Apple Q4 2016 Results »

I’m helping the Six Colors team with Apple financial coverage today. Come hang out.

From July to September, the company posted revenue of $46.9 billion with a quarterly net profit of $9 billion. Apple sold 9.3 million iPads, 45.5 million iPhones, and 4.8 million Macs during the quarter.

It also made a record $6.3 million in services. 9.3 million iPads is a record low for the tablet.

The company is issuing another cash dividend:

Apple’s board of directors has declared a cash dividend of $0.57 per share of the Company’s common stock. The dividend is payable on November 10, 2016 to shareholders of record as of the close of business on November 7, 2016.

2016 marks the company’s first annual revenue decline since 2001. Annual revenue has fallen from $233.7 billion in 2015 to $217 billion in the 2016 fiscal year.

Ok. Here are some charts:

Q4 2016 Revenue

Q4 2016 Revenue

Q4 2016 Services Revenue

Q4 2016 Services Revenue

iPhone Units Sold

iPhone Units

iPad Units Sold

iPad Units Sold

Mac Units Sold

Mac Units Sold

macOS Sierra Leaks Image of MacBook Pro with Magic Toolbar »

Welp, it is real. These images are straight out of System/​Library/​PrivateFrameworks/​PassKitUI.framework/​Versions/​A/​Resources on my Mac running 10.12.1:

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

There’s a lot to parse here. Clearly, the rumors of a Magic Toolbar are all correct, as well the inclusion of Touch ID to the right of the Toolbar. It looks like this version of Touch ID lacks the stainless steel ring found on iOS devices.1

(I just hope third-party developers can access it like they do on the iPhone and iPad.)

There’s some conjecture that this is running on top of the S1 — or something related to it. That makes a ton of sense to me.

Beyond TouchID, these images seem to match what we’ve been expecting out of the Magic Toolbar. The Fn keys are gone, and it looks like the system can show related content on the screen. That first image shows a Cancel button, the Apple Pay logo and directions on where to touch to pay, complete with a janky-ass red arrow.

There’s also no hardware Escape key. Even the Chromebook keyboard — WHICH REPLACES THE CAPS LOCK KEY WITH A SEARCH BUTTON — ships with an Escape key.

Jeff Geerling points out that 10.12.1 has added the ability to re-map the Escape key. Or maybe this will be a thing.

There are some other interesting things going on here. The speaker grills look like what’s on the MacBook, but running down the sides of the keyboard. The current 13-inch MacBook Pro has solid aluminum on this surface.


The hinge looks like a cousin of what is on the 12-inch MacBook with Retina display, as do the keycaps. I’m hoping the key travel is equal to that of the Smart Keyboard, but I’m suddenly afraid it’s going to match that of the MacBook.

All in all, it’s hard to believe that these images shipped in Sierra, and they certainly take the edge off of Thursday’s event. As these images shipped in 10.12.1, which came out yesterday, I’d be willing to bet these machines will be shipping very shortly after the event.

At least we have something exciting to discuss right before what may be a lack-luster quarterly results call in an hour or so.

  1. Will Apple use this tech on next year’s Unicorn iPhone? My Magic 8 Ball likes the chances. 

E-ink Keyboard Rumored for Future MacBooks 

Eva Dou, at The Wall Street Journal, describing Apple’s plans to possible replace the plastic keycaps on its keyboard with ones that include e-ink displays:

The new keyboards will be a standard feature on MacBook laptops, and will be able to display any alphabet, along with an unlimited number of special commands and emojis, people familiar with the plans said.

Apple is aiming for a 2018 launch, these people said.

I’m actually more enthusiastic about this than I am the rumored maybe-never-announced MacBook Pro, assuming this keyboard would still have physical keys. In my mind, this MacBook would have a keyboard like it does today, just with a bunch of little e-ink displays in the keyboard, like shown in this MacRumors article.

It’s not hard to imagine the possibilities this could be bring. While many international keyboards use different physical layouts, this sort of system could allow users to type with their own language’s letters on the keys.1 Imagine that in a classroom.

Additionally, this could push the flexibility expected in the next MacBook Pro’s OLED Touchbar even further. Keyboards like this one that use custom keycaps to show shortcuts for professional apps could theoretically be done in software.

Count me as intrigued.

  1. In discussing this with my Connected co-hosts, they both seemed pretty excited about this possible use case. 

Notebook Rumor Roundup 

There are a bunch of Mac notebook rumors flying around today, so I thought it’d be fun looking at them individually.

RIP, 11-inch MacBook Air

TIL the 11-inch Air is still around.

I’m joking. Mostly. I know it has some big fans, but this machine feels redundant in a world where the 13-inch Air is just $100 more and the MacBook is just as portable:

11-inch Air:$899
13-inch Air: $999
12-inch MacBook: $1,299

If the 11-inch Air goes away, I wonder what will happen to that $899 price point. I can see Apple abandoning it.

13-inch Air to be updated

The new Air is to come with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 support. Coupled with the processors Apple uses in the Air, this machine would continue to be more powerful and flexible than the 12-inch MacBook.

I think that makes a lot of sense. I think the MacBook is still a little too much in the future for most users. The Air is almost as light and thin, but a lot more useful for some users.

Ports? Where we’re going, we don’t need ports.

It sure seems like the OLED Touchbar is a lock for these new MacBook Pros, as is the inclusion of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.

There’s part of that MacRumors report that still hurts, though:

Previous rumors and part leaks have suggested the upcoming MacBook Pro will include four USB-C ports, doing away with an SD card slot, an HDMI port, USB-A ports, and a MagSafe connection.

I understand why the MacBook has a single USB-C port. I can even see the Air moving to all USB-C/Thunderbolt ports. On the MacBook Pro, it seems like a bridge too far.

Apple has often included I/O in the MacBook Pro (and even PowerBook) not found on other machines. MacBooks had mini-DVI ports, while pre-unibody MacBook Pros got full-sized DVI connections. The MacBook Pro is the only Apple portable to ship with HDMI. The Pro and the 13-inch Air sport very helpful SD card slots while the 11-inch Air doesn’t.

I/O is important to professionals. Pros often have a lot of things plugged in, from hard drives to SD cards to external displays. I’m not in love with the idea of using adaptors for almost everything I need to plug in to a notebook. 

(Of course, I own Thunderbolt adaptors to access Ethernet, FireWire 800, DVI and VGA. It can be annoying, but adapting to USB just makes my head hurt.)

Having 4 USB-C/Thunderbolt ports may make for a nice, neat MacBook Pro, but it’s a machine that may prove more difficult to use in the short term. One day we’ll be in a USB-C world, but we aren’t today. The industry of boutique MacBook dongles show it. Going all in with a new MacBook Pro will make the future show up faster, but I’d argue that in a professional machine, leaving some “legacy” I/O for those who need it is the right call.

That said, I think we’re headed into a future with far fewer ports on our MacBook Pros. We’ll get used to it, and one day laugh and laugh at how we used to use things like HDMI and SD card readers on our notebooks.


Welcome to Macintosh Season 3 »

Mark Bramhill’s Welcome to Macintosh is one of my all-time favorite nerdy podcasts. He is looking to bring it back for a third season, and has launched a Kickstarter project to do it:

Season 3 of Welcome to Macintosh is the most ambitious season to date. The stories I’m working on require traveling across the country, reporting on events, working with designers — and these expenses add up. Advertising helps, but the money only comes in after the episodes have been released. In the past, I’ve paid for expenses out of pocket and just trusted that things would work out. But that’s not sustainable, and it limits what I’m able to do and what stories I can tell.


Project Titan Roadmap Shifts »

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb at Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car, according to people familiar with the project.

Hundreds of members of the car team, which comprises about 1,000 people, have been reassigned, let go, or have left of their own volition in recent months, the people said, asking not to be identified because the moves aren’t public.

The current thinking is that Apple is working to develop a self-driving platform, and will decide next year if its moving forward.

While the idea of an Apple Car was certainly exciting, I never felt completely comfortable with it. I think Apple should be spending time and money to feel out new projects, but it seemed like a big leap.

On the Mac’s Stale System Sounds »

Jason Snell, arguing that the Mac’s system sounds deserve some attention:

The Mac comes with 14 built-in alert sounds, all available from the Sound Effects tab of the Sound preference pane. One of them, Sosumi, dates from System 7. Three more—Glass, Purr, and Submarine—date from Mac OS 9. Six others (Basso, Frog, Funk, Ping, Pop, Tink) are from the earliest days of OS X. The newest ones seem to be Blow, Bottle, Hero, and Morse—and they’ve been around since at least Snow Leopard in 2009.

These alerts don’t just show up as system beeps. They also appear in other places, such as alert sounds when you’re reminded of calendar events. And they’re just so stale.


The Inward-Looking Siri 

On this week’s episode of Ctrl-Walt-Delete, Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel spoke about Siri and how Apple views the service and what it can do.

You should go listen to the episode, but in it, Mossberg shares that Apple is focused on improving the parts of Siri that people use most, like making phone calls and setting timers. This comes at the expense of expanding Siri’s knowledge about other things, including common, everyday questions:

In recent weeks, on multiple Apple devices, Siri has been unable to tell me the names of the major party candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Or when they were debating. Or when the Emmy awards show was due to be on. Or the date of the World Series. When I asked it “What is the weather on Crete?” it gave me the weather for Crete, Illinois, a small village which — while I’m sure it’s great — isn’t what most people mean when they ask for the weather on Crete, the famous Greek island.

I understand Apple wanting to make sure that Siri’s core functionality of controlling your iOS device keeps getting better. That stuff should be bulletproof, but we’re five years into Siri’s life. The company should be moving past these features and making Siri smarter about the world around us.

There are some fundamental differences between Apple and Google when it comes to privacy, and I believe those differences will allow Google to continue to lead in the area of digital assistants infused with artificial intelligence. However, consumer privacy has nothing to do with some of the simple tasks Siri still fails at doing.

Siri falls back to a Bing search results page way too often. I expect my virtual assistant to be able to parse information from the Internet and read it back to me as I drive or am in the kitchen with my hands dirty. Reading a bunch of search results completely defeats the purpose of using Siri to begin with.

I would like to think that some part of the Siri team is dedicated to making sure the service knows enough about current events to answer basic questions about them. It sure seems like Apple’s focus on making Siri good at inward-facing features on iOS and macOS have come with a cost: that when it comes to interacting with real-world information, Siri is behind.

As these services get smarter and more powerful, the more I fear Apple’s getting left behind. Privacy issues aside, I think there’s more the company can and should be doing here. If Apple really is focused on making the most commonly-used Siri tasks better, they are creating a spiral of sorts.

If Siri continues to get better at placing phone calls, but not at searching basic information, people will just stop trying to use it for anything but placing phone calls. Siri, its uses, and where Apple improves it will just be one infinite loop of development instead of seeing substantial expansion.

Siri should feel like a living, growing platform and it just doesn’t. Even SiriKit, which allows developers to build plugins for the service, doesn’t get Apple far enough down the road. This is a platform vendor problem, and not one a handful of apps can solve.

The Lost Promise of Siri »

Walt Mossberg:

It seems to me that Apple has wasted its lead with Siri. And now Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and others are on the march. Apple has made excited announcements each time it added knowledge domains like sports and movies and restaurants to Siri on the iPhone. But it seems like it hasn’t added any major new topic domains in quite a while.