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What’s Apple up to next?

April 7, 2021, 1:55 PM UTC

Does it feel like Apple has been flying below the radar lately? The iPhone maker hasn’t introduced a new hardware product since December 8, despite rumors of a March event that have turned into a rumored April event.

To be sure, it was more than the usual busy fourth quarter for Tim Cook and his team. In addition to the typical fall Apple Watch and iPad updates, Apple came out with four new iPhones, the most ever and all with 5G. There was also the brand-new HomePod Mini smart speaker, plus Apple’s first three Mac computers running on the company’s own processor chip, dubbed the M1. Oh, and who could forget the giant wireless headphones with the weird case, the AirPods Max? Okay, they’re kind of forgettable at a price of $550.

The stock market has kind of been forgetting Apple as well. After a torrid 2020 that saw the Apple’s stock market value nearly double and exceed $2 trillion, the first American company to reach that level, it’s been treading water in 2021. While the S&P 500 Index has gained more than 8% and rivals like Google and Microsoft have done even better, jumping 26% and 11% respectively, Apple’s stock price has lost 5% through Tuesday’s close. The lack of new products with pizazz, Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri’s downbeat outlook in January, and Warren Buffett’s decision to trim his stake in the company have combined to give investors the blahs.

Even Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty, who has rated Apple “overweight” for as long as I can remember, just cut her price target on the stock to $156 from $164 (It’s at $126.21 currently). The minimal explanation for the cut is one only a Wall Street analyst could love: “multiple compression, primarily at Apple’s service-related peers.” Translation: The stock price and valuation ratios of rivals are falling. I’m not sure who Huberty is referencing but the share prices of Spotify, Adobe, Amazon, Peleton, Zoom, and Salesforce have all declined in 2021.

There’s barely a mention in Huberty’s report of Apple’s potential new markets. Augmented reality, payments, health, autos and home “can help sustain growth” in the future, she notes in passing.

Tim Cook discussed some of these areas in his interview with Kara Swisher that both Robert and I have already excerpted to death in Data Sheet this week. Let’s just add that Cook is a master at answering questions, even Swisher’s tough and informed questions, with responses that sound smart but reveal little or nothing. Swisher asked about Apple’s car plans. “So there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy and we’ll see what Apple does,” Cook said, but added: “We investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I’m not saying that one will not.” That’s, like, the perfect Tim Cook quote of all time. He’s not saying that one will not. He’s not saying it will, either.

On augmented reality, an area where Apple already has released some phone apps, Cook again was rather vague. “I’m already seeing AR take off in some of these areas with use of the phone and I think the promise is even greater in the future.”

Apple got fans of augmented reality all-a-flutter last month when it announced its upcoming developer conference, WWDC, with some cartoon faces that all were wearing glasses with computer apps reflected in the lens. A signal of the debut of Apple’s long-awaited AR glasses? Maybe, though the cartoons were also all staring into partially open laptops, perhaps explaining the reflections (and offering a reference back to software boss Craig Federighi’s introduction of the M1 Macs with a similar pose in November).

As is often the case with the heirs of Jobs, we’ll have to wait and see what they’ve got Cook-ing.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Circling the prey. Japanese manufacturing giant Toshiba is weighing a bid to be taken over for more than $20 billion by private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. Beset by scandals and missteps, Toshiba still owns a valuable stake in Kioxia, its former memory chip making unit that was spun off in 2018.

Drawing for fun and profit. At perhaps the other end of the tech deal-making spectrum, hot Australian startup Canva, maker of the popular design software of the same name, raised $71 million of fresh backing at a valuation of $15 billion, almost triple its valuation in a financing last year. Another hot startup, crypto currency dealer Coinbase, released preliminary first quarter earnings results ahead of its planned direct listing next week. Revenue grew almost 10X to $1.8 billion from $191 million in 2020. Net income increased at an even faster rate to between $730 million to $800 million from just $32 million the prior year. And in other fundraising news, creator financial supporter Patreon raised $155 million at a $4 billion valuation and chatty social network Clubhouse is seeking more cash also at a $4 billion valuation.

Hit me with your best shot. With President Biden looking to raise taxes on corporations to pay for his infrastructure plan, he's found an unexpected ally in tech. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos released a statement on Tuesday in favor of the spending plan that included the parenthetical aside "we're supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate." Tax experts say tech and pharmaceutical companies that cut their tax bills by shifting their intellectual property rights to overseas subsidiaries may be hardest hit by the Biden plan.

Not saying what I'm not saying. The trouble at Google's A.I. ethics group rolls on. Next out the door is research manager Samy Bengio, who was seen as an ally to the fired former co-leads Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell. In an email to staff obtained by Bloomberg, Bengio didn't mention the pair but said he had learned "how difficult yet important it is to organize a large team of researchers so as to promote long term ambitious research, exploration, rigor, diversity and inclusion.”

Podcast in the ocean. The podcast industry is expanding and expanding. Amazon's new podcast studio Wondery, acquired for $300 million last year, will be nearly doubling its 80-person workforce this year, CEO Jen Sargent tells Variety. "We have big aspirations for growing," Sargent says.

Attack of the clods. If you were not a fan of former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, then you will love Bloomberg's new deep dive into the chipmaker's problems. The story doesn't offer much about current CEO Pat Gelsinger or his immediate predecessor, Bob Swan, but it tears into Krzanich's aloof and dictatorial management style in detail and includes anecdotes of some truly terrible behavior. Krzanich didn't comment for the story.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Wired senior writer Lauren Goode decided not to go through with a long planned wedding in 2019. But, as she describes in a moving story, social networks like Facebook and Pinterest are constantly reminding her of the called-off nuptials.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when apps started co-opting memories, madly deploying them to boost engagement and make a buck off nostalgia. The groundwork was laid in the early 2010s, right around the time my now ex and I started dating. For better or worse, I have been a tech super-user since then too. In my job as a technology journalist, I’ve spent the past dozen years tweeting, checking in, joining online groups, experimenting with digital payments, wearing multiple activity trackers, trying every “story” app and applying every gauzy photo filter. Unwittingly, I spent years drafting a technical blueprint for the relationship, one that I couldn’t delete when the construction plans fell apart.

If we already are part cyborg, as some technologists believe, there is a cyborg version of me, a digital ghost, that is still getting married. The real me would really like to move on now.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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These are the largest cyber thefts of the past decade—and 80% of them involve Bitcoin By Shawn Tully

4 challenges companies need to grapple with after the way we work has changed forever By Rachel Schallom, Maria Aspan, Erika Fry, Aaron Pressman, and Anne Sraders

Europe’s antitrust enforcer talks about the coming reckoning for Big Tech and corporate tax dodgers By David Meyer

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BEFORE YOU GO

We are getting incredibly close to the first ever drone flight on another planet. NASA's Perseverance rover dropped the Ingenuity drone on the ground and moved a short distance away on Saturday. Then Ingenuity snapped its first picture, admittedly a pretty dull shot of the ground under the rover's wheels. But it's prepping to take off with the first flight possibly coming up this weekend. It's hump day, who else is ready for flight?