Last year was a busy one for Apple, and all indications point to 2019 being another busy year. Earlier this month, Apple announced a rare negative revision to its quarterly revenue guidance due to an unforeseen sales drop in China. The news was quickly followed by announcements from the leading TV set manufacturers that Apple was extending AirPlay 2 support to smart TVs. In addition, Samsung announced Apple was bringing an iTunes app to Samsung Smart TVs. The moves are part of Apple’s long-standing ambition to strengthen its content distribution arm.
January is a great time to embrace the unknown rather than come up with Apple predictions for the next 12 months. Accordingly, this is my fifth installment of Apple questions as a new year kicks off.
Previous year’s questions are found here:
Here are my questions for Apple in 2019:
Major Themes. What will be the major themes for Apple in 2019? Apple unveiled an aggressive hardware strategy in 2018 with updates to every major product category. Apple Watch and iPad Pro saw especially strong hardware updates. A case can be made that Apple used 2018 to release powerful, new hardware that is now in a position to take advantage of new software and services that will be launched in 2019.
New Products. Will Apple unveil a completely new product? While Apple will likely release a number of updates to existing product categories, the best candidate for an entirely new product in 2019 is found with wearables (a pair of Apple-branded, over-the-ear headphones). New content distribution services are also likely in the pipeline.
Health Initiatives. What does Apple have in plan for health in 2019? With COO Jeff Williams leading Apple’s health initiative, management continues to position health as one of Apple’s more important long-term plays. According to Tim Cook, Apple’s “greatest contribution to mankind” will be about health. While the claim may come off as hyperbole, there aren’t many tools more important than those helping to improve one’s health. The major themes in Apple’s health strategy include adding health sensors to wearables, positioning the iPhone as a health data depository, investigating primary care, and hiring medical professionals to work on entirely new ideas and concepts.
New Models. How many new iPhones will Apple unveil in 2019? Last year marked the first time that Apple unveiled three new flagship iPhones at the same time. This added much complexity to the iPhone business. Reports point to Apple will once again unveiling three new iPhones later this year.
New Features. What will be the top features for this year’s new iPhones? The AR era is coming to smartphones, albeit at a slower pace than many expected. A safe bet is to look for upgrades to the device’s brain (processor) and eyes (cameras). Face ID improvements are also likely in the pipeline given how Face ID works in both horizontal and vertical positions with iPad Pro.
Differentiation. Will Apple add greater differentiation between iPhone models? Apple positioned screen size as the only differentiator between the $999 5.8-inch iPhone XS and $1,099 6.5-inch XS Max. A few, relatively minor items differentiate the iPhone XS from the $749 6.1-inch iPhone XR. Greater differentiation could play a role in pushing iPhone demand in a particular direction, say to the largest, most powerful model.
Screen Size. Is Apple working on a new, smaller iPhone? While the smartphone market has likely moved beyond the 4-inch iPhone SE, there may still be enough demand for an all-screen device, with Face ID, that comes in a smaller foot print than the iPhone XS.
Naming. Will Apple stick with the iPhone X nomenclature for its newest iPhones? While the “Max” branding works for Apple’s largest iPhone to date, the effectiveness found with “XS” and “XR” are more up for debate. A good argument can be made for Apple to stay away from a Roman numeral naming scheme. However, as long as Apple maintains an annual iPhone update cadence, it makes sense for Apple to rely on naming to differentiate new iPhones from older models.
Gauging Demand. How will Apple approach iPhone demand forecasting in 2019? One item that outsiders did not fully contemplate was the level of difficulty found in estimating demand for three different flagship iPhones. Not only did Apple management have to estimate overall demand for iPhone, which is incredibly difficult to do on its own, but the sales mix also had to be estimated. While much has been written about waning iPhone demand in 2019, demand fundamentals outside of China look healthier than consensus assumes.
Pricing. Will Apple maintain its current iPhone pricing strategy? While it may be easy to think lower pricing will lead to stronger iPhone demand, there are additional factors to consider. The growing gray market for iPhone is satisfying demand at the low end. This gives Apple more freedom to be aggressive at the high end. At the same time, Apple has likely been increasing pricing to compensate for including additional technology in flagship iPhones.
iOS 13. What will be the tentpole features in iOS 13? With iOS 12 being focused on performance and stability, iOS 13 will likely contain cosmetic and UI changes. Changes to the iOS home screen would not come as a shock, especially given the way iPhone usage has been changing with increased importance given to digital assistances.
New Models. How many new Apple Watches will Apple unveil in 2019? Last year, Apple discontinued the Watch Edition, a possible sign of Watch demand gravitating towards the lower-priced aluminum version.
Watch Bands. Will Apple continue to position Watch bands as the primary price differentiator between Watch models? Instead of using Watch case materials as a huge differentiator, Watch bands make more sense to appeal to the wide range of Watch wearers. Apple currently sells Watch bands ranging from a $49 Sport Band and Sport Loop to a $539 Hermès.
New Features. What will be the tentpole features in this year’s new Apple Watches and watchOS 6? After a rethinking of most of the Watch’s hardware last year, this year’s features will likely be focused more on internal changes, possibly related to expanded health monitoring.
Watch Faces. Should we expect Apple to rethink Watch faces? The app paradigm found on iPhone doesn’t extend to the wrist. Instead, Watch faces, including how complications are arranged on the face, play a big role in how we get information on our wrist.
Pricing. Will Apple continue to run with higher Watch pricing? Management raised Watch pricing by $70 to $100 moving from Series 3 to Series 4. At the same time, Apple increased entry-level Watch pricing by $30.
Update. Will Apple unveil an updated pair of AirPods in 2019? Based on unit sales, AirPods is the second best-selling Apple product of all time, behind only iPad. The product has seen incredible sales momentum despite not being updated in two years. An update to the AirPods charging case to support wireless charging has long been rumored. In addition, rumors of an AirPods update involving additional capabilities have been floating around. Given how the product has gained iconic status almost overnight, major cosmetic changes aren’t likely.
iPad mini. Is Apple going to update the iPad mini? Peak iPad mini occurred years ago as larger smartphones permanently reduced the market for a small iPad. However, if management believes an updated iPad mini can generate a few million unit sales per year, such a product may receive the green light.
9.7-inch iPad. What will happen to the low-end 9.7-inch iPad? Apple has been aggressive in cutting entry-level 9.7-inch iPad pricing. In addition, the 9.7-inch iPad has been the model used to target educational settings. Judging by iPhone ASP, the 9.7-inch iPad has been a success.
iOS 13. Will the iPad Pro be a beneficiary of iOS 13? Given strong iPad Pro hardware updates in 2018, positioning future iOS versions to take advantage of that more powerful hardware seems inevitable. The debate is found with how best Apple can add greater capability to iPad.
Mac Pro. What will be the new Mac Pro’s design language? Based on previous management commentary, a modular machine is in the works. However, there are still questions regarding what such a design actually entails.
Standalone Apple Display. How will Apple position its upcoming standalone display? With a new Mac mini announced last year, Apple is likely going to target a display to a relatively small niche of the Mac installed base.
macOS. How will Apple’s efforts to make it easier for iOS developers to bring their apps to macOS impact the Mac’s overall narrative?
ARM-based MacBook. Will there be additional clues of a Mac powered by Apple chips being in the pipeline? Much of the intrigue found with taking frameworks from UIKit and bringing them to MacOS involves implications the move will have on an entry-level Mac powered by Apple chips.
Apple TV. Will Apple expand Apple TV partnerships to include additional cable providers? The Charter partnership (50M homes) is one of the more interesting news items for Apple TV from 2018.
HomePod. Is Apple planning a HomePod update in 2019? As Apple continues to roll out its stationary speaker to additional countries, a good argument can be made that Apple will skip a HomePod update this year.
Marketing. Will Apple market Apple TV and HomePod any differently given its focus on strengthening the content distribution arm? With AirPlay 2 extended to smart TVs and speakers, there are still important roles for Apple TV and HomePod to play in the Apple ecosystem. Each device ultimately provides the best Apple experiences available to those interested in smart TVs and stationary smart speakers.
Apple Music. What is the next chapter for Apple Music? Judging by M&A activity, such as the Platoon acquisition, Apple has been busy developing some of Apple Music’s behind-the-scenes pieces. One such focus is working more closely with labels by having a more powerful A&R platform. Apple has also been increasingly focused on growing the number of paid users by betting on partnerships and making the service available on as many devices as possible.
Apple Video. When will Apple launch its original video content initiative? There has been a constant stream of reports pointing to Apple developing a portfolio of original TV shows, movies, documentaries, and children’s programming. A few months ago, reports pegged Apple as making its original batch of content free to Apple’s TV app. However, a paid video streaming service, accessible to users on non-Apple devices, seems likely.
Apple News Availability. Will Apple make Apple News available beyond Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.? The primary reason for the painstakingly-slow rollout is likely found with difficulty in scaling Apple News’ human curation.
Paid News. Will Apple launch a paid tier to Apple News? Apple’s Texture acquisition certainly raised the odds of Apple expanding the paid magazine subscription model to include news.
Apple’s Distribution Arm. How will Apple continue to expand its content distribution arm? As mentioned up above, Apple’s decision to extend AirPlay 2 support to smart TVs can play a beneficial role when it comes to Apple’s streaming video initiative. At the same time, bringing Apple Music to Echo devices and expanding AirPlay 2 to various stationary speakers bodes well for Apple Music. A stronger content distribution arm ends up improving Apple’s digital content offerings, which ultimately adds value to Apple hardware.
Apple Maps. How fast will Apple roll out Apple Maps 2.0? Apple had a somewhat quiet launch of its enhanced mapping service in mid-2018 with a rollout limited to northern California.
iCloud. Will Apple adjust or modify its free and paid iCloud tiers? Apple currently offers 5GB of iCloud storage for free. There are three paid tiers: 50GB, 200GB, and 2TB for $0.99, $2.99, and $9.99 per month, respectively.
Apple Pay. What are Apple’s plans for improving Apple Pay adoption among U.S. retailers?
Watch Face. How will Apple push Siri forward as a visual digital assistant? The Siri Watch face continues to be one of Apple’s most intriguing features.
Shortcuts. How will Apple push Siri Shortcuts forward? The technology and design philosophy behind Shortcuts say a lot about how Apple thinks about a digital voice assistant. Shortcuts are likely only being used by a small fraction of the installed base.
Share Buyback. Will there be any change to Apple’s share buyback pace in 2019? Following the passage of U.S. tax reform, Apple began to utilize its foreign cash to fund share buyback. In FY2018, Apple spent $73B on share repurchases, although the buyback pace was closer to $80B per year by the end of the year.
Cash Dividends. How much will Apple increase its quarterly cash dividend? Apple has telegraphed that it will increase the cash dividend each year. Apple follows a stable dividend policy in which management targets a consistent dividend growth rate that does not follow the cynical nature of business. For more information on Apple’s dividend strategy, the Above Avalon Report, “Apple and Dividends: A Deep Dive into Apple’s Cash Dividend Strategy” is a 4,000-word deep dive into Apple’s dividend strategy (available here exclusively for Above Avalon members).
Quarterly Guidance. Will Apple alter its financial guidance strategy after issuing a rare negative revision to 1Q19 revenue guidance? In an environment with increased volatility based on economic conditions in emerging markets, Apple has the option of adjusting the way it provides guidance.
Financial Disclosure. Will management refine its financial disclosure strategy in 2019?
Turnover. Will there be any turnover within Apple’s executive team? There was no turnover in 2018. Given Apple’s upcoming product pipeline, there is no obvious candidate within the SVP ranks when it comes to retirement or departures.
New Hires. Will Tim Cook and his inner circle expand the executive team? There are currently 12 members officially on Apple’s executive team. Last year, Apple expanded the team by one with John Giannandrea being promoted to SVP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy. For more information on Apple’s leadership structure, the Above Avalon Report, “Apple’s Leadership Structure Under Tim Cook and Jony Ive” is a 5,000-word deep dive into Apple’s leadership structure (available here exclusively for Above Avalon members).
Industrial Design Group
Turnover. Will there be any turnover in Apple’s Industrial Design group? After one departure in both 2016 and 2017, things were quiet in 2018 with no reported or rumored departures.
New Hires. Will Jony Ive expand the Industrial Design group? Apple recently hired Andrew Kim, a former senior designer at Tesla focused most recently on the Model 3 interior. It remains unclear if he is part of Jony’s Industrial Design group.
China. How will Apple respond to slowing economic growth in China? During the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, Apple was a fraction of its current size, with the iPhone having just launched and the iPad still being developed.
U.S. / China Trade Tensions. Will Apple approach U.S. / China trade tensions differently in 2019? In what may not be a surprising development, Cook has remained characteristically upbeat about U.S. / China reaching some kind of deal or compromise.
Pricing. Will Apple continue to raise product pricing outside the U.S. to compensate for FX? The stronger dollar has been impacting demand for Apple products outside the U.S. as management has been raising prices.
India. What initiatives does Apple have in store to improve its positioning in India? Apple is being priced out of the market and there is no obvious near-term solution. In 2018, India was responsible for just $2B of Apple’s revenue, which officially positions India, when it comes to revenue, as a rounding error for Apple.
R&D / Future Products
Apple Glasses. Will there be any signs of Apple getting closer to a Glasses unveiling? Based on M&A trends, odds of Apple holding a Glasses unveiling go up in 2020 and 2021.
Project Titan. What will be the major developments related to Titan in 2019? Last year, there were a number of notable news items regarding Titan, a catch basin for Apple’s transpiration R&D initiatives. Apple is reportedly working with Volkswagen on self-driving vans for Apple employees. There were also reports of a few notable hires, including Doug Field, hinting of Apple’s ongoing interest in auto hardware and proceeding with its plans to have a much larger test fleet of autonomous cars.
AirPower. Will Apple launch AirPower in 2019? In an uncharacteristic move, Apple did not provide a comment pertaining to missing AirPower’s launch deadline, which was assumed to be sometime in the first half of 2018. The lack of announcement points more to ongoing development efforts versus a complete project cancellation.
Capital Expenditures / M&A
Manufacturing / Supply Chain. Will Apple unveil any significant changes to its manufacturing and supply chain apparatus? After a few years of little publicity, rising U.S. / China trade tensions have put Apple’s contract manufacturers and supply chain in the spotlight. Questions regarding Apple’s need to diversify out of China have been on the rise.
U.S. Expansion. Is Apple planning additional U.S. expansion in terms of additional facilities and real estate? Apple’s recent announcement about building a new campus near its current Austin, Texas campus led some to think Apple may still announce another campus in the U.S. In addition, Apple continues to own and lease manufacturing space in Silicon Valley.
M&A. Which companies will Apple buy in 2019? The question is difficult to answer as Apple tends to buy small, relatively unknown companies for technology and talent. Over the past few years, Apple has bought approximately ten companies annually.
Retail. Will Apple announce any major new retail initiatives? Apple has been focused on expanding Today at Apple sessions around the world, in addition to remodeling older stores. The number of new store openings has slowed with the focus centering high-profile locations in the world’s largest cities.
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