It’s time for our annual look back on Apple’s performance during the past year, as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple.
This is the fourth year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 11 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5, as well as optionally provide text commentary on their vote. I received 55 replies, with the average results as shown below:
It was my pleasure to participate (again) in the latest edition of the Six Colors Apple report card, which features average scores and answers on a variety of Apple topics. As usual, it is a solid, balanced overview of where Apple stands today in different areas of its business. Personally, I was positive about iPad Pro hardware, iOS 12, and Apple Watch, but I noted I'd like to see Apple do more on iPad software, iPhone camera, and HomeKit in 2019.
Today Apple announced that one of its most recent high profile hires, John Giannandrea, has been added as the twelfth member of the company's executive team. His title is now Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and AI Strategy. From the press release:
“John hit the ground running at Apple and we are thrilled to have him as part of our executive team,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Machine learning and AI are important to Apple’s future as they are fundamentally changing the way people interact with technology, and already helping our customers live better lives. We’re fortunate to have John, a leader in the AI industry, driving our efforts in this critical area.”
News of Giannandrea's hiring at Apple first broke in April at The New York Times. Apple didn't formally announce the hire, however, until July. And here we are just a few short months later, with another press release from Apple announcing his promotion.
Giannandrea's role involves leadership of Siri, machine learning, and other artificial intelligence projects, all of which are right up his wheelhouse due to his former role as Google's chief of search and artificial intelligence. While it's hard to say from the outside what kind of difference his influence is making at Apple, this move is a good sign that the company's pleased with his early months of work. Perhaps we'll get to see the fruits of his labors at WWDC 2019.
Forward-looking columns about Apple's business in the new year are usually saved for late December, but I wanted to get ahead of all those pieces because we now know what Apple's full 2018 product lineup looks like. While new AirPods and the AirPower charging mat are both suspiciously still absent, and one or both could in theory be launched via press release any time, most likely what we have now from Apple is what we'll be left with until after the new year begins. As such, today seems like a great time to start sharing hopes and expectations for the year ahead.
Earlier this year The New York Times reported that Apple had made a big new hire: John Giannandrea, at the time Google's Chief of Search and Artificial Intelligence. Today Giannandrea officially joined the ranks of Apple's leadership page on Apple.com.
As part of Giannandrea's employee profile, we learn his official title with Apple: 'Chief of Machine Learning and AI Strategy.' He reports directly to Tim Cook and oversees technologies related to Siri and machine learning.
Apple is creating a new AI/ML team that brings together its Core ML and Siri teams under one leader in John Giannandrea.
The internal structures of the Siri and Core ML teams will remain the same, but they will now answer to Giannandrea. Apple’s internal structure means that the teams will likely remain integrated across the org as they’re wedded to various projects including developer tools, mapping, Core OS and more. ML is everywhere, basically.
The last two years especially, AI and machine learning have been heavy focuses of Apple, particularly on iOS. Giannandrea is a major hire for the company, and while it may take some time for his impact to be seen in user-facing products, bringing together Siri and machine learning teams under this new leader is a key step toward realizing future potential in an area that's bound to grow more important as time passes.
Walking into my first ever meeting with a structural packaging designer, I started rooting around in my bag before exclaiming, “This is the sort of thing I want!” She leaned forward in her chair, delighted to have a customer with a strong guide, then groaned audibly when she saw what I had placed on the table: the packaging from my new iPhone.
“You can have anything you want,” she countered, “but if you want your packaging to look and feel like Apple’s, you’ll have to increase the unit cost for your packaging by 10x.”
Packaging is just one example — there are dozens — of why Apple is a rank outlier in almost every way. Or, put differently: Using the Cupertino-based company as your template for how to build a startup is not a great idea.
Kamps' piece is a fascinating exploration into why it's not so easy to follow Apple's lead – and why, in many cases, a company shouldn't even try. Some of the benefits that come with having a quarter-trillion dollars in the bank, and manufacturing products at massive scale, are completely unattainable for nearly every other company in the world.
It’s clear that Apple is building a video service. That much was obvious the moment it hired veteran entertainment executives Zack van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht. But you can’t flip a switch and create a streaming service—not even if you’re Apple. (You could buy one, but Apple has apparently chosen to build, not buy, at least for now.)
What has to happen between now and the day we all sit down and watch the first episode of van Amburg and Erlicht’s first major acquisition to play through our Apple TVs or on our iPads and iPhones?
Great article by Jason Snell on the challenges Apple is facing in building their video streaming service – which, if you've been keeping an eye on entertainment news, is perhaps the company's worst kept secret. (Jason Snell and Myke Hurley have a regular segment about this topic on their Upgrade podcast, which you should listen to.)
Unlike Snell, though, I have a hard time believing Apple will not offer their service on multiple platforms. If the company's goal is to generate more Services revenue with this product, it's only reasonable to expect as many people as possible could sign up for it.
Also, from a cultural perspective, I think it'd be wrong to have TV shows (and eventually movies too?) be locked to Apple devices. I was watching the Grammys last night, and there were plenty of Apple Music mentions (and ads) throughout the show; Apple Music, of course, is available both on iOS and Android, which meant everyone watching could access Apple's Grammys page and playlists. If Apple hopes to create shows that become cultural phenomena like Game of Thrones or Stranger Things, wouldn't it be best to ensure everyone can enjoy them?
Apple Inc.’s Jony Ive, a key executive credited with the look of many of the company’s most popular products, has re-taken direct management of product design teams.
Ive, 50, was named Apple’s chief design officer in 2015 and subsequently handed off some day-to-day management responsibility while the iPhone maker was building its new Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, California. “With the completion of Apple Park, Apple’s design leaders and teams are again reporting directly to Jony Ive, who remains focused purely on design,” Amy Bessette, a company spokeswoman, said Friday in a statement.
I don't know what to think about this. I never assumed Ive would leave Apple after Apple Park was completed. From the outside, we can only infer that his return to managing the design team is important enough for Apple to issue an official statement and remove Design VPs Dye and Howarth from the Leadership page.
It’s hard to parse what this means because nobody on the outside really has a good idea of what the title change two years ago meant. Jony Ive’s elevation to Chief Design Officer felt like the first steps to his retirement with Howarth and Dye taking up the posts of lead hardware and software design.
Yet, Apple never tipped its hand that Ive was on the way out. I expected Howarth and Dye to slowly start appearing in keynote presentation videos, in interviews, and new product marketing. Ive would slowly fade from relevance in Apple’s public relations before he left for real. That simply didn’t happen. If anything, Ive became even more intertwined into Apple’s public image. He has done countless interviews and photo shoots in the intervening years.
As Spotify continues to inch towards a public listing, Apple is making a move of its own to step up its game in music services. Sources tell us that the company is close to acquiring Shazam, the popular app that lets people identify any song, TV show, film or advert in seconds, by listening to an audio clip or (in the case of, say, an ad) a visual fragment, and then takes you to content relevant to that search.
We have heard that the deal is being signed this week, and will be announced on Monday, although that could always change.
Assuming that Apple keeps Shazam's standalone app around in the short term, I wonder if the built-in Spotify integration for streaming and saving songs will remain (I wouldn't be surprised if it gets pulled). I'm a fan of Shazam's iPhone and Watch apps, but it'd be great to have Shazam baked into Siri without having to ask any special song recognition command. Shazam's discovery and recommendation features could also tie in nicely with Apple Music.
Apple has today officially transitioned away from its aging press portal in favor of the modern Apple Newsroom, which combines company press releases, photo coverage and other news into one place. All links to apple.com/pr now redirect to apple.com/newsroom.
At the same time, the company has also updated its executive biography pages with a fresh design update to fit in with the company’s recent website design trends and adopts the San Francisco typeface, finally retiring the Lucida Grande font.
These are both minor, but welcome changes. It made no sense for Apple to continue publishing press releases on both the legacy press portal and Apple Newsroom. The design changes to executive bios were inevitable as well; this moves things one step closer toward retiring all old design on the company's website.