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Growing coronavirus threat weighs on Apple

March 7, 2020, 2:30 PM UTC

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, big technology companies are canceling their public events. And following the last-minute cancellation on Friday of the SXSW conference and festival in Austin, the pressure is on Apple over its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which it usually hosts in June.

Apple’s silence—and the continuing impact coronavirus is having on its business—continued to be a major focus this week. It didn’t help matters when Hon Hai Precision Industry, the manufacturing partner better known as Foxconn and a key maker of Apple devices, said that its Chinese manufacturing plants won’t operate at normal capacity until the end of March.

But not even the news about the coronavirus outbreak was enough to stop reports about Apple’s plans for future iPads and Macs. Chief among them was a report from TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who said he had details about new MacBook Pros, iPad Pros, and iMac Pros planned for later this year.

Apple’s manufacturing problems

One of Apple’s biggest manufacturing partners said this week that it won’t return to full capacity until the end of March. Foxconn said that its manufacturing facilities are currently operating at about 50% because of long staff vacations for the Chinese New Year holiday in January and the subsequent coronavirus outbreak, but that they should return to full capacity by the end of the month as more workers come back. The company’s chairman Young Liu said despite the production shortfall, Foxconn’s customers, which include Apple and Microsoft, haven’t seen a significant drop in supply. Still, Foxconn’s revenue was down to $7.3 billion in February, compared to $8.9 billion last year, because of coronavirus.

Stay at home, folks

Apple said on Friday that it will now allow employees working at its offices in Silicon Valley and Seattle to work from home instead of the office. The company called the move an “additional precaution” against coronavirus. Apple’s stores in Seattle and Silicon Valley are still operating on their normal schedules, and the policy doesn’t extend to retail employees. The company has, however, limited the number of Today at Apple courses at its stores, and will add more physical space between people who visit stores for Genius Bar appointments to limit contact between people. Apple didn’t say for how long its new policy will remain in effect.

A call to cancel WWDC

After Google, Facebook, and other prominent tech companies cancelled events because of coronavirus, all eyes are on whether Apple will pull the plug on this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference. While Apple hasn’t yet said what its plans are, Santa Clara County, home to many tech companies, this week called on all major technology companies to cancel major gatherings and to suspend all employee travel.

Preventing the spread of misinformation

Apple is trying to prevent coronavirus misinformation from spreading through its software, according to a CNBC report. The company has been quietly banning certain apps that are focused on coronavirus from its App Store. The target are apps created by organizations that aren’t “recognized” coronavirus authorities, the report said. Developers who spoke to Apple about the ban say the iPhone maker is only allowing apps in its App Store that provide useful medical information from trusted sources. Apple hasn’t commented about the alleged policy.

Big new product plans

In a note to investors this week, TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple has several new products in the pipeline. Chief among them is a new 14.1-inch MacBook Pro that could replace the existing 13-inch MacBook Pro. Apple is also working on a new, high-end iMac Pro, and a new iPad Pro, Kuo said. The devices may use new mini-LED screen technology, which promises bright colors and deep black levels like the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology found in Apple’s latest iPhones. However, unlike OLED, mini-LED isn’t prone to screen damage, called burn-in, when users keep the same visual on the display for a long period of time.

New products coming soon

An anonymous leaker on Twitter who goes by the pseudonym CoinX and who has one of the more reliable Apple rumor track records, said this week that Apple plans to release new consumer-focused Macs “soon.” The leaker said new iMac and Mac Mini desktops are next on Apple’s release schedule. The person also said that a new iPad that Apple is working on will come with a dramatically improved camera. As always, take these rumors with the proverbial grain of salt, since Apple hasn’t confirmed any of them.

One more thing…

Would you like to do your part to fight coronavirus? An initiative called Folding@Home gives Mac users a chance to let their computers’ excess processing power be used to fight coronavirus. After downloading Folding@Home software on the Mac, the initiative will use any unused processing power on Macs, and combine it with resources of other computers that are part of the program. Folding@Home researchers will then use that computing power to analyze COVID-19 data with the goal of designing and developing new therapies and drugs to save lives. Folding@Home already uses the technique to research cancer, neurological diseases, and other infectious diseases.

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