Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Morning Brief: Apple priority shifts; iPad mini sales lead to overall growth in tablet sales for Apple; minor media app updates from HuffPost, Washington Post, Joe Zeff Design

There was a time when Apple appeared obsessed with trying to convince its customer base that it was not going out of business. Rumors and accusations swirled around the company, and none of it was good. This was back when every public utterance coming out of the company was about new products, talk of financial matters was for the investment community.

At the turn of the century, some publishers, like Reed Business Information (then still known as Cahners) swapped out their Macs for PCs because, as the head of IT said, within a year the only Mac one would be able to buy would be a used Mac.

Yesterday, Apple reported its Q2 2013 earnings and the pre-game talk from the tech and financial news sites was all about just how bad the report might be. Once again Apple is doomed, you know. But the report beat expectations and so, for at least a few minutes anyways, all was good at Apple again.

But as I listened to the conference call I couldn't help notice how the tone of the call is now starkly different than in years past. Talk of products was limited to "the fall." Earnings call were never a time when Apple would roll out a new product, that was left to the product events – but then again, there aren't many of them anymore.

Apple doesn't participate in Macworld anymore, and the January-March iPad event is no longer, either. With no major updates of its software products recently, or even anticipated, one wonders exactly the product teams are doing in Cupertino these days.

Surely there is activity, so the lack of real product news yesterday should be considered par for the course. But the emphasis on proving that Apple remains in control of its market share and revenue growth on the part of Apple's CEO Tim Cook was disconcerting. Comparing Cook with Jobs is never a good thing, and is unfair to both. But Cook is quickly developing a reputation of someone deeply concerned with the investor community. As for the developer community, Apple again said that it is sending money their way so, well, shut up.

In fact, that seemed to be the message to the investor community, as well. Apple expanded its dividend program, a blatant payoff to shareholders. From customers to shareholders, the balance has shifted. But, hey, Apple has always been a corporation, why should it be expected to act any differently than any other major corporation? Well, because it is Apple, right?

Financial and tech writers seemed pretty impressed with the iPad sales numbers for Q2, almost 19.5 million units (see story with iPad sales chart). Q2 was the first quarter where Apple could reliably deliver its iPad mini to those who wanted one. As a result, unit sales of the iPad were up 65 percent over the year before. It was, by far, the biggest piece of good news Apple reported (both Mac and iPod sales were down, and iPhone sales were only marginally up).

But looking at the numbers, and parsing through reports on the iPad mini, it appears that sales of the larger iPad were flat. This is probably OK, it shows that while the smaller tablet ate into sales of the larger iPad, growth allowed Apple to sell at least as many of the larger iPad as they did a year ago.

Apple has made a royal mess of its iPad product - we're talking about the larger model. It needlessly introduced a fourth generation model in the fall, an incremental improvement on the "new iPad" that didn't get anyone very excited about the product. It was a ridiculous move on the part of Apple and now has prevented them from rolling out a new model in the spring as they would normally do. Now there is a huge gap in their product release cycle with all the emphasis thrown into the holiday season. Worse, one wonders now if we will see any real changes in the iPad. I have heard no rumors about what a fifth generation iPad would feature other than a thinner case.

A number of media apps were updated this morning. The Newsstand app for The Huffington Post, simply called Huffington, was updated to fix an issue with its icon. Newsstand app allow you to have the icon update automatically when a new issue is released to readers, but the HuffPost developers had, apparently, failed to take advantage of this until now.

The Washington Post, which recently issued a major redesign of their iPad app (see post on the change here) has issued a minor app update to fix a few bugs introduced with the new app.

Joe Zeff Design also issued an update for its free app, The People in the Steeple, released just last week. You can read a report on that app, which includes a video walk-through, here.