Sep 11, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

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Today's Login is 1,096 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Apple's underwhelming iPhone event

Photo: Apple

Apple delivered exactly the iPhones everyone expected on Tuesday — and that's kind of the problem. Instead of "one more thing," Apple's event was more like none more thing.

Driving the news: Not only were there no big surprises, there were actually some disappointments, as the company didn't announce its expected new item-finder tags, nor did the Apple Watch add a widely rumored sleep-tracking feature.

Why it matters: Apple isn't alone in offering slower innovation in the smartphone market, but the company is uniquely dependent on smartphone sales for its overall business.

Apple did deliver some solid improvements to the iPhone, adding additional rear cameras to its mid-line and top-line phones (the iPhone 11 has 2, and the iPhone 11 Pro has 3), while also shaving a little bit from the entry-level price.

  • Apple isn't known for low prices, but has been known to cut them when it introduces new products that are fairly similar to their predecessors.

There were even a few features that Apple chose not to talk much about on stage, including a new U1 processor that taps ultra-wideband technology to give the phone a better sense of objects in space.

  • Apple will use this in an upcoming feature that lets customers point their iPhone at the person to whom they want to AirDrop a photo or file.
  • It could also power the rumored Tile-like object finder, if and when that appears.

Yes, but: Apple is now on year 3 of the basic iPhone 10 design, and the smartphone market is slowing globally.

The company also added a compass and always-on display to Apple Watch and improved the display on the entry-level iPad. Plus, it announced fairly attractive $4.99-per-month pricing for both Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ subscription services, even if none of the content previewed made me want to rush out to sign up.

Our thought bubble: Part of the problem is that for years Apple has gathered the world's attention at these events with the promise of at least some "wow" moments, and there really weren't any on Tuesday.

  • Some of the loudest cheers came when Apple announced that the iPhone would be getting a faster charger in the box. That's the level of incrementalism the smartphone world has reached.

Where it stands: The iPhone 11 offers a couple of nice improvements, especially if it can deliver on its promise of significantly improved battery life on the iPhone 11 Pro. But it's far from clear whether the company provided customers weighing an upgrade to a new phone with enough reasons to spend.

As we noted recently, though, Apple is doing a lot of work to make each iPhone owner both more loyal and valuable to the company by creating an array of services tied to Apple devices. Throwing in a free year of Apple TV+ with new hardware purchases should help get people in the habit of using Apple's services.

Go deeper: Axios First Look: iPhone 11 Pro

2. Western tech giants adapt to compete in India

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Western tech companies compete for shares of India's increasingly crowded market, they're confronting the challenges of a customer base largely dependent on cash payment and mobile internet access, Girish Mathrubootham writes for Axios Expert Voices.

The big picture: Internet user growth is slowing down worldwide, but it's booming in India, the world's second largest market that's often referred to as "the next billion" internet users.

The numbers that matter:

What's happening: Western tech giants, facing a consumer population with purchasing and phone usage habits substantially different from those of their existing customers, are revising their approaches, offerings and platforms to emulate local tech companies.

Go deeper: You can read more here.

3. Lyft exec: Calif. bill would upend ride-hailing

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Uber, Lyft and others are fighting hard against a California bill that would force them to classify drivers as full employees, Kia Kokalicheva reports.

What they're saying: In Lyft's case, if the bill becomes law as is, the company would have to shift to a smaller pool of full-time drivers, Lyft president John Zimmer said on Tuesday at the Deutsche Bank Technology Conference in Las Vegas.

  • "You would manage a smaller population of drivers, so you would have less on-boarding costs, less background [check] costs, and you would be able to have more control over the hours and duration that someone works for you," Zimmer said.
  • He emphasized that 91% of Lyft drivers drive less than 20 hours per week for the company, which means the company would "only get a certain type of workers" who would fit this more strictly defined job.

Between the lines: In short, Lyft is telling advocates for the bill to be careful what they wish for — the result may work out for some drivers, but it won't end well for others. Uber, Lyft, and other gig-economy companies have long responded to criticism by arguing that their workers say "flexibility" is the most important attribute of the job.

Yes, but: Zimmer said this scenario is the least likely one. Instead, he believes it's more likely that either Lyft and its peers will strike a deal with California's government over the next several months, or they will prevail in a state ballot measure challenging the bill.

What's next: The California State Assembly has already approved the bill, AB5, and late last night the Senate passed it, too. It now heads to the governor's desk.

Go deeper: A California bill could upend the gig economy

4. Uber cuts 400 workers in product, engineering

Following cuts of 300 employees from its marketing team, Uber said on Tuesday it cut 435 employees (about 8%) from its engineering and product units, Kia reports.

Why it matters: The company's stock has been on the decline since it went public in May, and it has struggled to show a clear path to profitability. So it comes as no surprise that Uber is working to slim down some of its costs.

Go deeper: Uber stock price drops after missed Q2 expectations

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • The IFA consumer electronics trade show officially ends in Berlin.

Trading Places

ICYMI

  • The state attorneys general probing Google have come up with a significant list of questions for the search giant. (Bloomberg)
  • Stripe announced a new corporate card for startups, rivaling Brex. (Bloomberg)
  • MacOS Catalina is coming in October. (TechCrunch)
  • Bill Gates offers a number of interesting reflections, including some observations on his own quirks, in this interview. (WSJ)
6. After you Login

The dates for the next 9 days are palindromes, at least the way we write the dates in the U.S.

Ina Fried