Week+ In Review

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This time of year, the tech news comes so fast and furious that it’s tough to keep up and there are bound to be items of real importance to your business that are missed. Here are some of the highlights with summary analysis. To discuss the implications of this report on your business, product, or investment strategies, contact Techsponential at avi@techsponential.com or +1 (201) 677-8284.

In this report:

  • Huawei can’t use licensed Android, so it’s putting $1 BILLION into dev programs and marketing

  • Apple is being pragmatic about pricing

  • One big thing Apple didn’t talk about

  • Apple retail now allows Watch customization

  • Comcast is giving hardware to cord cutters as an IoT trojan horse

  • MVNO for kids aims at underserved – but perhaps impossible to serve - niche

  • KonnectOne launches security/people tracker with T-Mobile USA

  • What’s Next: Amazon, Microsoft, Google …and more Apple?

Huawei can’t use Android, so it’s putting $1 BILLION into dev programs and marketing

Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro has an impressive specs list and unique slow motion video recording, gesture controls, and virtual side buttons. Huawei certainly seems intent on selling the phone outside China – it launched the Mate 30 at a press conference it held in Europe, speaking in English, and listed prices in Euro, not Yuan. It did eventually admit that Google apps and services are not included on the phone, but insisted that developers can simply write to Huawei’s own programming layer above what appears to be the open source version of Android. This is the way Huawei and all OEMs operate inside China, which is how Huawei can boast of having 45,000 apps already available for its app gallery. Of course, that pales in comparison to the options available on Google’s own Play store, so Huawei is trying to buy its way to a competitive app offering by allocating $1 billion to developers and marketing. Microsoft, BlackBerry, and others have tried this approach in the past with no success. It is worth noting a couple of differences this time around: 1) $1 billion is an order of magnitude more than Microsoft spent on developer incentives, and 2) even if this makes no difference outside of China, it will undoubtedly help to shore up Huawei’s leading position inside its home market, which is absolutely crucial now that its export markets are inaccessible.

However, selling a flagship smartphone outside China without access to Google’s Play Store, Search, Gmail, Maps, Pay, and more is almost pointless. It would be irresponsible for any European operator to offer the Mate 30 without access to the Play Store and regular software updates from Google because of security liabilities. The Mate 30 Pro is attractive, but Western consumers have plenty of superb alternatives from Samsung, LG, OnePlus, and Google itself that also offer big screens, fast processors, and excellent cameras without any app or security compromises.


Apple is being pragmatic about pricing

This should be a down cycle for the iPhone – the design is the same, and 5G is at least a year away. However, Apple has an answer for that: lower prices on the mainstream flagship iPhone 11, along with solving two key pain points: better battery life, and low light photography. Apple added an ultra-wide camera to all its new phones, but it’s the software implementation that really stands out – nobody else makes photography options as easy to understand and use.

Apple is more realistic than expected for its services, too. Apple Arcade brings a large selection of high-quality casual games for just $5/month with no ads or in-app purchases. From my testing so far, this service is a winner. Apple TV+ has very little content, but if you like one or two of the shows that Apple is launching, $5/month isn’t an outrageous amount to pay for it. Better, Apple is using content as a sweetener for hardware sales. Buy an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, and get Apple TV+ free for a year. It is unclear whether this service investment will be a long-term profitable endeavor for Apple, but at least the company isn’t hindering it with premium pricing. Techsponential attended Apple’s Event live; our full report is here.

One big thing Apple didn’t talk about

Apple does not always pioneer new technologies, but it usually gushes about it when it does, which makes the near total silence on the U1 ultrawideband chip in the new iPhones somewhat unusual. Ultrawideband fits between Bluetooth and WiFi in terms of speed and range, but it also allows ultra-precise positioning – down to 4mm. Potential use cases include tracker pods, cashierless retail experiences, and transmitting head position and data to and from the next generation of AirPods or Apple’s rumored smart glasses project. Apple will likely talk about ultrawideband once some of the use cases are ready; in the meantime, we expect Apple will be embedding the U1 chip in everything it makes going forward to prepare.


Apple Watch is a watch now – and Apple retail now allows customization

Watches tell time. The key feature in Apple Watch Series 5 is always-on display, so it is now a proper watch even when you aren’t waving your arms around wildly. Implementation is strong: on my review unit, the muted watch faces retain some color and often look nicer than the “on” state. Battery life appears to be roughly the same, which is good, but so long as the Watch needs to be recharged nightly, sleep tracking is an area Apple will not address directly. However, Apple is adding two critical apps: Cycle Tracker enables people with periods to better manage that aspect of their health, and an on-device App Store opens up the possibility of a completely self-contained Watch, no iPhone required. Apple is so far ahead of other watch vendors that it can use the Watch as a form of iOS ecosystem lock-in, but it probably does want to expand the market for Apple Watch to Android users in the next year or two.

Watches are highly visible fashion statements, and Apple has long offered a wide and ever-changing array of bands for accessorizing your Watch after you purchased one of a dozen stock combinations. At the Event, Apple announced that it will now allow consumers to pick their watch case separately from the band. This may sound trivial, but it actually represents incredible logistical feats of retail process and inventory management. Most other smartwatch vendors do not have their own retail distribution channel, never mind the ability to pre-customize their products.


Comcast is giving hardware to cord cutters as an IoT trojan horse

Cable companies are not where you think to look for innovative thinking, but Comcast’s Xfinity deserves credit for thinking outside, or, in this case, inside the box. With cord cutting rampant, cable companies are focusing on bundling unwanted TV and set top boxes with the broadband service everyone needs. They’re generally loath to do anything that even hints at encouraging cord cutting, even if it means that they’re essentially just milking a shrinking business. Comcast is actually getting ahead of the trend by offering its broadband-only customers a free OTT box and voice remote for its free-with-ads Flex streaming service. The user interface is the same as its Xfinity cable service, giving Comcast the ability to mimic OTT service flexibility: Flex customers will eventually be able to upgrade to paid channels immediately without changing their hardware, and Xfinity TV customers will be able to downgrade to Flex. Even in a worst-case cord cutting scenario, Comcast gets Flex ad revenues and maintains control over the customer, which should help lower churn on broadband as alternatives like 5G start reaching the market. The other reason Comcast is handing out hardware is to give it a beachhead to sell IoT services. Comcast has a heavily customized broadband offering with mesh WiFi routers and home security add-ons, and if a broadband-only customer has Flex hardware, they are a step closer to buying additional non-TV services, too.

MVNO for kids aims at underserved – but perhaps impossible to serve - niche

There have been several attempts over the years at creating a kidsphone, targeting parents who want to stay in touch with their young children, but are concerned about privacy, cyber-bullying, or screen time abuse. The latest is Gabb Wireless, which is offers a customized $99 phone from Samsung or ZTE on Verizon’s network for a reasonable $19.99/month. The phones look like smartphones, which will please kids who do not want to be seen in public with a flip phone, but are completely locked down, which will please parents who really, really don’t want their kids using an actual smartphone. Gabb offers voice, SMS, calendar, alarms, and that’s about it. No web browser, no social media, no app store. The phone does have a camera, but MMS is off, so it can’t send or receive pictures. Of course, even some parents who want to cut out videos and Snapchat will find this arrangement too restrictive. Want a Glimpse of where your child’s bus is? Have a family WhatsApp group you use to communicate? Do you occasionally want to drug your child with Toca apps while waiting at the doctor’s office? How about letting an older child use Google Maps for walking or bus directions? None of these scenarios work. The other problem is that the market for kidsphones is fleeting: kids younger than seven or eight cannot use text messaging, and older teens generally need more capabilities than Gabb Wireless’ phones allow. Still, the backlash around giving smartphones to kids is real, and Gabb Wireless’ site has testimonials from parents who are clearly looking for this type of solution. Techsponential will be testing the service soon.

KonnectONE launches security/people tracker with T-Mobile USA

Cellular panic button devices are a category mis-marketed to consumers with fear-based marketing. While it is undoubtedly true that there are individuals might purchase one for themselves (night shift nurses who walk to work in bad neighborhoods?), the larger opportunities include eldercare, childcare, and corporations distributing them to their workers. KonnectONE is launching Moxee Signal on T-Mobile’s network, and it can be used to passively track the wearer via a companion app. The user can press the button once to acknowledge that they arrived as expected at a location. Pressing twice turns on monitoring mode, where the mic is live to a designated number, while three presses is true panic mode, and a monitoring center (and potentially emergency services) is connected. T-Mobile offers financing, which turns the $120 Moxee Signal into a $10/month subscription, but it remains to be seen if T-Mobile’s retail staff will be able to market Moxee Signal effectively. Techsponential will be testing the device and service soon.

What’s Next

  • Sept 25 – Amazon press conference/product launch extravaganza in Seattle. I’m expecting new products to take advantage of the new, higher resolution Music HD streaming service that Amazon quietly announced. Rumors have suggested that Amazon is planning new speakers and its first headphones, and that certainly seems plausible given the new service. We should also see devices that further integrate Alexa into your daily life, but I can’t speculate precisely what those might be, because Amazon’s product managers seem to be willing to try just about anything. Avi will be attending the event live and he will be available afterwards for client communication.

  • Oct 2 – Microsoft Surface press conference in New York. I’m expecting updates to Microsoft’s tablets and laptops. This is likely the first time Microsoft will be changing the port selection, which impacts enterprises who invest in docking solutions, but it’s time Microsoft added USB-C. We are also likely to see the first Surface products on Qualcomm silicon, which may just be a regular Surface with connectivity and longer battery life, but it could also be the rumored dual-screen device designed to fit in between a phone and a laptop. Avi will be attending the event live and he will be available afterwards for client communication.

  • Oct 15 – Google hardware press conference in New York. Google has all but announced the Pixel 4 already, but details on new AI camera capabilities are still unknown. Google is unlikely to launch new Nest Home Hub variants – the Nest Home Hub Max just started shipping last week -  Avi is not able to attend the press event live, but he will be available for client questions on Oct 16.

  • Rumor: Apple may have another round of products launching before the holidays. There have been persistent rumors of a 16” MacBook Pro with a new keyboard design.

To discuss the implications of this report on your business, product, or investment strategies, contact Avi at avi@techsponential.com or +1 (201) 677-8284.

Avi Greengart