Aug 1, 2017

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Ina Fried

We've got a bit more than usual to cover, but cowabunga, is there a reward if you make it to the end.

So much for all those iPhone delay rumors

In the most notable part of its earnings report Tuesday, Apple predicted strong revenue growth for the current quarter. That suggests Apple sees both a strong and on-time launch for the iPhone, which typically comes to market in September.

The company forecast $49 billion to $52 billion in revenue for the quarter, which runs through the end of September. CEO Tim Cook also told CNBC that pent-up demand for the upcoming iPhone seems greater than what Apple saw ahead of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 7.

Reports and rumors "are at a different frequency and volume than we've ever had before," Cook said.

Cook had a lot more to say on several hot topics during a conference call with analysts:

  • Autonomy is the "mother of all AI projects," but not limited to vehicles, Cook said. "We do have a large project going (in autonomy) and are making a big investment."
  • Cook said he is pleased with Apple's China business, even though sales to the region were down 10% last quarter. Although sales in Greater China were down 10% from a year ago, business in mainland China was roughly flat, and actually gained 6%, adjusting for currency fluctuations. Plus, he said, iPad sales outpaced the market and the services business is growing rapidly. "We see all of those as very encouraging signs," Cook said.
  • As for China's recent crackdown on VPN apps: "We're hopeful that over time the restrictions we are seeing (will be) loosened. Innovation really requires freedom to communicate and collaborate." In the meantime, Apple's only choice is to follow the law or pull out, something Apple has no intention of doing.
Speaking of China

While we are on the subject of China, my D.C. colleague Jonathan Swan reports that President Trump is close to taking trade action against China over intellectual property theft and other issues. An announcement could come this week.

My thought bubble: Silicon Valley, which creates much of that intellectual property, might appreciate Trump taking a tougher stance than his predecessor.

Yes, but: Trade sanctions are always tricky business as targets inevitably retaliate. It's unclear what the collateral damage might be but China is both a huge market for the tech industry as well as its most significant manufacturing hub.

Cook - kinda - talks about rumors of new U.S. factories

Cook certainly expected to be asked about the "big, big, big" U.S. factories that President Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Apple was building. And he had an answer for both CNBC and Wall Street analysts but it wasn't a very direct one.

What Cook said: Cook noted that Apple believes it has a responsibility to invest in the U.S. and create jobs here, before launching into a long spiel on all the ways Apple does this, from spurring the app economy to investing in suppliers to build products here to where it locates its own employees.

"We want to do more than this," he told CNBC. "I hope that it's several plants… I don't know how many."

As for Apple's own employees, Cook hinted somewhat cryptically that more was coming on that front later this year.

What we know: Apple has a $1 billion fund to spur advanced manufacturing in the U.S. The first $200 million of that went to Corning, which makes the Gorilla Glass that covers the iPhone, the iPad, and many other smartphones and tablets. Corning is expanding a Kentucky facility as a result of Apple's investment.

Bill Joy's quest for a better battery powers ahead

Back in May we told you about Ionic Materials, a battery startup backed by Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy. A New York Times profile says the company will offer more details on its battery breakthrough on Thursday.

Facebook takes another swing at hardware

The secret is revealed: We finally know at least part of what Facebook has been building in its Building 8 Lab. Bloomberg scooped yesterday that its first big product will be a video chat device, with a standalone speaker also in the works. They could both run a Facebook assistant (like the Jarvis system that CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently showed off in his house).

Why this matters: "The new devices represent a new phase in Facebook's hardware ambitions. Though the company sells the Oculus virtual reality headset, it acquired its maker and didn't create the original product," Bloomberg notes.

History lesson: It's not Facebook's first try to extend its social network into hardware, though. The company spent years on several different projects to build its own phone. What came to market in 2013 was Facebook Home, a skin for Android that put the social network front and center, as well as HTC First, a mid-range smartphone with Facebook Home built-in. Both were pretty spectacular flops.

Hyperloop startup encouraged by second round of tests

Hyperloop One — which wants to make Elon Musk's idea of super-fast, tube-based transportation a reality — thinks its successful second round of testing (completed last month) will help prove skeptics wrong. David caught up with its co-founders for an update:

  • "We went a lot faster," co-founder and president of engineering Josh Giegel said when asked how he would sum up the significance of the tests for a relative or friend. The system reached 192 miles per hour and traveled further than it did in its first set of tests.
  • It was the first time the system had been tested with a pod (which carries people and cargo), not just the sled that carries it.
  • "So now is the dawn of commercialization of hyperloop," said Shervin Pishevar, a co-founder of the company and its executive chairman. "We had to accomplish this to show governments around the world and our partners and everyone that hyperloop is real, we've built it.

What's next: More tests to refine the system and bring it closer to deployment. It has a long way to go to reach the targeted 650 miles per hour.

Challenges remain: Some of those are regulatory, like getting local authorities on board. Others are technical, like perfecting the vacuum system that makes the concept work. Not to mention financial: It's going to cost tens of billions of dollars to deploy it at any kind of scale.

Take note

On tap: Today's earnings reports include Square and Fitbit as well as Tinder/ owner Match Group...Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on three nominees to the Federal Communications Commission, including a new term for Chairman Ajit Pai.

Trading places: Alex Randolph, a trustee for the City College of San Francisco, is joining Uber to lead public affairs for Northern California, the company confirmed to Login. The SF Examiner previously reported he had taken a job at Uber.

ICYMI: Sprint turned its first quarterly profit in three years, with the CEO promising a public update soon on merger discussion efforts...Snap is in talks to acquire Chinese selfie drone maker Zero Zero Robotics, according to The Information. (Here's a video from last year of a prototype flying in my garage)...Microsoft is launching a subscription-based option for buying its Surface tablet, aiming to better compete with Apple and Google in the education market, GeekWire reports...Stripe has quietly landed a deal to process some transactions for Amazon, according to a new Bloomberg profile.

After you Login

Check out this cow, which bears quite a resemblance to KISS rocker Gene Simmons.

Ina Fried