Jul 31, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica — thanks to everyone who wrote in with their score on "The Office" quiz. It seems all of us spend way too much time enjoying the show. (I knew you had good taste.)

Anyway, today's Login weighs in at a trim 1,136 words (~4 min read).

1 big thing: Apple's growth areas rely on shrinking iPhone business

Apple's new iPhone-powered credit card, Apple Card, launches next month. Photo: Apple

With its latest earnings numbers, Apple proved once again that its growing services and wearables businesses can help lead the company to record financial results even as iPhone sales fall short of prior years.

The catch: These new businesses are still tied at the hip to the iPhone.

Details: Apple is seeing its strongest growth in wearables and services, which Apple said combined are now the size of a Fortune 50 company.

  • Wearables: Growth in the unit, which includes AirPods and the Apple Watch, accelerated in the quarter to more than 50%. It's the size of a Fortune 200 company, with a quarterly revenue of $5.5 billion.
  • Services: Apple has steadily grown this business over the past few years and this past quarter revenue topped $11.5 billion, or more than one-fifth of company revenue. CEO Tim Cook confirmed on the conference call that the Apple Card credit card will launch next month, while its Arcade and Apple TV+ services are due later this year.
  • These product lines don't represent wholly independent new businesses. Rather, they are smart extensions of the iPhone franchise, and a way for Apple to derive additional revenue from a base that isn't growing.

Why it matters: This strategy is a creative way to manage through a maturing smartphone market, but Apple's business is arguably just as dependent on the iPhone as it has ever been, perhaps more so.

History lesson: Apple has been most successful when it applies its design and technical smarts to take on whole new industries.

  • Although the iPod was Mac-only in its earliest days, its real success began when it became able to connect with Windows computers and wasn't solely dependent on Apple's desktop business. (Indeed, the iPod ended up having a halo effect and helped Apple boost its market share in the computer space.)
  • So, too, with the iPhone, which was independent of the Mac.

Contrast that with Apple's current growth businesses. At least so far, the Watch, AirPods and Apple's services are highly tied to — if not entirely dependent on — Apple's hardware, particularly the iPhone.

Yes, but: Just because Apple's new businesses depend on iPhones doesn't mean they can't succeed in a time of flat or declining new sales.

  • As Cook pointed out, these businesses are building not on the last quarter's sales but on a large user base that is actively using the devices — and willing to spend.
2. Apple sought tariff waivers to keep building Mac Pro in U.S.

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

When it was first reported that Apple was seeking tariff relief for the Mac Pro, many observers mistakenly interpreted that as a sign that Apple wanted to move final assembly from the U.S. to China.

President Trump assumed as much, tweeting out that Apple wouldn't be getting tariff exemptions and if it wanted to avoid tariffs it should make the Mac Pro here.

What's happening: Well, as it turns out, Apple's request was made to do just that, as CEO Tim Cook tried to clarify on Tuesday's earnings conference call.

"We’ve been making the Mac Pro in the U.S. We want to continue to do that."
— Tim Cook

Between the lines: Apple says it basically wants to continue keeping as much manufacturing in the U.S. as makes sense, in this case doing final assembly of the high-end desktop here, while key components remain made in China.

  • That's the same setup Apple has with the previous Mac Pro, which is the company's only major hardware product assembled domestically.
  • "We’re explaining that and hope for a positive outcome," Cook said.
  • A White House representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Background: Apple announced the new Mac Pro, two years in the making, at its developer conference in June. It has yet to reveal pricing for the desktop computer, which will go on sale later this year.

The bottom line: If Apple faces component tariffs even if it makes the Mac Pro here, U.S. assembly could become economically unfeasible and prompt the company to actually shift production to China.

Watch: Axios' First Look at Apple's new Mac Pro

3. A Twitter problem in one screenshot

This tweet from writer Miles Kahn sums up Twitter's challenge in trying to improve the dialogue on its site while Trump serves as "Tweeter-in-chief."

Twitter's policy calls for allowing some political leaders' tweets to remain on the site even if they violate the company's terms of service. The company has said it may flag and limit promotion of such tweets, but has yet to take such action.

4. GrubHub CEO talks competition after latest earnings

After his company posted mixed quarterly earnings results Tuesday, GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney didn't shy away from accusing competitors of tricking customers with hidden delivery fees, during an interview with Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva.

Why it matters: A recent controversy over the driver pay policies of some companies like DoorDash highlighted the exact challenge food delivery companies face: Building a sustainable business despite high delivery costs.

  • When customers order via most other services, they find multiple charges ("delivery fee," "service fee," etc.) when they reach the final checkout steps, and these can add up to much more than the advertised delivery charge, he points out. Some services also mark up items to make up for their very low delivery fees.
  • 'The price gouging in our industry ... I'm concerned that it will dramatically slow the growth of our industry," he says.

Yes, but: GrubHub also got its share of negative headlines recently over its since-ended practice of charging restaurants for telephone food orders and setting up websites for some restaurants on its marketplace.

  • During a call with analysts, Maloney said that these orders had represented a "low single digit percentage" of GrubHub's orders, and reiterated that the company had always disclosed to restaurants its practices and always transferred website domains if requested.

GrubHub will remain competitive against its rivals, Maloney says, because as long as the company can provide restaurants with high volumes of orders, they'll be happy to subsidize some of the delivery costs.

  • This is the key to keeping its fees to consumers low, he adds.
  • GrubHub's latest push is to provide more tools for loyalty programs to restaurants on its marketplace.
  • Currently, about 35% of GrubHub orders are delivered by the company — the rest of deliveries are fulfilled by the restaurants themselves.

On potential acquisitions: "We have bought a lot of companies and the consistent rationale has been reasonable valuation," Maloney says.

  • And since his rivals' current valuations are higher than GrubHub's market cap, it's improbable we'll see the company acquire any of them in the foreseeable future, he hints.
  • As for the reverse: "We are a public company so we're for sale every day... but we are a self-sustaining business. We will be around for 50 years," Maloney says.
  • Postmates, which is working on an IPO, is also rumored to be shopping itself around.
5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Michael Zeisser, who previously headed investments for Alibaba Group, is joining the board of Seattle-based mobile classifieds app OfferUp.


  • Facebook said it is making progress on its efforts to read your mind. (Facebook)
  • Documents show Amazon's Ring sought control over statements from police agencies with whom it is working. (Gizmodo)
  • The financial outlook from chipmaker AMD fell short of expectations, sending shares lower. (MarketWatch)
  • Samsung shares fell after it reported a drop in earnings and expressed concerns about its memory business amid Korea-Japan trade tensions. (Bloomberg)
6. After you Login

Whether you are reading on your big screen, or your small screen, I hope this gives you a chuckle.

Ina Fried