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Apple ad focuses on iPhone’s most marketable feature — privacy

Posted by on Mar 14, 2019 in Apple, computing, digital media, digital rights, Facebook, Hardware, human rights, identity management, iPhone, law, Mobile, Privacy, TC, terms of service, Tim Cook, United States | 0 comments

Apple is airing a new ad spot in primetime today. Focused on privacy, the spot is visually cued, with no dialog and a simple tagline: Privacy. That’s iPhone.

In a series of humorous vignettes, the message is driven home that sometimes you just want a little privacy. The spot has only one line of text otherwise, and it’s in keeping with Apple’s messaging on privacy over the long and short term. “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”

The spot will air tonight in primetime in the U.S. and extend through March Madness. It will then air in select other countries.

You’d have to be hiding under a rock not to have noticed Apple positioning privacy as a differentiating factor between itself and other companies. Beginning a few years ago, CEO Tim Cook began taking more and more public stances on what the company felt to be your “rights” to privacy on their platform and how that differed from other companies. The undercurrent being that Apple was able to take this stance because its first-party business relies on a relatively direct relationship with customers who purchase its hardware and, increasingly, its services.

This stands in contrast to the model of other tech giants like Google or Facebook that insert an interstitial layer of monetization strategy on top of that relationship in the forms of application of personal information about you (in somewhat anonymized fashion) to sell their platform to advertisers that in turn can sell to you better.

Turning the ethical high ground into a marketing strategy is not without its pitfalls, though, as Apple has discovered recently with a (now patched) high-profile FaceTime bug that allowed people to turn your phone into a listening device, Facebook’s manipulation of App Store permissions and the revelation that there was some long overdue house cleaning needed in its Enterprise Certificate program.

I did find it interesting that the iconography of the “Private Side” spot very, very closely associates the concepts of privacy and security. They are separate, but interrelated, obviously. This spot says these are one and the same. It’s hard to enforce privacy without security, of course, but in the mind of the public I think there is very little difference between the two.

The App Store itself, of course, still hosts apps from Google and Facebook among thousands of others that use personal data of yours in one form or another. Apple’s argument is that it protects the data you give to your phone aggressively by processing on the device, collecting minimal data, disconnecting that data from the user as much as possible and giving users as transparent a control interface as possible. All true. All far, far better efforts than the competition.

Still, there is room to run, I feel, when it comes to Apple adjudicating what should be considered a societal norm when it comes to the use of personal data on its platform. If it’s going to be the absolute arbiter of what flies on the world’s most profitable application marketplace, it might as well use that power to get a little more feisty with the bigcos (and littlecos) that make their living on our data.

I mention the issues Apple has had above not as a dig, though some might be inclined to view Apple integrating privacy with marketing as boldness bordering on hubris. I, personally, think there’s still a major difference between a company that has situational loss of privacy while having a systemic dedication to privacy and, well, most of the rest of the ecosystem which exists because they operate an “invasion of privacy as a service” business.

Basically, I think stating privacy is your mission is still supportable, even if you have bugs. But attempting to ignore that you host the data platforms that thrive on it is a tasty bit of prestidigitation.

But that might be a little too verbose as a tagline.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple tells app developers to disclose or remove screen recording code

Posted by on Feb 7, 2019 in app developer, app developers, app-store, apple inc, Apps, E-Commerce, Google Play, iOS, iPhone, iTunes, mobile app, online marketplaces, operating systems, Privacy, Security, Smartphones, Software | 0 comments

Apple is telling app developers to remove or properly disclose their use of analytics code that allows them to record how a user interacts with their iPhone apps — or face removal from the app store, TechCrunch can confirm.

In an email, an Apple spokesperson said: “Protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem. Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity.”

“We have notified the developers that are in violation of these strict privacy terms and guidelines, and will take immediate action if necessary,” the spokesperson added.

It follows an investigation by TechCrunch that revealed major companies, like Expedia, Hollister and Hotels.com, were using a third-party analytics tool to record every tap and swipe inside the app. We found that none of the apps we tested asked the user for permission, and none of the companies said in their privacy policies that they were recording a user’s app activity.

Even though sensitive data is supposed to be masked, some data — like passport numbers and credit card numbers — was leaking.

Glassbox is a cross-platform analytics tool that specializes in session replay technology. It allows companies to integrate its screen recording technology into their apps to replay how a user interacts with the apps. Glassbox says it provides the technology, among many reasons, to help reduce app error rates. But the company “doesn’t enforce its customers” to mention that they use Glassbox’s screen recording tools in their privacy policies.

But Apple expressly forbids apps that covertly collect data without a user’s permission.

TechCrunch began hearing on Thursday that app developers had already been notified that their apps had fallen afoul of Apple’s rules. One app developer was told by Apple to remove code that recorded app activities, citing the company’s app store guidelines.

“Your app uses analytics software to collect and send user or device data to a third party without the user’s consent. Apps must request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity,” Apple said in the email.

Apple gave the developer less than a day to remove the code and resubmit their app or the app would be removed from the app store, the email said.

When asked if Glassbox was aware of the app store removals, a spokesperson for Glassbox said that “the communication with Apple is through our customers.”

Glassbox is also available to Android app developers. Google did not immediately comment if it would also ban the screen recording code. Google Play also expressly prohibits apps from secretly collecting device usage. “Apps must not hide or cloak tracking behavior or attempt to mislead users about such functionality,” the developer rules state. We’ll update if and when we hear back.

It’s the latest privacy debacle that has forced Apple to wade in to protect its customers after apps were caught misbehaving.

Last week, TechCrunch reported that Apple banned Facebook’s “research” app that the social media giant paid teenagers to collect all of their data.

It followed another investigation by TechCrunch that revealed Facebook misused its Apple-issued enterprise developer certificate to build and provide apps for consumers outside Apple’s App Store. Apple temporarily revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate, knocking all of the company’s internal iOS apps offline for close to a day.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple to compensate teenager who found Group FaceTime eavesdrop bug

Posted by on Feb 7, 2019 in Apps, FaceTime, iOS, iOS 12, ipad, ipad air, iPhone, operating systems, Privacy, Security, tablet computers, Technology | 0 comments

Apple has said it will compensate the teenager who first found a security bug in Group FaceTime that allowed users to eavesdrop before a call was picked up.

The bug was initially reported to Apple by 14-year-old Grant Thompson and his mother, but the family struggled getting in contact with the company before the bug was discovered elsewhere and went viral on social media.

The payout will fall under Apple’s bug bounty, which incentivizes security researchers to claim a reward for privately submitting security bugs and vulnerabilities to the company. Apple will also offer an unspecified additional gift to Thompson’s education.

“In addition to addressing the bug that was reported, our team conducted a thorough security audit of the FaceTime service and made additional updates to both the FaceTime app and server to improve security, an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch. “This includes a previously unidentified vulnerability in the Live Photos feature of FaceTime.”

“To protect customers who have not yet upgraded to the latest software, we have updated our servers to block the Live Photos feature of FaceTime for older versions of iOS and macOS,” said Apple.

Apple rolled out iOS 12.4.1 on Thursday, which Apple says “provides important security updates and is recommended for all users.” The company’s separate security advisory also credited Thompson with finding the bug.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Many popular iPhone apps secretly record your screen without asking

Posted by on Feb 6, 2019 in analyst, app-store, apple inc, Banking, iOS, iPhone, iTunes, Mobile, mobile app, mobile software, operating systems, Privacy, Security, Smartphones, terms of service, travel sites | 0 comments

Many major companies, like Air Canada, Hollister and Expedia, are recording every tap and swipe you make on their iPhone apps. In most cases you won’t even realize it. And they don’t need to ask for permission.

You can assume that most apps are collecting data on you. Some even monetize your data without your knowledge. But TechCrunch has found several popular iPhone apps, from hoteliers, travel sites, airlines, cell phone carriers, banks and financiers, that don’t ask or make it clear — if at all — that they know exactly how you’re using their apps.

Worse, even though these apps are meant to mask certain fields, some inadvertently expose sensitive data.

Apps like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hotels.com and Singapore Airlines also use Glassbox, a customer experience analytics firm, one of a handful of companies that allows developers to embed “session replay” technology into their apps. These session replays let app developers record the screen and play them back to see how its users interacted with the app to figure out if something didn’t work or if there was an error. Every tap, button push and keyboard entry is recorded — effectively screenshotted — and sent back to the app developers.

Or, as Glassbox said in a recent tweet: “Imagine if your website or mobile app could see exactly what your customers do in real time, and why they did it?”

The App Analyst, a mobile expert who writes about his analyses of popular apps on his eponymous blog, recently found Air Canada’s iPhone app wasn’t properly masking the session replays when they were sent, exposing passport numbers and credit card data in each replay session. Just weeks earlier, Air Canada said its app had a data breach, exposing 20,000 profiles.

“This gives Air Canada employees — and anyone else capable of accessing the screenshot database — to see unencrypted credit card and password information,” he told TechCrunch.

In the case of Air Canada’s app, although the fields are masked, the masking didn’t always stick (Image: The App Analyst/supplied)

We asked The App Analyst to look at a sample of apps that Glassbox had listed on its website as customers. Using Charles Proxy, a man-in-the-middle tool used to intercept the data sent from the app, the researcher could examine what data was going out of the device.

Not every app was leaking masked data; none of the apps we examined said they were recording a user’s screen — let alone sending them back to each company or directly to Glassbox’s cloud.

That could be a problem if any one of Glassbox’s customers aren’t properly masking data, he said in an email. “Since this data is often sent back to Glassbox servers I wouldn’t be shocked if they have already had instances of them capturing sensitive banking information and passwords,” he said.

The App Analyst said that while Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch sent their session replays to Glassbox, others like Expedia and Hotels.com opted to capture and send session replay data back to a server on their own domain. He said that the data was “mostly obfuscated,” but did see in some cases email addresses and postal codes. The researcher said Singapore Airlines also collected session replay data but sent it back to Glassbox’s cloud.

Without analyzing the data for each app, it’s impossible to know if an app is recording a user’s screens of how you’re using the app. We didn’t even find it in the small print of their privacy policies.

Apps that are submitted to Apple’s App Store must have a privacy policy, but none of the apps we reviewed make it clear in their policies that they record a user’s screen. Glassbox doesn’t require any special permission from Apple or from the user, so there’s no way a user would know.

Expedia’s policy makes no mention of recording your screen, nor does Hotels.com’s policy. And in Air Canada’s case, we couldn’t spot a single line in its iOS terms and conditions or privacy policy that suggests the iPhone app sends screen data back to the airline. And in Singapore Airlines’ privacy policy, there’s no mention, either.

We asked all of the companies to point us to exactly where in its privacy policies it permits each app to capture what a user does on their phone.

Only Abercombie responded, confirming that Glassbox “helps support a seamless shopping experience, enabling us to identify and address any issues customers might encounter in their digital experience.” The spokesperson pointing to Abercrombie’s privacy policy makes no mention of session replays, neither does its sister-brand Hollister’s policy.

“I think users should take an active role in how they share their data, and the first step to this is having companies be forthright in sharing how they collect their users data and who they share it with,” said The App Analyst.

When asked, Glassbox said it doesn’t enforce its customers to mention its usage in their privacy policy.

“Glassbox has a unique capability to reconstruct the mobile application view in a visual format, which is another view of analytics, Glassbox SDK can interact with our customers native app only and technically cannot break the boundary of the app,” the spokesperson said, such as when the system keyboard covers part of the native app, “Glassbox does not have access to it,” the spokesperson said.

Glassbox is one of many session replay services on the market. Appsee actively markets its “user recording” technology that lets developers “see your app through your user’s eyes,” while UXCam says it lets developers “watch recordings of your users’ sessions, including all their gestures and triggered events.” Most went under the radar until Mixpanel sparked anger for mistakenly harvesting passwords after masking safeguards failed.

It’s not an industry that’s likely to go away any time soon — companies rely on this kind of session replay data to understand why things break, which can be costly in high-revenue situations.

But for the fact that the app developers don’t publicize it just goes to show how creepy even they know it is.


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Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple restores Google’s internal iOS apps after certificate misuse punishment

Posted by on Jan 31, 2019 in app-store, Apple, Apps, Facebook, Google, Google Maps, instagram, iOS, iPhone, operating systems, Security, Smartphones, Technology | 0 comments

Apple has blocked Google from distributing its internal-only iOS apps on its corporate network after a TechCrunch investigation found the search giant abusing the certificates.

“We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” said a Google spokesperson. A spokesperson for Apple said: “We are working together with Google to help them reinstate their enterprise certificates very quickly.”

[Update: 7pm pacific: Apple has restored Google’s Enterprise Certificate so its internal apps will now function, TechCrunch has confirmed with a source after Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen noted the development. A Google spokesperson tells they “can confirm that our internal corporate apps have been restored.” Googlers had lost access to employee-only iOS versions of their pre-launch test apps like YouTube, Gmail, and Calendar as well as their food and shuttle apps as well, causing a massive loss of productivity that will surely make it more careful about abiding by Apple’s policies.]

TechCrunch reported Wednesday that Google was using an Apple-issued certificate that allows the company to create and build internal apps for its staff for one of its consumer-facing apps, called Screenwise Meter, in violation of Apple’s rules. The app was designed to collect an extensive amount of data from a person’s iPhone for research, but using the special certificate allowed the company to allow users to bypass Apple’s App Store. Google later apologized, and said that the app “should not have operated under Apple’s developer enterprise program — this was a mistake.”

It followed in the footsteps of Facebook, which we first reported earlier this week was also abusing its internal-only certificates for a research app — which the company used to pay teenagers to vacuum up their phone’s web activity.

Apple invalidating Google’s Enterprise Certificate mean its Screenwise Meter app won’t work for iPhones and nor will any other app for which the search giant relies on the certificate.

The Verge reporter earlier that many internal Google apps have also stopped working. That means many early and pre-release versions of its consumer-facing apps, like Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail and other employee-only apps, such as its transportation apps, are no longer functioning.

Facebook faced a similar rebuke after Apple stepped in. We reported that after Apple’s ban was handed down, many of Facebook’s pre-launch, test-only versions of Facebook and Instagram stopped working, as well as other employee-only apps for coordinating office collaboration, travel and seeing the company’s daily lunch schedule. Neither block affects apps that consumers download from Apple’s App Store.

Facebook has more than 35,000 employees. Google has more than 94,000 employees.

Now that Googlecand Facebook’s Certificates have been restored and their office mayhem has ceased, attention will likely turn to other abuses of the program and Apple’s power in the industry.

Josh Constine contributed reporting.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Nintendo’s Mario Kart mobile game won’t launch until the summer

Posted by on Jan 31, 2019 in Apps, Asia, Entertainment, Gaming, iPhone, Mario, Mario Kart, Nintendo, shigeru miyamoto, Smartphones, TC | 0 comments

It’s been a long year for Nintendo fans waiting on Mario Kart Tour to come to mobile and, unfortunately, more patience is required after the game’s launch was moved back to this summer.

Nintendo announced plans to bring the much-loved franchise to smartphones one year ago. It was originally slated to launch by the end of March 2019, but the Japanese games giant said today it is pushing that date back to summer 2019.

The key passage sits within Nintendo’s latest earnings report, released today, which explains that additional time is needed “to improve [the] quality of the application and expand the content offerings after launch.”

It’s frustrating but, as The Verge points out, you can refer to a famous Nintendo phrase if you are seeking comfort.

Shigeru Miyamoto, who created the Mario and Zelda franchises, once remarked that “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”

There’s plenty riding on the title — excuse the pun. Super Mario Run, the company’s first major game for the iPhone, showed its most popular IP has the potential to be a success on mobile, even though Mario required a $9.99 payment to go beyond the limited demo version. Mario Kart is the most successful Switch title to date, so it figures that it can be a huge smash on mobile if delivered in the right way.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple is rethinking international iPhone pricing as revenues slip

Posted by on Jan 29, 2019 in Apple, Hardware, iPhone | 0 comments

When Apple lowered guidance on earnings earlier this month, it cited markets like China as a major factor in its disappointing numbers. Sure enough, when earnings hit today, things didn’t look great, as iPhone revenues dipped 15 percent year over year for the quarter.

In an interview with Reuters earlier today, Tim Cook noted that the company is reassessing how it sells handsets outside of the U.S. Apple has traditionally relied on the U.S. dollar to set the price, which has led to steeper costs internationally.

“When you look at foreign currencies and then particularly those markets that weakened over the last year those (iPhone price) increases were obviously more,” the CEO said. “And so as we’ve gotten into January and assessed the macroeconomic condition in some of those markets we’ve decided to go back to more commensurate with what our local prices were a year ago in hopes of helping the sales in those areas.”

There are, of course, a lot of factors at play here. For one thing, global smartphone numbers have been on the decline for the first time since analysts began recording such figures. Handsets have gotten pretty good across the board and afforded fewer killer reasons to upgrade every two or so years.

Economic factors are also at play in a major way. That certainly goes for China, where the country’s slowed growth has led to fewer large purchases. A looming trade war between the U.S.  and China has had an impact as well, with tariffs and other factors, as companies like Huawei have managed to buck the trend in their home country.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Yep, iPhone revenue is down

Posted by on Jan 29, 2019 in Apple, Earnings, Hardware, iPhone, Mobile, Tim Cook | 0 comments

Apple’s Q1 earnings are in, and things don’t look too rosy for the iPhone. Revenue for the handset has declined 15 percent year over year for the quarter. It’s a pretty hefty drop for a device that’s been flying high for so long, but you can’t say Apple didn’t warn us. Earlier this month, Tim Cook noted that the company was lowering its guidance, thanks in no small part to smartphone figures.

In its earlier report, the company put much of the blame at the feet of the Chinese market. There are a lot of factors on that front, including slowing economic growth in the world’s largest smartphone market, and a general trend toward prolonged upgrade cycles, as users are holding onto devices for longer. That’s been a large part of the reason that smartphone sales are down nearly across the board, marking the first contraction of the category since analysts began tracking it. 

Last year’s arrival of the XS marked a less dramatic refresh than the iPhone X, but Apple also introduced a new budget handset with the XR. That device has reportedly been a disappointment, though Apple has repeatedly noted that the device has been the best selling iPhone since its October launch.

Notably, those numbers are offset somewhat by growth in other categories. The iPad grew 17 percent on the strength of new models, while Mac/Wearables and Home/Accessories each grew, at 9 and 33 percent, respectively. Services, meanwhile, saw the biggest uptick at 19 percent to $10.9 billion — an all-time high for the category.

“While it was disappointing to miss our revenue guidance, we manage Apple for the long term, and this quarter’s results demonstrate that the underlying strength of our business runs deep and wide,” Cook said in a statement. “Our active installed base of devices reached an all-time high of 1.4 billion in the first quarter, growing in each of our geographic segments. That’s a great testament to the satisfaction and loyalty of our customers, and it’s driving our Services business to new records thanks to our large and fast-growing ecosystem.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple disables group calling in FaceTime in response to eavesdropping bug

Posted by on Jan 29, 2019 in Apple, apple inc, FaceTime, iOS, iOS 10, iPhone, mobile phones, operating systems, Smartphones, spokesperson, TC | 0 comments

Apple has disabled the group calling feature within its FaceTime calling service while it works on a patch to fix a nasty bug that allows eavesdropping.

Apple’s status page shows that group calling via FaceTime is “temporarily unavailable” — that’s a stop-gap move while the company to deliver a more permanent fix to the problem this week. We were unable to set up a group call when we tried, having earlier been able to do and replicate the issue.

All being well, this fix means that users don’t need to completely disable FaceTime due to the bug, but it is understandable if some people are hesitant to switch it on again.

The vulnerability was unearthed on Monday and it is activated when a user initiates a group call but adds themselves as a participant, as we explained in our earlier post:

The bug relies on what appears to be a nasty logic screwup in FaceTime’s group call system. While we’re opting to not outline the steps here, the bug seems to trick the recipient’s phone into thinking a group call is already ongoing. A few quick taps, and FaceTime immediately trips over itself and inexplicably fires up the recipient’s microphone without them actually accepting the call.

Weirder yet: if the recipient presses the volume down button or the power button to try to silence or dismiss the call, their camera turns on as well. Though the recipient’s phone display continues showing the incoming call screen, their microphone/camera are streaming.

Apple told us and other media that it plans to issue a more permanent solution in the coming days.

“We’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week,” a spokesperson said.

It’s interesting to note that the group calling feature actually took longer than planned to arrive in iOS follow a hiccup. It was added then removed from the beta version of iOS 12 in August while it took time to roll out to all users. The feature was absent when iOS 12 shipped to all in September and, instead, it arrived with the launch of iOS 12.1 in October. Apple never provided a reason for the delay.

The bug is an embarrassing incident for Apple, which has long emphasized its focus on privacy as a business and within its products. That included a recent banner at CES which triumphantly proclaimed: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Apple’s trillion dollar market cap was always a false idol

Posted by on Jan 7, 2019 in Apple, China, economy, Finance, iPhone, market cap, TC, Tim Cook | 0 comments

Let’s face it, we love large numbers. We are obsessed with them, whether it’s Forbes list of wealthiest individuals or tech unicorns, if it’s a big number we can’t get enough. Such is the case with the somehow magical trillion dollar mark that Apple briefly reached last summer. We splashed the headlines and glorified it as though it mattered…but it didn’t.

It was just a number.

Sure it showed the tremendous value of the Apple stock, but it was a moment in time fueled by an overheated stock market, full of sound and fury, but in the end adding up to nothing. Fast forward 4 months and the company has lost more than a third of its stock value. Last week, it lost $75 billion with a B in market cap in a single day. We got a hard lesson in stock market physics — what goes up eventually must come down.

Hard lessons

In that light, the trillion dollar mark was fun, but it didn’t mean much in the end. Ultimately, Apple stock still has value. It may be make a few less billion next quarter than it predicted, but it’s still got plenty of cash on the books, and chances are it will be just fine in the end.

As long as the US-China trade war rages on and the US economy continues to cool, it’s probably not going to approach that trillion threshold again any time soon. Investor enthusiasm for tech stocks in general has waned considerably since those heady dog days of August.

Just as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or Jeff Bezos may have a few billion more or less on the books on any given day, it just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s not as though they’re going broke. Just as Apple isn’t going to shut down because it might have a bad (less good) quarter than it was projected to have.

Nobody grows forever, not even Apple. It had to cool off at some point, and if this is cooling off, 87 billion instead of 91 billion, it’s a drop-off that investors should be able to understand and live with. If it became a troubling pattern and an ice age set in, that would be another matter, but Apple is still selling product hand over fist, tens of millions of iPhones is still a lot of iPhones. Wall Street should probably take a chill pill.

Tech stock doldrums

It’s worth noting that Apple has hardly been in alone taking a huge hit on its stock price, especially tech stocks, which have been taking a beating since November on Wall Street. Want to talk a trillion dollars, how about the biggest names in tech losing a trillion (that’s with a T, folks) in value in one stretch in November. When Apple halted trading last week to announce lower than expected revenue, the stock dove even further, as it confirmed the worst fears of investors.

Worse, Chinese consumers have driven iPhone sales just as the Chinese economy has hit a massive speed bump this year. In June, Reuters reported shockingly weak growth. In November, Bloomberg reported that the Chinese economy was slowing down long before the president started a trade war. .

Apple also appears to be having more trouble selling the XR worldwide than it had projected, and fluctuating currency rates are also wreaking havoc — not to mention the trade war — but analyst Horace Dediu from Asymco sees Apple generating strong revenue from non-iPhone hardware, as the chart he shared on Twitter recently shows:

Whatever the future holds for Apple and other tech stocks, we clearly like to throw around large numbers. Yet companies don’t tend to live and die by their market cap. It’s not a metric that matters all that much to anyone, except those of us who like to marvel at the size of the biggest numbers, and then click our tongues when they inevitably fall to earth.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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