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Salesforce, Apple partnership begins to come to life

16:54 | 18 November

Last year at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s enormous annual customer conference, Apple and Salesforce announced the beginnings of a partnership where the two organizations would work together to enhance Salesforce products running on Apple devices. Today, the companies announced the fruits of that labor with general availability of two new tools that were first announced at last year’s event.

For starters, Apple has been working with Salesforce to redesign the Salesforce Mobile to build in Apple iOS features into the app like being able to use Siri shortcuts to get work done faster, using your voice instead of typing, something that’s sometimes awkward to do on a mobile device.

Hey Siri example in Salesforce Mobile app.

Photo: Salesforce

For instance, you could say, “Hey Siri, next sales meeting,” and Siri can interact with Salesforce CRM to tell you who your meeting is with, the name of his or her company, when you last met and what the Einstein opportunity score is to help you predict how likely it is that you could make a sale today (or eventually).

In addition, the Mobile App takes advantage of Apple’s Handoff feature to reflect changes across devices immediately, and Apple’s Face ID for easy log on to the app.

Salesforce also announced a pilot of Einstein Voice on Salesforce Mobile, allowing reps to enter notes, add tasks and update the CRM database using voice. Einstein is Salesforce’s general artificial intelligence layer, and the voice feature use natural language understanding to do what the rep asks.

Salesforce reports that over 1000 companies participated in piloting the updated app, which constitutes the largest pilot in the history of the company.

The company also announced its new mobile development platform SDK, built specifically for iOS and iPadOS using the Swift language. The idea is to provide a tool to give Salesforce developers with the ability to build apps for iPad and iPhone, then package them up with a new tool called Swift UI and Package Manager.

Trailhead Go

Photo: Saelsforce

Trailhead Go is the mobile version of the company’s online learning platform designed specifically for iPad and iPhone. It was built using the new Mobile SDK, and allows users to access the same courses they can on the web in a mobile context. This includes the ability to “handoff” between devices along with support for picture-in-picture and split view for multi-tasking when it makes sense.

Salesforce Mobile and Trailhead Go are available starting today for free in the iOS App Store. The Salesforce Mobile SDK will be available later this year.

As this partnership continues to develop, both companies should benefit. Salesforce gets direct access to Apple features, and can work with Apple to implement them in an optimized way. Apple gets deeper access to the enterprise with help from Salesforce, one of the biggest enterprise software vendors around.

 


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The new AirFly Pro is the perfect travel buddy for your AirPods Pro

22:02 | 14 November

Accessory maker TwelveSouth has a solid lineup of gadgets, many of which fill a niche that their products uniquely address – and address remarkably well. The AirFly Pro ($54.99) is a new iteration on one of those, providing a way to connect Bluetooth headphones to any audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s being sold at Apple Stores, too, as part of its launch today – and there’s good reason for that: This is the ideal way to make sure you can use your AirPods Pro just about everywhere, including with airplane seatback entertainment systems.

The AirFly Pro will work with any Bluetooth headphones, not just AirPods Pro – but the latest noise cancelling earbuds from Apple are among the best available when it comes to both active noise cancellation and sound quality, both great assets for frequent travellers and people more likely to encounter an in-flight entertainment system. But the AirFly Pro has additional tricks up its sleeve that earn it the ‘Pro’ designation.

This is the first version of the product from TwelveSouth that offers the ability to stream audio in, as well as out. That means you can use it with a car stereo system that only access auxiliary audio-in, for instance, to stream directly from your iPhone to the vehicle’s sound system. The AirFly Pro can also serve that function for home stereo sound equipment, speakers or other audio equipment that accepts audio in, but not Bluetooth streaming connections.

One other neat trick the AirFly Pro packs: Audio sharing, so that you can connect two pairs of headphones at once. This is similar to the native audio sharing feature that Apple introduced for its own AirPod line in the most recent iOS update, but it works through the AirFly with any audio source, and any Bluetooth headphones. That’s yet another great feature for when you’re traveling with a partner.

I’ve had a bit of time to spend with the AirFly Pro, and so far it’s been rock solid, with easy pairing and set up, and a convenient keychain ring/3.5mm connector cap for making it easier to keep with you. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a USB-A to USB-C cable included, too. The on-board battery lasts for 16 or more hours, which is more than enough time for even the longest of flights, and again you’re getting that audio sharing feature which is super handy even around the house for just checking something out on the iPad on your couch.

Alongside the AirFly Pro, TwelveSouth also introduced new AirFly Duo and AirFly USB-C models. The difference is that neither of these offer that wireless audio input mode – but you get up to 4 more hours of battery life for the trade-off. The USB-C model also offers USB-C audio compatibility, for connecting to devices that use that connection for sound instead of 3.5mm, and both of these still also offer dual headphone connectivity, for $5 less at $49.99 each.

 


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Apple Research app arrives on iPhone and Apple Watch with three opt-in health studies

17:37 | 14 November

Apple in September announced its plans for a research app that would allow U.S. consumers to participate in health studies from their Apple devices. Today, that app has gone live for both iPhone and Apple Watch for customers in the U.S. From the new app, Apple Research, users can currently opt to participate in three health studies, including a women’s health study, hearing study, and a heart and movement study.

Apple had teamed up with researchers and health organizations on previous studies, but those would require participants to install a dedicated app on their iOS device for each study alone. The new Research app instead offers a dedicated place for this opt-in activity and makes it simpler for people who want to join multiple studies at once.

The data collected from Apple devices (and their numerous sensors) offers researchers the ability to conduct large-scale health studies in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Before, these sorts of studies were expensive and time-consuming, Apple says, but now users can opt into sharing health-related information directly with researchers — like signals from their heart, motion level and activity, and sound exposure.

Apple’s privacy promises come into play here as well, as it puts data-sharing in users’ control, and offers commitments that data will be encrypted, won’t be sold, and that studies have to inform users how your data will support their research. Participants can also withdraw at any time.

Among the first three studies is a women’s health study in partnership with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It aims to advance understanding of women’s menstrual cycles and their relationship to infertility, osteoporosis, menopause, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This will collect users’ cycle tracking logs from the Health app on the iPhone or the Cycle Tracking app on Apple Watch.

Another heart and movement study is in partnership with the American Heart Association and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and will use Apple Watch data collected during workouts, plus heart rate and activity data, along with short surveys. This data will be used to understand how certain mobility signals and details about heart rate and rhythm could serve as potential early warning signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib), heart disease or declining mobility, among other things.

The hearing study from the University of Michigan and the World Health Organization collects data about users’ sound exposure from the iPhone and Noise app on Apple Watch, along with surveys and hearing tests. The study will also test if Health app notifications will encourage users to modify their listening behavior, when loud sounds are detected.

“Today marks an important moment as we embark on research initiatives that may offer incredible learnings in areas long sought after by the medical community,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, in a statement about the app’s launch. “Participants on the Research app have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact that could lead to new discoveries and help millions lead healthier lives.”

The Research app is rolling out now to iPhone and Apple Watch in the U.S.

 


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Daily Crunch: Meet Apple’s new MacBook Pro

23:09 | 13 November

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. MacBook Pro 16” first impressions: Return of the Mack

Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from complacency — as problems with the models started to mount (unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings), the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling.

So the new 16” MacBook Pro is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users.

2. Google to offer checking accounts in partnership with banks starting next year

Google is calling the project “Cache,” and it’ll partner with banks and credit unions to offer the checking accounts, with the banks handling all financial and compliance activities related to the accounts.

3. A US federal court finds suspicionless searches of phones at the border is illegal

A federal court has ruled that the government is not allowed to search travelers’ phones or other electronic devices at the U.S. border without first having reasonable suspicion of a crime. The case was brought by 11 travelers — 10 of whom are U.S. citizens — with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

4. Convoy raises $400 million to expand its on-demand trucking platform

Convoy co-founders Dan Lewis and Grant Goodale set out in 2015 to modernize freight brokerage, a fragmented and oftentimes analog business that matches loads from shippers with truckers. The company has gone from hundreds of loads per week in 2016 to tens of thousands per week across the U.S.

5. The AI stack that’s changing retail personalization

To be forward-looking, brands and retailers are turning to startups in image recognition and machine learning to know, at a very deep level, what each consumer’s current context and personal preferences are and how they evolve. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. These sneakers vibrate

Invented by a man named Brock Seiler, and led by former Beats by Dre CEO Susan Paley, DropLabs aims to take audio to a whole new level by syncing music, movies and other audio to shoes that vibrate the soles of your feet.

7. Elon Musk picks Berlin for Tesla’s Europe Gigafactory

Musk said Tesla is also going to create an engineering and design center in Berlin because “I think Berlin has some of the best art in the world.”

 


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Apple Music introduces a Replay, a playlist of your top songs of the year

23:00 | 13 November

Apple Music is taking on Spotify with the launch of a new feature, Apple Music Replay, that will allow subscribers to take a look back at their favorite music from 2019. The feature is similar in some ways to Spotify’s popular year-end review, known as Wrapped, but Apple’s version is more than just an annual summary — it’s an ongoing experience.

With Apple Music Replay, subscribers will get a playlist of their top songs from 2019, plus playlists for every year you’ve subscribed to Apple Music, retroactively. These can be added to your Apple Music Library, so you can stream them at any time, even when offline. Like any playlist, your Apple Music Replay can also be shared with others, allowing you to compare top songs with friends, for example, or post to social media.

But while Spotify’s Wrapped is more of an annual retrospective, Apple Music Replay will continue to be updated all year long, evolving as your musical tastes and interests do throughout the year. The playlist and its associated data insights will be updated on Sundays to reflect subscribers’ latest listening activity, says Apple.

That makes the playlist more of a compilation of favorites, which continues to add value throughout the year — not just at the end. And when January rolls around, the 2020 Replay playlist will be a blank slate to fill with your favorites from Apple Music’s catalog of 60 million tracks.

Apple Music Replay is available from the Apple Music app across platforms, including via the web at replay.music.apple.com.

Beyond being fun to use, the addition of Apple Music Replay aims to help Apple better compete against Spotify, which leverages streaming data to create numerous personalized playlists and features for its users and subscribers. Spotify recently reported better-than-expected earnings and said it turned a profit, as it reached 113 million premium subscribers by September’s end. Apple, meanwhile, had 60 million paying subscribers as of late June.

 


0

MacBook Pro 16” first impressions: Return of the Mack

16:30 | 13 November

In poker, complacency is a quiet killer. It can steal your forward momentum bit by bit, using the warm glow of a winning hand or two to cover the bets you’re not making until it’s too late and you’re out of leverage. 

Over the past few years, Apple’s MacBook game had begun to suffer from a similar malaise. Most of the company’s product lines were booming, including newer entries like the Apple Watch, AirPods and iPad Pro. But as problems with the models started to mount — unreliable keyboards, low RAM ceilings and anemic graphics offerings — the once insurmountable advantage that the MacBook had compared to the rest of the notebook industry started to show signs of dwindling. 

The new 16” MacBook Pro Apple is announcing today is an attempt to rectify most, if not all, of the major complaints of its most loyal, and vocal, users. It’s a machine that offers a massive amount of upsides for what appears to be a handful of easily justifiable tradeoffs. It’s got better graphics, a bigger display for nearly no extra overall size, a bigger battery with longer life claims and yeah, a completely new keyboard.

I’ve only had a day to use the machine so far, but I did all of my research and writing for this first look piece on the machine, carting it around New York City, through the airport and onto a plane where I’m publishing this now. This isn’t a review, but I can take you through some of the new stuff and give you thoughts based on that chunk of time. 

This is a re-think of the larger MacBook Pro in many large ways. This is a brand new model that will completely replace the 15” MacBook Pro in Apple’s lineup, not an additional model. 

Importantly, the team working on this new MacBook started with no design constraints on weight, noise, size or battery. This is not a thinner machine, it is not a smaller machine, it is not a quieter machine. It is, however, better than the current MacBook Pro in all of the ways that actually count.

Let’s run down some of the most important new things. 

Performance and thermals

The 16” MacBook Pro comes configured with either a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 or a 2.3GHz 8-core i9 from Intel . These are the same processors as the 15” MacBook Pro came with. No advancements here is largely a function of Intel’s chip readiness. 

The i7 model of the 16” MacBook Po will run $2,399 for the base model — the same as the old 15” — and it comes with a 512GB SSD drive and 16GB of RAM. 

Both models can be ordered today and will be in stores at the end of the week.

The standard graphics configuration in the i7 is an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory and an integrated Intel UHD graphics 630 chip. The system continues to use the dynamic handoff system that trades power for battery life on the fly.  


The i9 model will run $2,699 and comes with a 1TB drive. That’s a nice bump in storage for both models, into the range of very comfortable for most people. It rolls with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory.

You can configure both models with an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. Both models can also now get up to 8TB of SSD storage – which Apple says is the most on a notebook ever – and 64GB of 2666 DDR4 RAM but I’d expect those upgrades to be pricey.

The new power supply delivers an additional 12w of power and there is a new thermal system to compensate for that. The heat pipe that carries air in and out has been redesigned, there are more fan blades on 35% larger fans that move 28% more air compared to the 15” model. 

The fans in the MacBook Pro, when active, put out the same decibel level of sound, but push way more air than before. So, not a reduction in sound, but not an increase either — and the trade is better cooling. Another area where the design process for this MacBook focused on performance gains rather than the obvious sticker copy. 

There’s also a new power brick which is the same physical size as the 15” MacBook Pro’s adapter, but which now supplies 96w up from 87w. The brick is still as chunky as ever and feels a tad heavier, but it’s nice to get some additional power out of it. 

Though I haven’t been able to put the MacBook Pro through any video editing or rendering tests I was able to see live demos of it handling several 8K streams concurrently. With the beefiest internal config Apple says it can usually handle as many as 4, perhaps 5 un-rendered Pro Res streams.

A bigger display, a thicker body

The new MacBook Pro has a larger 16” diagonal Retina display that has a 3072×1920 resolution at 226 ppi. The monitor features the same 500 nit maximum brightness, P3 color gamut and True Tone tech as the current 15”. The bezels of the screen are narrower, which makes it feel even larger when you’re sitting in front of it. This also contributes to the fact that the overall size of the new MacBook Pro is just 2% larger in width and height, with a .7mm increase in thickness. 

The overall increase in screen size far outstrips the increase in overall body size because of those thinner bezels. And this model is still around the same thickness as the 2015 15” MacBook Pro, an extremely popular model among the kinds of people who are the target market for this machine. It also weighs 4.3 lbs, heavier than the 4.02 lb current 15” model.

The display looks great, extremely crisp due to the increase in pixels and even more in your face because of the very thin bezels. This thing feels like it’s all screen in a way that matches the iPad Pro.

This thick boi also features a bigger battery, a full 100Whr, the most allowable under current FAA limits. Apple says this contributes an extra hour of normal operations in its testing regimen in comparison to the current 15” MacBook Pro. I have not been able to effectively test these claims in the time I’ve had with it so far. 

But it is encouraging that Apple has proven willing to make the iPhone 11 Pro and the new MacBook a bit thicker in order to deliver better performance and battery life. Most of these devices are pretty much thin enough. Performance, please.

Speakers and microphone

One other area where the 16” MacBook Pro has made a huge improvement is the speaker and microphone arrays. I’m not sure I ever honestly expected to give a crap about sound coming out of a laptop. Good enough until I put in a pair of headphones accurately describes my expectations for laptop sound over the years. Imagine my surprise when I first heard the sound coming out of this new MacBook and it was, no crap, incredibly good. 

The new array consists of six speakers arranged so that the subwoofers are positioned in pairs, antipodal to one another (back to back). This has the effect of cancelling out a lot of the vibration that normally contributes to that rattle-prone vibrato that has characterized small laptop speakers pretty much forever.

The speaker setup they have here has crisper highs and deeper bass than you’ve likely ever heard from a portable machine. Movies are really lovely to watch with the built-ins, a sentence I have never once felt comfortable writing about a laptop. 

Apple also vents the speakers through their own chambers, rather than letting sound float out through the keyboard holes. This keeps the sound nice and crisp, with a soundstage that’s wide enough to give the impression of a center channel for voice. One byproduct of this though is that blocking one or another speaker with your hand is definitely more noticeable than before.

The quality of sound here is really very, very good. The HomePod team’s work on sound fields apparently keeps paying dividends. 

That’s not the only audio bit that’s better now though, Apple has also put in a 3-mic array for sound recording that it claims has a high enough signal-to-noise ratio that it can rival standalone microphones. I did some testing here comparing it to the iPhone’s mic and it’s absolutely night and day. There is remarkably little hiss present here and artists that use the MacBook as a sketch pad for vocals and other recording are going to get a really nice little surprise here.

I haven’t been able to test it against external mics myself but I was able to listen to rigs that involved a Blue Yeti and other laptop microphones and the MacBook’s new mic array was clearly better than any of the machines and held its own against the Yeti. 

The directional nature of many podcast mics is going to keep them well in advance of the internal mic on the MacBook for the most part, but for truly mobile recording setups the MacBook mic just went from completely not an option to a very viable fallback in one swoop. It really has to be listened to in order to get it. 

I doubt anyone is going to buy a MacBook Pro for the internal mic, but having a ‘pro level’ device finally come with a pro level mic on board is super choice. 

I think that’s most of it, though I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Oh right, the Keyboard

Ah yes. I don’t really need to belabor the point on the MacBook Pro keyboards just not being up to snuff for some time. Whether you weren’t a fan of the short throw on the new butterfly keyboards or you found yourself one of the many people (

) who ran up against jammed or unresponsive keys on that design — you know that there has been a problem.

The keyboard situation has been written about extensively by Casey Johnston and Joanna Stern and complained about by every writer on Twitter over the past several years. Apple has offered a succession of updates to that keyboard to attempt to make it more reliable and has extended warranty replacements to appease customers. 

But the only real solution was to ditch the design completely and start over. And that’s what this is: a completely new keyboard.

Apple is calling it the Magic Keyboard in homage to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard (but not identically designed). The new keyboard is a scissor mechanism, not butterfly. It has 1mm of key travel (more, a lot more) and an Apple-designed rubber dome under the key that delivers resistance and springback that facilitates a satisfying key action. The new keycaps lock into the keycap at the top of travel to make them more stable when at rest, correcting the MacBook Air-era wobble. 

And yes, the keycaps can be removed individually to gain access to the mechanism underneath. And yes, there is an inverted-T arrangement for the arrow keys. And yes, there is a dedicated escape key.

Apple did extensive physiological research when building out this new keyboard. One test was measuring the effect of a keypress on a human finger. Specifically, they measured the effect of a key on the pacinian corpuscles at the tips of your fingers. These are onion-esque structures in your skin that house nerve endings and they are most sensitive to mechanical and vibratory pressure. 

Apple then created this specialized plastic dome that sends a specific vibration to this receptor making your finger send a signal to your brain that says ‘hey you pressed that key.’ This led to a design that gives off the correct vibration wavelength to return a satisfying ‘stroke completed’ message to the brain.

There is also more space between the keys, allowing for more definitive strokes. This is because the keycaps themselves are slightly smaller. The spacing does take some adjustment, but by this point in the article I am already getting pretty proficient and am having more grief from the autocorrect feature of Catalina than anything else. 

Notably, this keyboard is not in the warranty extension program that Apple is applying to its older keyboard designs. There is a standard 1 year warranty on this model, a statement by the company that they believe in the durability of this new design? Perhaps. It has to get out there and get bashed on by more violent keyboard jockeys than I for a while before we can tell whether it’s truly more resilient. 

But does this all come together to make a more usable keyboard? In short, yes. The best way to describe it in my opinion is a blend between the easy cushion of the old MacBook Air and the low profile stability of the Magic Keyboard for iMac. It’s truly one of the best feeling keyboards they’ve made in years and perhaps ever in the modern era. I reserve the right to be nostalgic about deep throw mechanical keyboards in this regard, but this is the next best thing. 

Pro, or Pro

In my brief and admittedly limited testing so far, the 16” MacBook Pro ends up looking like it really delivers on the Pro premise of this kind of machine in ways that have been lacking for a while in Apple’s laptop lineup. The increased storage caps, bigger screen, bigger battery and redesigned keyboard should make this an insta-buy for anyone upgrading from a 2015 MacBook Pro and a very tempting upgrade for even people on newer models that have just never been happy with the typing experience. 

Many of Apple’s devices with the label Pro lately have fallen into the bucket of ‘the best’ rather than ‘for professionals’. This isn’t strictly a new phenomenon for Apple, but more consumer centric devices like the AirPods Pro and the iPhone Pro get the label now than ever before. 

But the 16” MacBook Pro is going to alleviate a lot of the pressure Apple has been under to provide an unabashedly Pro product for Pro Pros. It’s a real return to form for the real Mack Daddy of the laptop category. As long as this new keyboard design proves resilient and repairable I think this is going to kick off a solid new era for Apple portables.

 


0

Google to offer checking accounts in partnership with banks starting next year

15:21 | 13 November

Google is the latest big tech company to make a move into banking and personal financial services: The company is gearing up to offer checking accounts to consumers, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, starting as early as next year. Google is calling the projected “Cache,” and it’ll partner with banks and credit unions to offer the checking accounts, with the banks handling all financial and compliance activities related to the accounts.

Google’s Caesar Sengupta spoke to the WSJ about the new initiative, and Sengupta made clear that Google will be seeking to put its financial institution partners much more front-and-center for its customers than other tech companies have perhaps done with their financial products. Apple works with Goldman Sachs on its Apple Card credit product, for instance, but the credit card is definitely pretend primarily as an Apple product.

So why even bother getting into this game if it’s leaving a lot of the actual banking to traditional financial institutions? Well, Google obviously stands to gain a lot of valuable information and insight on customer behavior with access to their checking account, which for many is a good picture of overall day-to-day financial life. Google says it’s also intending to offer product advantages for both consumers and banks, including things like loyalty programs, on top of the basic financial services. It’s also still considering whether or not it’ll charge service fees, per Segupta – not doing so would definitely be and advantage over most existing checking accounts available.

Google already offers Google Pay, and its Google Wallet product has hosted some features beyond simple payments tracking, including the ability to send money between individuals. Meanwhile, rivals including Apple have also introducing payment products, and Apple of course recently expanded into the credit market with Apple Card. Facebook also introduced its own digital payment product earlier this week, and earlier this year announced its intent to build its own digital currency called ‘Libra’ along with partners.

The initial financial partners that Google is working with include Citigroup and Stanford Federal Credit Union, and their motivation per the WSJ piece appears to be seeking out and attracting younger and more digital-savvy customers who are increasingly looking to handle more of their lives through online tools. Per Sengupta’s comments, they’ll also benefit from Google’s ability to work with large sets of data and turn those into value-add products, but the Google exec also said the tech company doesn’t sue Google Pay data for advertising, nor does it share that data with advertisers. Still, convincing people to give Google access to this potentially sensitive area of their lives might be an uphill battle, especially given the current political and social climate around big tech.

 


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HBO’s former CEO said to be in talks with Apple TV+ for an exclusive production deal

23:54 | 12 November

The man who oversaw the creation of some of HBO’s most highly-praised ‘prestige TV’ could soon be making shows for Apple TV+, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. Richard Plepler, who was HBO’s Chairman and CEO up until he parted ways with the company last February following its acquisition by AT&T, is nearing an exclusive production deal with Apple’s new original content streaming service, the report says.

Plepler, who spent almost 30 years at HBO, including six as its CEO during which the media company aired some of its biggest hits, including ‘Game of Thrones,’ would definitely bring some big-name industry influence to Apple’s efforts. Not that Apple TV+ lacks for that in its early offing, either: The premiere slate of original shows include Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon-led ‘The Morning Show,’ and and a show centred around Oprah’s Book Club, just to name a couple of examples.

The deal, which isn’t yet final but might be signed officially “within the next few weeks,” per the report, would be between Apple and Plepler’s RLP & Co., a production company he established after leaving HBO. There’s nothing yet to indicate what kind of projects he’d be working on for Apple TV+, but it’s a logical target for Apple’s new original content enterprise to pursue, given that its focus thus far appears to be on fewer, big budget and high-profile projects, but critical reception hasn’t been up to par with the kind of TV that HBO has a track record of producing.

 


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For the first time in two years, the smartphone market shows signs of life

17:15 | 31 October

All is not lost for smartphone manufacturers. On the heels of two years’ of global stagnation, the category is finally showing some signs of life. Much of the bounce back comes as manufacturers are working to correct for dulled consumer interest.

I wouldn’t put too much weight in the numbers right now, as they’re little more than an uptick. Numbers from Canalys put shipment growth at one percent from Q3 2018 to Q3 2019. In most in cases, that would be a modest gain, at best, but this is notably the first time in two years that the numbers have been heading in the right direction.

Samsung saw the biggest gains — a phenomenon the analyst firm chalks up to a shift in strategy to eat some of its profits. The move has paid off for the quarter, with an 11% growth in device shipments to 78.9 million devices shipped. That gives the company the largest global marketshare at 22.4%.

Huawei, too, saw impressive growth, year-over-year, commanding second place with 66.8 million units shipped. Much of its growth came from China, which has ramped up spending on the company’s products as it has run into regulatory scrutiny overseas. Resumption of sales in some international markets helped juice growth as well. Of the top three, Apple continued to struggle the most, with a 7% loss from 2018.

For now, at least, none of the these numbers qualify as full turn around for a stagnant category, though the upcoming roll out of 5G coverage could help numbers in the right direction in the coming year.

 


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Wearable spending forecasted to increase 27% in 2020

17:10 | 30 October

New numbers from Gartner mark another major increase for global wearable spending in 2020. The analyst firm forecasts a 27% jump in end-user spending over this year, from $40.5 billion to $51.5 billion. Once again, the pack is lead by smartwatches, which continue to burn the hottest among in the space.

Interestingly, the increase on smartwatch spending from $17 billion to $22.8 billion will be lead by decreasing prices (a 4.5% decrease in average selling prices in 2021). Those are, in turn, the result of a combination of increased competition from Samsung and some external pressure from Fitbit, which has found a sweet spot at around $200 a unit. Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi have also gone a ways toward decreasing the price on the low end of the market. 

Screen Shot 2019 10 30 at 10.06.47 AM

Apple, in turn, has responded by keeping the two-year-old Series 3 on the market at the $200 price point. It’s a sign of a maturing category that no longer commands as much of a premium pricing in past generations. Google, meanwhile, recently bought a fair chunk of IP from Fossil and has reportedly been eyeing a Fitbit acquisition after years of struggling to crack the category.

Headphones have continued steady growth, as well, thanks to an explosion in fully wireless earbuds, lead by Apple and Samsung, with the recent lower cost addition of Amazon. Google, too, has been eying a reentry into the category next year with the return of its much panned Pixel Buds. Even Microsoft plans to enter the category with its unique Surface Buds.

Gartner predicts continued spending growth in wearables for 2021, with spending hitting $62.9 billion.

 


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