This week, Bloomberg sparked a number of headlines with reports that iPad mini demand was failing based on supplier Pegatron’s earnings numbers as revealed at an investor conference. Those claims were later refuted by Pegatron CEO Jason Cheng, who argued that Bloomberg’s Tim Culpan had misquoted him to reach his conclusion about iPad mini numbers.
The problem here is one that comes up repeatedly for Apple watchers, namely that of trying to divine from scattered sources what the future holds for the iPhone maker. Reports of slowdowns, layoffs or weak fiscal results from any number of supplier companies, including Pegatron, Foxconn and Sharp have bloggers feverishly pounding keys, predicting dire straits for Apple to come. The problem is, these have never been a very strong indicator of what’s actually going on with Cupertino and its products, and for good reason.
As Fortune’s Phillip Elmer-DeWitt learned from Cheng via email, Pegatron has a wide customer base and never breaks out how each of those are affecting its bottom line or its quarterly financial outlook. Pegatron has its fingers in all kinds of pies, including home video game consoles and e-readers, both of which are currently suffering badly in terms of consumer sales.
Here’s a look back at some equally dire reports from recent memory that also turned out not to have any relation whatsoever to anything Apple was doing, performance-wise.
In the best of cases, supply chain reports offers some vague insight into the larger picture of Apple’s inventory channels, but when looked to for solid indicators of performance, they’re about as dependable as using a magic 8 ball. The iPad mini, by all reasonable accounts, looks to be a very strong performer for Apple, and it’s very likely we’ll see that trend continue.
Facebook is taking a step today in its bid to position itself as the privacy-respecting social network: it is announcing an alliance with the U.S.’s National Association of Attorneys General to provide teens and their parents more information and tools to manage their profiles on Facebook and beyond. So far, Facebook has linked up with attorneys general in 19 states to put out “state-specific public service announcements,” starting this Tuesday, which will include a safety video and a privacy tip sheet. These will be distributed on Facebook’s own safety page, as well on the AGs’ Facebook Pages and their own websites.
It’s important for Facebook to demonstrate that it’s coming out in front on issues like privacy and child protection online. The social network — which by its definition celebrates sharing information with others — often gets scrutinized for how it pushes the boundaries of privacy. Showing that it’s willing to make it as easy as possible for people — and specifically more vulnerable young people — to control their data could help mitigate regulators making those moves on Facebook’s behalf.
Kickstarted by the Maryland attorney general and NAAG president Douglas F. Gansler, and announced by him today during the NAAG’s Privacy in the Digital Age conference, it’s a mark of where Facebook places this in terms of priorities that COO Sheryl Sandberg is getting behind the alliance.
“At Facebook, we work hard to make sure people understand how to control their information and stay safe online. We’re always looking for new partners in that endeavor – that’s why we’re thrilled to collaborate with the National Association of Attorneys General,” said Sandberg in a statement. It looks like the idea is to bring other state attorneys general on board, too. “We’re grateful for Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler’s leadership on this issue, and we look forward to working with him and attorneys general around the country.”
Privacy, specifically that of younger users, is an increasingly more important point as Facebook continues to add more sophisticated features and services to its platform, making it potentially more challenging for people to control how and where their profiles and information get used. (Facebook Home, the new Android launcher, is an example of how Facebook sees a future for very persistent, always-present applications.)
But just because Facebook is taking decisive steps does not mean that regulators and others are looking any less closely in what the social network does and how users are faring on it.
“We hope this campaign will encourage consumers to closely manage their privacy and these tools and tips will help provide a safer online experience. Of course, attorneys general will continue to actively protect consumers’ online privacy as well,” said Gansler in a statement.
Indeed, the wider scope of the conference currently underway is to take steps to update laws to be closer in line with how people share information in an always-online world. “State laws need to be updated to reflect our modern era in which the very nature of privacy and personal information is changing,” he added. “Attorneys general
have before us an extraordinary opportunity to reorient our enforcement and advocacy efforts toward the unique privacy challenges posed by the digital economy.”
This is not the first step that Facebook has made to help younger users better manage their privacy. In February, just after launching its new, dynamic search engine called Graph Search, Facebook followed up with a note on how it affect teens. Specifically, Facebook limits results in Graph Searches made by teens to other results from those aged or aimed at 13-17 year-olds, following on from its existing limitations for teens:
“On Facebook, many things teens are likely to do – such as adding information to their timelines or sharing status updates – can only be shared with a maximum of Friends of Friends,” Facebook noted at the time. “In addition, for certain searches that could help to identify a young person by age or by their location, results will only show to that person’s Friends, or Friends of Friends who are also between the age of 13-17.”
On top of its wider efforts to give people a better grip on their privacy, it’s also tried to illuminate more of the dynamics about how parents and their kids interact on Facebook.
T-Mobile USA is embarking on a new strategy to claw back market share from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, and today the carrier released some numbers that should help it set off on the right foot: 579,000 new customers, bringing its total to 34 million, according to preliminary Q1 results. Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile will start, finally, carrying the iPhone on April 12 as part of its “Un-carrier” campaign, which also includes a no-contract scheme and a new set of deals to help users buy their phones upfront.
Whether you think T-Mobile’s new plans are actually revolutionary or just marketing speak, the results today indicate that for now consumers are taking its early bait.
In addition to its overall gains, T-Mobile notes that it has narrowed — but has not reversed completely — the net losses in branded postpaid customers (the category that is most lucrative of all, since postpaid users tend to spend more than those using prepaid services): these were 199,000, down 61% from 515,000 losses a year ago. Meanwhile, T-Mobile continues to pick up more budget prepaid users: 202,000 more versus 166,000 a year ago, taking the total to 1.7 million over the past seven quarters, it says. Doing the math, that works out to a rather measly number: overall branded customer growth of just 3,000 customers, but still major reverse on its branded net loss a year ago, when 349,000 users decamped to other carriers.
T-Mobile has been a strong partner for those looking to create carrier businesses without owning networks — the so-called mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) approach — but this has for years proven to be a difficult game to play in terms of sustainable margins. Still the number of MVNO users on T-Mobile’s network continue to rise: they picked up 576,000 more, compared to 410,000 adds in the fourth quarter of 2012 in wholesale users, “primarily attributable to the continued focus on growing the MVNO customer base.”
“These results display positive momentum and the first positive branded growth in four years,” John Legere, president & CEO of T-Mobile USA, said in a statement. “We have made material progress in stabilizing our branded business in Q1, which provides a solid foundation to build on with the new Un-carrier customer offers we launched last week across America. I believe the best is yet to come!”
Still, there is a long road ahead for T-Mobile. That 34 million subscriber number, which includes a hefty measure of non-branded, MVNO users which make T-Mo less revenue, the is a very far cry from the subscriber numbers of market leaders like Verizon, which reported 98.2 million subscribers at the end of 2012 — most of them branded and postpaid.
T-Mobile’s best bet for more scale will be through acquisition and merger, and although its attempt to combine with AT&T was scotched, a more modest deal, with the smaller MetroPCS, is still on the cards — despite some persistent opposition.
No financials released today — these will be coming out on in T-Mobile’s full, final Q1 results on May 8, the company says. For now, here’s the breakdown of how those customer gains look across the board:
Continuing its push for ad-based shopping results, Google has announced the launch of Product Listing Ads on smartphones.
This news follows existing support for tablets and desktops, and comes after a major, but strangely quiet transition: Last year, Google’s Product Search tool became Google Shopping, a paid-only listing which replaced the company’s organic shopping search results. As Google Shopping continues to roll out across the globe, it has already left a negative impact on startups like Etsy, causing it to fork out $250k on ads to avoid losing traffic for merchants.
By bringing Product Listing Ads to mobile devices on Google Search, users are bound to become more acquainted with Google’s new shopping solution. In the interest of transparency, these ads will be clearly marked as being “sponsored.”
If you’re an advertiser interested in taking advantage of this release, you can head here to learn more. For users, we’re already seeing the new smartphone ads in the US when we search for something purchasable (like “Plaid Tie”).
Launching out of private Beta today is UK startup Repixl, which could be described as photo retouching-as-a-service. Backed by £100k of private funding and almost two years in the making, the two-person company is setting out to make professional photo editing accessible to everyone with a cloud-based service that provides unlimited photo uploads and storage, coupled with a preset menu of outsourced photo editing and retouching options, all with the promise of a 24 hour turnaround.
Those options include common retouching jobs like removing blemishes (or even a person, such as an ex) from a photo, smoothing out a skin tone, “fixing” a subject’s teeth, changing the background, or adjusting focus. There are 66 unique editing options in total.
Each professional job carries an off-the-shelf price, ranging from £0.28 to £8 depending on its complexity so that users know what they’ll be charged as they add edits to their virtual basket.
The process couldn’t really be any simpler, either: First, pick a photo you’ve uploaded and select one of the predefined edits. You’re then shown a generic before and after example to give you an idea of what the outcome will look like. Finally, you’re asked to draw around the area of the photo that you wish to influence, such as which subject you want to remove or what part of the background you want to change, and you’re done. If you want to make further edits, you simply repeat the whole process, otherwise you pay at checkout and wait for up to 24 hours for the completed work to appear in your Repixl account alongside the original.
“Even the most intuitive photo editors are still notoriously difficult to get really good results from,” says co-founder James Bradley. “It’s easy enough to add filters to an image, or overlay seasonal clipart, but when you want to change a background, or alter your hair colour, most people need professional help”.
However, seeking professional help from a photo retouching specialist can be both time-consuming and expensive, says Bradley. Typically, it involves bringing your photos to a high street store or getting a quote from a freelancer who knows their way around Photoshop.
“We created Repixl to offer this professional help to everyone, by creating a system that allowed quick and easy access to bite-sized chunks of a professional’s time,” explains Bradley.
He and co-founder Mark Stringer, who developed the Repixl site, say they have also spent a lot of time making the web app as intuitive and desktop-like as possible in terms of its functionality. Within a single browser window, users can upload multiple batches of photos to multiple albums, browse between albums, view them as soon as they’ve uploaded, and begin editing as soon as the first upload completes.
“No plugins, no flash, no fuss,” says Bradley.
And it’s certainly true that when I took the app for a spin, it felt responsive and came pretty close to the experience of a basic desktop app. In my single photo editing test, the results were pretty good, too, and would have been even better had I taken a bit more care defining the area of the photo that I wanted to edit. Your mileage, of course, may vary.