our panel discussion. As CEO of KeepSafe, a service that lets you store all your important digital files securely (think of it as a fortress-like digital locker), Belkoura is very attuned to privacy and empowering individuals to be in control of what they share with whom.

“If you think of the industry as a whole, you’ll see that the requirements for anonymity and privacy are somewhat relaxed,” says Belkoura. “But at which point to you cross the line from trying to gather information that is useful to becoming creepy?”

For Belkoura, the creep-line is crossed when you decouple anonymity from a rich profile — and, in fact, he believes it’s outright dangerous. “I think the dilemma in creating these profiles is on two levels. First, when you don’t secure your data enough so that you may have breaches on your back end, that’s one of the biggest risks. The second is when you use the information in a way that exposes to the customer in a very apparent way that you’re violating a social norm  — aka you become creepy.”

KeepSafe is very intent on personalizing their experience for users, but collects the absolute minimum about who the customer is, and instead, focuses on what the customer does.


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“We don’t actually know anything about you, so we’ve designed the product in such a way that if you haven’t discovered some of the very rich features in KeepSafe, you’ll learn about them,” says Belkoura. “If we realize after three months of using KeepSafe, that there are certain things that you’ve never actually touched, we may notify you in the user interface: ‘Hey, did you know there’s this, that, and the other thing that can enhance your experience?'”

On the other hand, Belkoura sees tremendous power in profiles and identity — when the consumer chooses to share that information. He distinguishes this from what he calls ‘behind-the-scenes profile generation,” when companies intent on hyper-targeting collect data and aggregate that information into an identity profile to tailor ads.

“The dangerous part is when you have this data craze and you collect all this information about the customer who never wanted to explicitly give it up,” asserts Belkoura. But he is quick to compare this to an instance like Instagram or Snapchat, where users will choose to follow certain accounts, including certain brands, and then the platform can show the user content that is more tailored to their interests, including ads that they’ll be more interested in.

“Personalization is fantastic if you get this information from the consumer voluntarily — but that’s very vey different from this behind the scenes profile generation.”

In fact, he sees the success of his company as a cautionary note to others. “From our perspective, it’s important for fellow startups and companies to know that consumers do really care about their privacy, so the most important thing is to respect that — and take the popularity of services like ours as a signal not to mess with it too much.”

Join us for what will undoubtedly be an illuminating discussion on what successful companies are doing around identity unification, the best tech platforms to do it, and the consumers need to their privacy isn’t be ignored.

In this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • Why customer identity is more critical than ever
  • The challenges of collecting and unifying customer data
  • Key tools for capturing customer data
  • Best options for enriching existing customer profiles
  • Methods and technologies to unify customer data

Speakers:

Andrew Jones, Insight Analyst, VentureBeat
Shawn Burns, Senior Vice President, Web and Digital Marketing, Schneider Electric

Scott Kabat, CMO, Prezi
Zouhair Belkoura, CEO, KeepSafe

 


This webinar is sponsored by Janrain. All research presented was done in advance and entirely independent of any sponsor.

 

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Qualcomm Hexagon 680 promises improved location, better photos, and more battery life

Qualcomm Hexagon 680 DSP makes Snapdragon chips faster.

Qualcomm‘s new Hexagon 680 digital signal processor chip makes a lot of promises. The new mobile chip will enable better battery life for mobile devices, improved location data even when you don’t have a strong navigation signal, and photos that have a better blend of dark and bright imagery.

Qualcomm said that the new Hexagon 680 DSP will be part of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and lead to better smartphones with improved camera and computing capabilities. You’ll see these chips in the next generation of mobile devices in the coming years.

The San Diego, Calif.-based company is describing the details of the Hexagon 680 this week at the Hot Chips engineering conference in Cupertino, Calif.


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The Hexagon 680 DSP offloads tasks from the main Snapdragon 820 processor. This is a more efficient way to do processing because the DSP was engineered to get certain kinds of tasks done faster while consuming less power than the central processing unit. The Hexagon DSP can double the music playback battery life on the Nexus 5.

The Hexagon 680 can handle sensor processing. The DSP is like a low-power island within the chip, so it can handle duties for parts of a phone that are always on, such as those counting steps or receiving data from sensors on your location. The latter task enables a smartphone to provide more accurate location information when you don’t have a strong global positioning system (GPS) signal.

Qualcomm also gets more power from the Hexagon 680 in the form of Hexagon Vector eXtensions. This added hardware supports advanced imaging and computer vision when used with the Qualcomm Spectra camera image sensor. In low-light situations, the Snapdragon 820 processor will use the image sensor and DSP to adaptively brighten areas of both video and photos that would otherwise appear too dark. With Hexagon 680, the Snapdragon 820 can perform this task three times faster than earlier generations of processors and at only 10 percent of the power.

With Hexagon 680 integrated into Snapdragon 820, Qualcomm said “the DSP is taking center stage on a wider-range of the newest user experiences.”

Qualcomm's Hexagon 680 DSP can brighten a picture that is too dark.

Above: Qualcomm’s Hexagon 680 DSP can brighten a picture that is too dark.

Image Credit: Qualcomm

 


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Uber’s WeChat drama exposes the unique challenges of winning in China

Image credit: Reuters / Kim Kyung Hoon

Uber’s latest complaint is kind of hilarious, but at the same time understandable considering the alien and oftentimes confusing market that is China. It’s hard to forget the huge amount of resources the ride-hailing company is throwing at its attempt to conquer it, frequently making headlines.

In a nutshell, Uber believes it is the victim of — albeit indirectly, though not exactly discretely — anti-competitive behavior from its single biggest rival and market incumbent in the country, the ubiquitous Didi Kuaidi.

Indirectly because, in this case, Didi hasn’t actually done anything wrong per se. Instead, one of Didi’s biggest investors, Tencent, seems to have blocked Uber from its WeChat app and the 600 million active users that go along with it.

For those outside Asia and China not entirely familiar with WeChat, Andreessen Horowitz Partner Connie Chan perhaps most succinctly described the importance of Tencent’s WeChat app in her excellent analysis:

“Along with its basic communication features,” Chan wrote in a blog post, “WeChat users in China can access services to hail a taxi, order food delivery, buy movie tickets, play casual games, check in for a flight, send money to friends, access fitness tracker data, book a doctor appointment, get banking statements, pay the water bill, find geo-targeted coupons, recognize music, search for a book at the local library, meet strangers around you, follow celebrity news, read magazine articles, and even donate to charity… all in a single, integrated app.”

That’s why WeChat has become such a big deal both at home and — more as a case study of where Western apps like Facebook Messenger will head — abroad.

In an interview with Bloomberg published today, Uber’s senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, said the company is facing “a deterioration in the competitive environment” in China. He pointed to a chain of events that started with the disappearance of its customer support profile on WeChat in the cities of Hangzhou and then Beijing (on March 16 and 17, respectively).

And while Bloomberg, citing local media reports in China, said that Tencent accused Uber of violating WeChat policy and technical glitches, the real reason is likely to be far more… sinister? But hey, what’s going to be the upshot? For now, while the ride-hailing space in the country (indeed globally) — and the legislation around it — is going through its initial growing pains, it seems extremely unlikely that the Chinese courts would seek to intervene on an anti-trust basis against Tencent or Didi.

After all, China’s government appears to be in quite the protectionist mode at present, made worse by its home stock market woes and moves to depreciate its currency in what many see as an attempt to keep itself competitive and spur a slowing economy.

But here’s the reason I said in the very first sentence that the complaint is kind of hilarious, and the crux of why this whole thing has blown up to become such a big issue for Uber: The US company is clearly relying a little too heavily on a Chinese-controlled platform, which, for all intents and purposes, is as good as owned by its direct competitor. It’s allowed itself to get into a situation where it’s not OK for it to be “banned” on WeChat.

That’s kind of a sucky state of affairs. And while Didi might not so easily get away with it in a country like the U.S., the reality is that Uber is fighting a war on enemy territory.

Being banned on WeChat is increasingly going to be a headache for any company — foreign or local — that wants to benefit from that powerful and almost unparalleled channel into 600-plus million tech-savvy Chinese consumers, many of whom have credit cards linked to their account.

But if Uber wants to have a real shot at stealing market share from Didi in China — and I don’t see why it shouldn’t have a real shot based on its current projections and the endless money that it’s throwing at the problem — it will clearly have to move away from any kind of strategies, reliance or expectation of good will from a defensive competitor that controls powerful gateways to local consumers.

Especially when that competitor is a homegrown answer from a country as notoriously difficult for foreign tech companies to navigate and win in as China.

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Swatch CEO signals plans to add to smartwatch range: Swiss paper

The new 'Swatch Touch Zero One' is seen on a screen during the Swiss watchmaker's annual news conference in Corgemont March 12, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swatch plans to add to its new smartwatch range, the Swiss watchmaker’s chief executive told a newspaper in an interview published on Saturday.

The Biel, Switzerland-based company is competing with Apple and other watchmakers in the budding smartwatch market.

“Our product is called Touch Zero One and that gives enough room for Zero Five, Zero Nine,” Nick Hayek was quoted as saying by Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper. “The Touch Zero One is not the end of the progression.”

Hayek told the paper Swatch would launch Touch Zero Two at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The Swiss company’s strategy appears primarily to revolve around including individual tech features in different models rather than going head to head with Apple to create all-in-one smartwatches combining many functions.

On top of its Touch Zero One, which can track the distance the wearer travels and help beach volleyball players measure the power of their hits, Swatch is planning to launch watches with an embedded “near field communication” chip this year.

(Reporting by Joshua Franklin; editing by David Clarke)


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InstaVet Makes It Easy To Schedule A Veterinary House Call

instavet With the recent deluge of on-demand startups, many of us expect to get whatever we want with the push of a button, whether it’s food, a ride or pretty much anything else. So why not medical care for the pets that we love? That’s what Elijah Kliger is hoping to deliver with a service called InstaVet. By visiting the InstaVet website, or by just calling or texting (the number… Read More

4 things we learned when Apple rejected our first Watch app

Four

At MobilityWare, we’re huge believers in Apple products. In fact, when the app store first opened in 2008, we had one of the first games available. So when Apple announced Watch, we quickly ramped up development and began working on several new concepts without the benefit of an SDK. Our first game was to be Solitaire, a game we had tremendous success with on the iPhone.

But a funny thing happened on the way to launch: Apple rejected us. We absorbed Apple’s feedback and, backed by a new design philosophy, we came up with a superior product on our next attempt and Apple approved us.

The rejection turned out to be a tremendous learning opportunity that we would like to share. Here’s what we learned:

1. Take a cohesive approach

As game designers, we are ambitious by nature. Why have just 5 levels when you can have 55? But with Apple Watch, we needed to rein in those instincts and view the project from a Design 101 perspective. For a game, “simple” is actually very hard and requires that all dev team members are looking at the project through the same design lens. Everything from length of game play to information delivery and game mechanics require a cohesive understanding of the platform’s inherent limitations as well as its opportunities.

2. A clean screen is an approved screen

It’s tempting to look at a small 38mm screen and think you need to use every available pixel. Not so! We learned that on-screen objects need a little breathing room in order to not overwhelm the user’s eyes. Additionally, the edges of the watch are beveled, which can make touch recognition less accurate. For Solitaire, we had to forego the traditional card stacks layout and create one optimized just for Apple Watch. Additionally, we used the Digital Crown feature to add space.

The rejected version (left) shows, in pink, the areas between controls which ended up being an issue. The accepted version is on the right.

Above: The rejected version (left) shows, in pink, the areas between controls which ended up being an issue. The accepted version is on the right.

3. Control your controls

Aside from the obvious one-handed limitation of playing games on a watch, the small screen limits control options and accuracy. Our research showed that games being approved tended to have either basic D-pad or simple tap controls. So we developed a number of small touch-control prototypes to improve accuracy and further aid the player. For Solitaire, we ended up with a proprietary “smart-move” control scheme that was more generous and forgiving to players. In the end, the revamped controls yielded a much better product.

4. Set guidelines

With two additional Apple Watch titles now under development, we’ve established a set of principles for the platform based on our learnings from our first rejection. As a result, our development process is significantly streamlined and produces a better end product – one more likely to be approved on the first go-round.

These simple guidelines include the following:

  • Timing: The game must deliver a positive experience within a fast time frame.
  • Controls: The controls must be simple, yet deliver a high degree of accuracy.
  • Delivery: Avoid text by instead using use a color or graphic to deliver information, or perhaps an animation to convey emotion.
  • Fun-Factor: Most importantly, make it fun to play on the platform.

Robert Jackson is the Vice President of Product Development for mobile game company MobilityWare, whose first game, Solitaire, was among the first on the App Store in 2008.


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