Data Sheet—Why Apple Is Among the Companies Most at Risk From a Trade War With China
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Tim Cook is back in China.
Cook caught flack late last year for unapologetically attending a government-sponsored Internet conference, what with the Chinese government’s policies of censorship and shutting out U.S. Internet companies. At a Fortune forum immediately following that appearance, he defended his intention to remain “in the arena” and to engage with China.
If only cozying up to Chinese regulators were Cook’s biggest concern now. He is in China this week for another government forum. Without naming the President of the United States, he warned against countries that don’t embrace openness, diversity, and the other intangible benefits of international trade.
Few companies have as much to lose from a U.S. trade war with China as Apple. iPhones are not at the top of the list of targets China is threatening in response to Donald Trump’s trade actions. No doubt tech products are being held back for a later, more powerful salvo from Beijing.
I followed some of the advice in this weekend Wall Street Journal article about reducing Facebook’s ability to track your activity for advertising purposes. Even though I was never big into signing into apps via Facebook I was shocked at what the under-regulated media company knew about me and how breezily I’d either opted in or failed to opt out of its come-ons. It took me about five minutes to reduce my footprint on Facebook without (yet) deleting my account.
Messy, messier, messiest. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued a public apology in an old-school format Sunday—via a full-page newspaper ad in major U.S. and U.K. papers. The ad, printed in clear type over Zuckerberg’s signature, begins: “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.” The ad comes amid a report by Ars Technica that Facebook had collected detailed call logs from users with Android phones, including the names and numbers of call recipients and call times and durations. Elon Musk isn't hanging around. In Twitter exchanges on Friday he committed to delete promotional Facebook pages for Tesla and SpaceX. "Looks lame anyway," he wrote. A poll conducted last week by Reuters found unsurprisingly that Facebook was least trusted on privacy issues among major tech companies. Amazon won the most trust, followed by Google.
Digital closet cleaning. Shares of data storage service Dropbox, once derided by Steve Jobs as a mere "feature," jumped 36% in their stock market debut on Friday, giving the company a market value of $12.4 billion. That ends the "I told you so" narrative, at least for now, of another unicorn startup going pubic for less than the value of its last private fundraising. Dropbox had been valued at $10 billion privately in 2015 but was worth only about $9 billion at its IPO before the 36% gain. Next on deck for cloud service IPOs: applications developer and Dell spinoff Pivotal Software.
Cleaning up. As foreshadowed by SoftBank Group's big investment in Uber, when the Japanese fund already had major stakes in other ride hailing services around the world, Uber is now consolidating its bets. The U.S.-based company is selling its entire Southeast Asian operation to Grab in return for 27.5% ownership of its former competitor and a board seat. The retreat "will help us double down on our plans for growth as we invest heavily in our products and technology,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said.
Spring cleaning ahead. Qualcomm successfully fended off an unwanted takeover from Broadcom, but its shareholders seem rather peeved and the company may have to make more serious changes. Six of the company's 11 directors, including current CEO Steve Mollenkopf, got less than half the votes of shareholders for re-election. (And one more of the 11, former board chairman Paul Jacobs, wasn't renominated after saying he wanted to buy the company and take it private.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The battle to supply tech gear in schools has shifted to favor different companies at different times, but it seems that Google's low-cost Chromebooks are dominant in the current era. Apple is holding an event on Tuesday focused on the education market and top flight analyst Carolina Milanesi from Creative Strategies has a few suggestions for the company—though no predictions ("I am wiser than trying to predict what they will and will not do."). One major area Apple could improve is collaboration software, with Google's G-Suite much preferred currently over Apple's iWorks, Milanesi writes:
Apple giving up on iWork in favor of Microsoft Office 365 might be ok with people like me (AKA older users!) who have grown up using Office for the most part of their career. But Gen Z and Millennials live and breathe G Suite. While Google has been platform agnostic when it comes to consumer tools, I very much doubt they will support education skews on other devices as deeply as they do on Chromebooks.
This opens up an opportunity for Apple to create a productivity suite that competes with G Suite. Of course, this will require a bigger investment in iCloud as Apple will need to push collaboration to the next level. iMessage is such a powerful workflow tool for many that I am surprised that Apple has yet to integrate it into the Classroom tools. iWork, which could do with a different name altogether, should be the toolset the next generation wants to work with no more so than the Mac has been the computer students wanted to have when they went off to college and then to work.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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BEFORE YOU GO
Finding life on Mars goes beyond combing the red planet for signs of microscopic organisms. The New York Times Magazine had the story on Sunday of scientist Nathalie Cabrol, who is also probing extreme environments on earth which may be "terrestrial analogues for present-day Mars."