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In the Pressman household, we’ve tried several Amazon Alexa speakers, a Google Home assistant, and Apple’s HomePod. The general consensus so far seems to be that the HomePod, which has by far the highest price, has the best sound. But it’s also been the most limited in functionality. It can’t play our Spotify music or radio stations via TuneIn, take an order to buy more dog food for the pup, or answer trivia questions as well as the competition. And it can be annoyingly dependent on a linked iPhone. If I had to pick a favorite in the market right now, I’d go with the cute, round-screened Amazon Echo Spot sitting on my desk that makes my work day a little more pleasurable and efficient.
This week Apple updated the HomePod’s software alongside the release of its iOS 12 update for iPhones and iPads. Finally (I joke) you can set multiple timers. You can also directly make and receive phone calls, a trick our Alexa does only via a box that connects to our landline. (It can also call other people with an Alexa devices on its own.)
Apple was late to the game (not quite as late as Samsung) and has only a premium offering, so it’s probably not surprising that its market share in this incipient market has been pretty low, according the various market tracking firms. But a new analysis out from research firm Strategy Analytics this week offers a new view on the state of the market. While Apple had only a 6% share of devices sold in the second quarter, by wholesale revenue its HomePod had a 16% share, nearly equal to the dollars of sales brought in combined by Google’s Home Mini and Amazon’s Echo Dot, the two best-selling devices. Said another way, for devices that cost $200 and up, Apple has a 70% device share (and probably a near-100% revenue share).
There’s a long, long way to go in the digital assistant market. In Hulu’s new futuristic drama The First, people in 2030 use small earpieces that have the functionality of phones, computers, and smart digital assistants all in one. There are plenty of self-driving cars in sight, but no smart speakers. Whether Apple’s premium play, which obviously worked out great for computers and smartphones, or Amazon’s Alexa-for-every-room strategy, or another player wins out is yet to be seen. For now, we’ll have to just keep listening.
Moving on up. Everyone says they want to become the third option for digital advertisers after Google and Facebook, but it looks like Amazon may be the most successful. Amazon has grabbed third place in the digital ad market this year, according to eMarketer, surpassing last year’s third and fourth-place finishers, Microsoft and Verizon’s Oath. And after opening up a few cashier-less convenience stores, Amazon may be planning to roll out thousands of similar outlets nationwide, Bloomberg reports. The company is considering opening up to 3,000 Amazon Go stores, but hasn’t decided whether to follow the prepackaged edibles model of 7-Eleven or go for the fresh made food strategy of Pret-a-Manger. Amazon declined to comment.
See you in court. Former Spotify sales executive Hong Perez sued the company for gender discrimination, an equal pay violation, and defamation. Perez alleges that women were excluded from business trips and were paid less than male employees. Spotify said the claims were without merit.
Making the world a better place. As we noted last week, algorithmic bias in AI and machine learning programs is a growing problem. IBM on Wednesday introduced a tool to inspect software for hidden biases and recommend adjustments. The company also announced what it called the AI Fairness 360 toolkit, a set of software for developers who want to add bias detection to AI programs on their own.
That’s where the money is. A Japanese digital currency exchange called Zaif, owned by Osaka-based Tech Bureau Corp, is the latest to be hit by a hacking theft. At least the fifth major hack this year, Zaif says it lost $60 million of digital coins. In less of a headline grabber and more of a feature look at cryptocurrency trends, the New York Times reports that coin mining companies have started opening in northeast New York state, attracted by cheap prices for hydroelectric generated electricity.
Data driven. Insurer John Hancock is adding an option to all its life insurance plans to include discounts and rewards for customers who exercise regularly as tracked by a wearable fitness tracker. The insurer, which had offered the “Vitality” option only on some plans previously, says it won’t sell the data it collects. Also, Fitbit extended its offerings to health plans and employers with an expanded service called Fitbit Care that can provide additional coaching and virtual doctor care to users.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
With the trade war with China heating up, President Trump tweeted a piece of advice to Apple to avoid possible future tariffs on the iPhone: “There is an easy solution where there would be ZERO tax, and indeed a tax incentive. Make your products in the United States instead of China.” Apple has said America doesn’t have the trained manufacturing workforce it needs. Wall Street Journal columnist Greg Ip takes a look at what would be required for Apple to shift its iPhone operations here, finding only a modest impact on prices.
Assuming Apple could find 60,000 workers, it would have to hire many away from other employers given how low unemployment currently is. The benefit of the wages they earn would be offset by the higher prices other Americans pay for their phones.
How much would that add to the price of a phone? Mr. Dedrick says about $30; Mr. Shih thinks it would be more because of the cost of shipping individual components to the U.S. Still, such an increase would hardly kill sales of iPhones, now priced at $449 to $1,099. The bigger cost of U.S. assembly, says Mr. Dedrick, would be the inability to quickly add hundreds of thousands of workers when new phones are launched, which is only possible in Asia. Apple can charge premium prices in part because it introduces superior features before its competitors do.
“If they are coming to market late and their products cost more…Apple is going to lose market share,” says Mr. Dedrick.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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BEFORE YOU GO
People have all sorts of weird and obscure hobbies and now, thanks to the Internet, we can know all about them. I can’t stop watching this video, recommended by Jason Kottke, of a YouTube user called baremetalHW who—I kid you not—restores old Hot Wheels toy cars to mint condition. This one is a restoration of a 1971 toy called the Bye-Focal. If you get hooked, there are many more.