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iPhone 12 Launch Draws Mixed Reaction in China

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By Reuters | Updated: 14 October 2020

Apple’s iPhone 12 launch drew mixed reactions in mainland China on Wednesday, with fans cheering a 5G model for their favourite brand while others planned to wait for upcoming devices from local rivals like Huawei.

The much-anticipated Apple launch comes in the wake of Chinese Android-platform brands such as Huawei and Xiaomi having already rolled out higher-end 5G devices compatible with China’s upgraded telecoms networks, with the US giant seen by some analysts to be late to the party.

In its second-largest market by revenue, Apple’s announcement was feverishly discussed on social media. With over 6 billion views, the tag ‘iPhone12’ ranked as the no. 1 topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.

Asked if they’d buy the new iPhone, which will give Apple users 5G access in a market where such networks are already widespread, respondents to a Caijing magazine poll were almost evenly split: some 10,000 voted no, 9,269 said yes, and just over 5,400 said they were still considering it.

Available for orders in China from October 16, the iPhone 12 will cost CNY 5,499 (roughly Rs. 60,000) for a ‘mini’ version, rising to as much as CNY 11,899 (roughly Rs. 1,30,000) for the top of the range.

That price tag was also a hot topic, with many complaining it was too expensive. “How is it this expensive even with no power charger or earbuds?,” said one commenter, referring to Apple’s announcement that it would leave out those components citing environmental reasons.

Many Weibo users said they may put off ordering iPhone 12s to wait for the expected unveiling of Huawei’s rival Mate 40 Pro this month.

Still, analysts said they were bullish about the iPhone 12’s reception in China, saying that the firm still likely had many loyal users who have postponed upgrading devices until the launch of the 5G-friendly iPhone 12.

With the new model in view, research firm Canalys recently revised its forecast for iPhone shipments to China in fourth-quarter 2020 to a 14 percent year-on-year increase, a big swing from the 1 percent decrease it originally predicted.

“In China now, 5G is not a premium feature, it’s a must-have feature,” said Nicole Peng, who tracks China’s smartphone sector at Canalys. Peng said the 5G launch will “trigger a new wave of phone replacements” for Apple in China before the end of the year and in first-quarter 2021.

Canalys expects 50 percent of Chinese phone owners to be using a 5G device by the end of 2020, as networks and phone brands have aggressively pushed adoption. Only 29 percent of US phone owners will be on 5G devices by the same time.

Apple could also stand to benefit from a potential unravelling of its main high-end rival Huawei, which could see its smartphone division collapse next year due to US restrictions on its supply of chips.

Neil Shah, analyst at Counterpoint Research, said he expects Apple stands to benefit “significantly” from the potential gap which will be left due to the US trade restrictions on Huawei to produce new phones at scale.

On the flipside, there is lingering concern that Apple could be vulnerable to growing geopolitical tensions between the United States and China.

Beijing is expected to unveil an ‘entity list’ that bars domestic companies from doing business with certain foreign companies amid industry speculation that Apple and other high-profile tech firms could be targeted.

Throughout the past year though, consumer sentiment has yet to turn negative on Apple, even as Huawei’s troubles have made headlines in China.

Apple’s unit shipments in China increased 35 percent year-on-year in China in the second quarter of 2020, according to Canalys. That made it the only top brand besides Huawei to see positive growth, a feat it achieved even without offering a 5G device.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Apple Reports Falling iPhone Sales Due to Late Launch, Sees Services Revenue Rise

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 October 2020

The late launch of new 5G phones caused Apple customers to put off buying new devices, leading the company on Thursday to report the steepest quarterly drop in iPhone sales in two years.

Apple fell over 5 percent at one point in after-hours trade, wiping $100 billion (roughly Rs. 7,45,300 crores) from its stock market value.

Since 2013, Apple has delivered new iPhone models each September like clockwork. But pandemic-induced delays pushed the announcement back a month, with some devices still yet to ship.

Even as booming sales of Mac products and AirPods boosted overall revenue and profit above what analysts had expected, iPhone sales dropped 20.7 percent to $26.4 billion (roughly Rs. 1,96,759 crores).

Investors anticipated lower sales from the Cupertino, California company’s bestselling product, but the hold-back was worse than expected, especially in China, where more consumers have access to 5G than in the United States or Europe.

Apple has mostly beaten sales expectations this year and released a slew of new products and services that its customers have embraced while largely homebound during the pandemic.

Apple said revenue and profits for the fiscal fourth quarter ended on September 26 was $64.7 billion (roughly Rs. 4,82,209 crores) and 73 cents (roughly Rs. 50) per share, compared with analyst estimates of $63.7 billion (roughly Rs. 4,74,756 crores) and 70 cents (roughly Rs. 50) per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

But the flagship iPhone 12’s announcement was delayed until October 13, several weeks later than usual, meaning no opening-weekend iPhone sales are included in the fourth-quarter results.

In an interview with Reuters, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said that he was “optimistic” about the iPhone 12 cycle based on the first five days of shipping data.

“5G is a once-in-a-decade kind of opportunity. And we could not be more excited to hit the market exactly when we did,” Cook said. “At least in the US, the carriers are being very aggressive.”

The iPhone 12 release timing drove down sales in Greater China by 28.5 percent to $7.95 billion (roughly Rs. 59,310 crores). Cook said he expects the new 5G devices to help iPhone sales recover in China.

“What we’re seeing in the early going in the first five days gives us a lot of confidence that China will return to growth in our fiscal Q1,” Cook told Reuters.

Apple did not provide a revenue growth forecast, but Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said revenue from services and non-iPhone products would grow by double-digit percentages in the fiscal first quarter, in line with analyst expectations. He said iPhone revenue would also grow, implying the rate would be in the single digits. Analysts expect iPhone revenue to rise 6.45 percent to $59.56 billion (roughly Rs. 4,44,347 crores) in the first quarter, according to Refinitiv data.

Logan Purk, an analyst with Edward Jones, said that “while iPhone sales will grow this cycle, it will be disappointing compared to elevated expectations, as we do not believe the 5G presents a compelling reason for a wave of upgrades.”

Apple has offset volatile iPhone sales in recent years with steady growth in its services segment, which includes streaming music and television. Services revenue rose 16.3 percent to $14.5 billion (roughly Rs. 1,08,170 crores), compared with analyst estimates of $14 billion (roughly Rs. 1,04,440 crores). Cook told Reuters that Apple One, a bundle of Apple’s paid services, will launch on Friday.

Cook told Reuters that Apple has 585 million paying subscribers across its platforms, up from 550 million the previous quarter and closer to the goal of 600 million subscribers that the company set out for the end of calendar 2020.

Apple’s shares have soared in the past two years as it has diversified its revenue streams to lessen its dependence on the iPhone. The share tumble on Thursday raises the question of whether Apple is still more dependent on iPhone sales than some investors had hoped.

“Apple needs to be able to keep the upgrade cycle going or the share price will wobble because there’s no real room for forgiveness in the current valuation,” said Sophie Lund-Yates, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Apple said revenue from its accessories segment was up 20.8 percent to $7.9 billion (roughly Rs. 58,934 crores), compared with analyst estimates of a 13.5 percent rise to $7.4 billion (roughly Rs. 55,204 crores), according to Refinitiv data. Mac and iPad sales rose to $9 billion (roughly Rs. 67,140 crores) and $6.8 billion (roughly Rs. 50,733 crores), compared with estimates of $7.92 billion (roughly Rs. 59,089 crores) and $6.12 billion (roughly Rs. 45,659 crores), according to Refinitiv data.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Apple Expands Its ‘Express’ Retail Stores in US, Europe for the iPhone 12 Experience

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By Reuters | Updated: 22 October 2020

Apple is expanding a new physical store format as it tries to get iPhone 12 models into customers’ hands, its retail chief told Reuters in an interview.

The new “Express” stores come as COVID-19 rates are rising around the United States and Europe. The new format has a wall built in front of the main store with sales counters protected by plexiglass and a few shelves of accessories such as phone cases and AirPods.

Customers make an appointment to pick up orders placed online or interact with Apple’s technicians for customer service.

For Apple, which has 271 retail stores in the United States, the new format could help it navigate a holiday sales challenge.

The company is launching its biggest-selling product of the year as the pandemic flares up again in key markets such as the United States and Europe. The company has taken a cautious approach to re-opening its retail stores, using a team that includes medical experts to make its own calls on a county-by-county basis and sometimes shuttering stores again when local rules would otherwise allow stores to operate.

The new “Express” stores give Apple another option in areas where troubling COVID-19 rates might force it to consider reducing service to curbside pickup.

That option does not work as smoothly for Apple stores in shopping malls or busy downtown shopping districts where the “curb” may be far away from the storefront, said Deirdre O’Brien, senior vice president of retail and people at Apple.

Apple currently has about 20 such stores in the United States and Europe and plans to expand to 50 across the two regions by the end of the month, she told Reuters.

“It’s a swifter way for us to serve customers,” O’Brien said. “It allows us to maintain all the appropriate social distancing and maintain all of our health protocols within our stores.”

Apple’s iPhones are arriving a month later than usual because of pandemic-related development delays. Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Creative Strategies, said customers who buy iPhones on Friday are unlikely to be put off by not being able to handle demo devices at the “Express” stores.

“People who are buying this early in the cycle, they know what they are buying,” she said. Gene Munster, a longtime Apple analyst who is now a partner at Loup Ventures, said Apple will likely face about 5 percent fewer iPhone sales because of the retail environment for this year’s iPhone launch. Apple will lose customers who spend more than they planned in physical stores on accessories like cases or headphones.

But that loss has been offset by Apple’s customer service, which Munster said helped drive higher revenues in Apple’s most recent quarter.

“When you’re a parent trying to do school from home or an employer trying to do distributed technology, that’s a positive force,” he said.

“That far outweighs the negative of what is going on in their retail stores, and we see that in their numbers.”


© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Nokia Seeks to Block Lenovo Sales in Germany Over Patent Licensing

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 October 2020

Nokia on Tuesday sought to enforce an injunction against Lenovo, the world’s biggest PC maker, to block sales of its products in Germany after violation of a video encoding patent.

A Munich court ruled on September 30 that Hong Kong-listed Lenovo infringed one of Nokia’s patents, ordered an injunction and a recall of products from retailers, among other things.

Nokia launched its legal battle against Lenovo last year over alleged infringement of 20 patents. The Finnish company has ongoing cases against Lenovo in the United States, Brazil and India, in addition to six cases in Germany.

Lenovo has appealed against the Munich court ruling.

“We believe Nokia has violated its own legal obligations by refusing to license its technology on Fair Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms to either Lenovo or our third-party suppliers whose parts include H.264 technology,” a Lenovo statement said.

H.264 technology is a video compression format widely used in smartphones and computers. Nokia has previously sued Apple for infringing its patents and received $2 billion (roughly Rs. 14,689 crores) in settlement in 2017.

The Munich court, the judgment of which applies only to Germany, rejected Lenovo’s assertion that Nokia had not complied with FRAND obligations.

Nokia said that Lenovo has been unwilling to enter discussions, and can resolve the matter by accepting its responsibilities and agreeing a licence on fair terms.

“Nokia is demanding a highly-inflated global royalty rate that is more than 50 times what Lenovo believes is reasonable and appropriate,” a source at Lenovo said.

A Nokia spokesman declined to disclose financial details.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Nokia’s COVID-19 Detection System Automatically Scans Employees for Temperature, Mask in India

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By Reuters | Updated: 16 October 2020

Nokia has created an automated system that uses a thermal camera and real-time video analytics to determine if a person has COVID-19 symptoms and is wearing a mask, part of efforts to protect employees as they return to work.

The Finnish company has been using the system in its factory in Chennai, India, for two months and has screened more than 200,000 people in that facility.

The factory, which was closed for some time to comply with Indian regulations following the coronavirus outbreak, has more than 1,000 employees.

The system detects whether a person has a high temperature or is not wearing their face-mask and alerts the operation centre, the head of Analytics and IoT for Nokia, Amit Shah, told Reuters.

It comes with its privacy settings where faces can be blurred to comply with local regulations and deployed across different locations and monitored from a central facility without the need to keep a person at every check point.

“Nokia factories and R&D centres are deploying this,” Shah said, adding that talks were also at “pretty advanced stages” on deploying the system in North America, Latin America and Asia and across sectors including schools and government buildings.

Nokia said customers could expand the product to add other features, including predictive surveillance, machine maintenance and security threats.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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TSMC Hikes Forecast as COVID-19 Pandemic Transforms Digital Demand

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By Reuters | Updated: 15 October 2020

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing hiked its revenue outlook after logging record quarterly profit, and painted a bullish picture of demand picking up over the next two years as advanced technologies are adopted more widely.

The chip sector has been one of the rare industries benefiting from the coronavirus pandemic with more people investing in premium devices as they spend longer hours at home and as corporations seek to add more bandwidth for remote workers.

The world’s largest contract chipmaker said it now expects 2020 revenue to jump more than 30 percent, up from an earlier forecast of more than 20 percent and marking the second quarter in a row it has lifted its outlook.

It predicted fourth-quarter revenue of between $12.4 billion (roughly Rs. 91,028 crores) and $12.7 billion (roughly Rs. 93,224 crores), compared with $10.4 billion (roughly Rs. 76,341 crores) booked in the same quarter a year ago.

“COVID has accelerated the digital transformation,” Chief Executive C.C. Wei told an online earnings briefing, adding that robust demand for smartphones and other electronics as well as 5G technologies had spurred orders for high-end chips.

Wei said TSMC’s clients were currently holding inventories at higher than historical levels due to uncertainties amid the pandemic and geopolitical tensions. Even so the company expects demand to pick up in 2021 and 2022, offsetting any inventory correction.

“We don’t worry too much about it,” he said.

Wei emphasised that TSMC’s position as the industry leader in advanced chips would hold it in good stead and that it is expected to outperform global foundry growth this year.

In July-September, TSMC’s net profit surged 36 percent to a record TWD 137.3 billion (roughly Rs. 35,052 crores), well ahead of market expectations for TWD 124.9 billion (roughly Rs. 31,888 crores). Revenue handily beat the company’s own estimates, climbing 29.2 percent to $12.1 billion (roughly Rs. 88,838 crores).

TSMC’s advanced chips are used in high-end smartphones such as Apple’s newly unveiled 5G iPhone 12 as well as in telecommunications technology and artificial intelligence.

TSMC expects to see 5G-enabled devices quickly gain widespread popularity, predicting the uptake for 5G would be faster than for 4G.

“All countries and regions are preparing to build up (5G) infrastructure right now…a lot of 5G phones will be introduced and that created a higher percentage penetration rate,” Wei said.

This demand has helped TSMC offset a loss of orders from Huawei after the US imposed extensive restrictions on sales to the Chinese telecommunications giant.

A US proposal to also put Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) on the same trade blacklist has caused some of the Chinese chipmaker’s clients to preemptively switch over to its Taiwanese rival, analysts have said.

TSMC declined to comment on reports it had applied for a US licence to ship some products to Huawei. Asked about the implications of restrictions on SMIC, executives just said they were evaluating the impact on the semiconductor market.

Shares of TSMC have jumped about 36 percent so far this year, giving it a market value of $414 billion (roughly Rs. 30,39,519 crores).

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Apple’s Rare Earth Recycling on New iPhone Series Steps Up Environmental Response

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 14 October 2020

Apple said Tuesday its newest iPhones would be produced using recycled rare earth materials, as part of a stepped up environmental initiative which also has geopolitical implications.

Announced as part of a series of sustainability actions, Apple said the move builds on prior initiatives including its pledge to become “100 percent carbon neutral” in all aspects of its business.

Apple’s environment policy chief Lisa Jackson said during an online event announcing the new iPhone 12 handsets that “for the first time, we are using 100 percent recycled rare earth elements in all magnets including the camera, haptics and MagSafe (connectors).”

The announcement comes amid growing concerns about e-waste from billions of smartphones as consumers upgrade to new models, and with growing political tensions over rare earth materials needed for many electronics.

Activists have expressed concerns about the environmental impact of rare earth mining, and some of the materials come from countries cited for labor and human rights violations.

China, the scene of fatal mining accidents, has been in the spotlight for its dumping of toxic waste in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, as Beijing drives global production of rare earth elements.

Amid Sino-US trade tensions, China has threatened to cut off the supply of some elements, raising fears of shortages.

According to the US Geological Survey, China has the world’s largest rare earth deposits, with 44 million tonnes of reserves. Vietnam and Brazil have 22 million tonnes each.

Difficulties with US deposits twice forced the closure of the only US mine, in Mountain Pass, California. Refining capacity is limited outside China, according to analysts.

Apple also said it won’t be including earbuds or power adaptors with the newest iPhones, since most customers already have these. That will reduce manufacturing and make boxes lighter to ship.

Jackson said the move was part of Apple’s efforts “to cut waste and use less materials.”

Apple pledged in July to be carbon neutral across its entire business, including its manufacturing supply chain, by 2030, in a stepped up push to fight climate change.

The tech giant, which is already carbon neutral for its corporate operations, said the move would mean no climate impact for all its devices sold.

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