Richard Windsor
13 September 2017

Apple - Worst kept secrets

. Face ID was the star of a show where everything had been leaked.

Face ID was the star of a show where everything had been leaked.
Apple launched its next series of products that brings its hardware into line with the best of Android but it is in the software where the differentiation will continue to be found.

iPhone X.
iPhone X brings Apple into line with Samsung in terms of screen design and quality (OLED) but it is in Face ID where the real leap in innovation lies. Face ID uses a 3D depth sensor and infrared camera to map the user’s face and then compare that against a previously captured map. Face ID promises to be fast and not fooled by photographs or even 3D models of the user’s face. It will also continue to recognise the user when wearing a hat or glasses or should the user grow a beard. This should be a big improvement on Samsung’s facial recognition which is slow and unreliable to the point where it is often easier and quicker to put in the PIN number.  Apple has also redesigned the home button press and multitasking commands into swipes that should be reasonably easy to adjust to. Beyond that there are incremental advances in the camera and image processing but at the end of the day, this device is all about the new screen. Apple has brought itself into line with the high-end of Android in terms of hardware specification meaning that the price premium will be all about the iOS ecosystem. Pricing is in line with expectations at $999 for the 64GB version and I estimate $100 more for the 256GB version. With Android struggling with endemic fragmentation and Samsung remaining very poor at software Apple remains at the head of the pack.

iPhone 8/8+.
Many of the improvements present in the iPhone X are also present in the iPhone 8 with the exception of the screen and FaceID. It continues to use fingerprint recognition on the home button and has a slightly improved screen although it is in the old configuration and is not OLED. It has the same photographic enhancements as the iPhone X and represents a steady upgrade to the iPhone 7 with pricing staying the same.

Apple Watch Series 3
Apple has recognised that almost all the usage this product is for fitness and is doubling down on this use case in the new version. New functions have been added that improve the performance of the device for certain activities as well as adding some new less common activities. The heart rate monitor has been improved to offer continual heart rate monitoring as well as resting and recovery heart rates thereby deepening its appeal to fitness. At the same time, Apple is taking tentative steps into medical with the launch of a study that looks at alerting users to abnormal heart patterns that can lead to strokes. This is a work in progress but Apple clearly intends to move deeper into this area as it is working closely with the FDA on this study. Apple has also added a modem to one variant of the Apple Watch which we continue to believe is completely pointless.  Apple has done enough to keep this category going but the real use case that will make everyone rush out and buy one remains glaringly absent.

Wireless Charging
Apple’s new iPhones have glass backs which enable wireless charging for the first time. Apple has backed the Qi standard which is also used by Samsung which will now ensure that Qi becomes the single global standard. Apple also discussed a proprietary product that enables multiple devices to charge on a single mat but as this is not in the standard it will only work with Apple products. Apple is moving into line with everyone else on wireless charging as even the multiple devices on one mat is not a new idea.

Take Home Message
The endless leaks and speculation meant that Apple was not able to spring a single surprise on the audience this year. That being said, it has done just enough to keep itself at the top of the industry for another year. This is more about the Android camp struggling with software fragmentation and low profitability than Apple raising the bar for the gold standard in smartphones. The one area where it has raised the bar is FaceID but this feature needs to tested in the wild to see just how good it really is.

Apple’s share has enjoyed a great rally this year meaning that the valuation argument for owning the stock long-term has evaporated. With no real surprises coming this year there is a case to be made for taking some profits and looking elsewhere. Tencent, Baidu and Microsoft spring to mind.

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