Weekly reading – 12th November 2022

What I wrote last week

My review of the US Bank Shopper Cash Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card

Business

($) What If Apple Made an E-Bike? On paper, the idea that Apple would change the e-bike/micromobility industry forever with its own product makes sense. The question is: how would an e-bike connect with the rest of the ecosystem? How would all devices complement one another? Apart from transporting a person from A to B, what utility would an e-bike provide?

The Russo Brothers Assemble: Inside AGBO, Their $1 Billion Studio, and When They Might Return to Marvel. Some insights into the entertainment industry

Why we’re leaving the cloud. I am not a fan of DHH, to say the least, but I appreciate his and his company’s perspective on this issue. Indeed, one of the biggest selling points of cloud providers is that you can save time and money renting their infrastructure. I am not saying that it’s impossible. But every buyer needs to do their homework and run a trial to see if that’s the case. My first-hand experience with our company’s transition to AWS is that we have a net positive, but you need to remember that most banks run on mainframes which are expensive to service in the first place.

($) Adobe Is Trying to Spend $20 Billion to Buy Back Its Swagger. I honestly don’t understand why people compared this to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. To me, because of the price tag, this deal looks similar to the $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook. Nonetheless, I think there is a real chance that regulators would block this deal given the recent developments.

Stack Overflow CEO on how it became the world’s most popular programming site. A few stats on Stack Overflow: 50 million questions & answers, 100 million monthly visitors worldwide, 50 billion visits in the last 14 years, 15,000 organizations that use StackOverflow-for-Teams

Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro lineups made possible by $450 million Apple investment in US infrastructure. There is innovation that doesn’t make headlines, yet improves lives. There is also innovation that grabs all sorts of attention, yet seems to be based on imagination than reality. Meterverse and this Emergency SOS, guess which one improves lives?

The global shipping industry is facing a new problem — too many containers. The demand for shipping dropped significantly, to the point that there are idle containers. I wonder if this is a sign that a recession is coming upon all of us.

Number One in Formula One. As much as I disliked Mercedes’ dominance in F1 the past decade, I have nothing but respect for their achievements because they were earned honestly. Toto Wolff is a magnificent team principal and his leadership lessons shared in this article are invaluable

Other stuff I find interesting

TSMC approaching 1 nm with 2D materials breakthrough. Any company or country still on chips bigger than 20nm is essentially years behind

US Traffic Safety Is Getting Worse, While Other Countries Improve. “The US underperformance in road safety is especially dramatical: 11.4 Americans per 100,000 died in crashes in 2020, a number that dwarfs countries including Spain (2.9), Israel (3.3) and New Zealand (6.3). And unlike most developed nations, US roadways have grown more deadly during the last two decades (including during the pandemic), especially for those outside of cars. Last year saw the most pedestrians killed in the US in 40 years, and deaths among those biking rose 44% from 2010 to 2020. That narrative is hogwash. For proof, look no further than Canada, an equally spacious and car-centric neighbor where the likelihood of dying in a crash is 60% lower.

The Car Safety Feature That Kills the Other Guy. Owning a truck is a waste of space & fuel and it increases risks of collision. For the lift of me, I never get used to sitting in my car next to a truck that is twice as big. “After decades of decline, U.S. road deaths flattened and then began rising about 20 years ago. Some 42,915 people died in crashes during 2021, a 16-year high. Notably, it was also 20 years ago that the American flirtation with SUVs and trucks became an all-out obsession. These vehicles first outsold cars in the U.S. in 2002; they have been gobbling up the market share ever since. SUVs and trucks may leave their occupants feeling safer, but they create grave dangers for everyone else on the street. A 2015 federal study found that an SUV is two to three times more likely to kill a pedestrian than a car is, and economist Justin Tyndall has tied the ascent of SUVs to an increase in pedestrian deaths, which hit a 40-year high in 2021. Cyclist deaths, meanwhile, rose 44 percent from 2010 to 2020.”

India has lost 70 million hectares of farmland since 2015. Climate irregularities which are likely caused by our carbon emissions severely impact India’s agriculture and food security. It could be a global theme one day in the near future

Stats

In highly polluted areas, or if plastic pollution continues to rise in the future, the whales could be eating 150m pieces a day

SEC obtained record $6.4b in monetary sanctions in past fiscal year

90% of electric vehicles sold in France in 2021 were two-wheelers

90% of new vehicles sold in Norway in 2021 were either electric or hybrid

Apple Earnings – The Resilience & Effectiveness Of Apple

Last Thursday, Apple announced its Q4 FY2022 earnings results as follows

  • Revenue: $90.15 bn vs $88.9 bn estimated. Up 8% year over year (YoY)
  • Gross Margin: 42.3% vs 42.1% estimated. Essentially flat YoY
  • iPhone revenue: $42.63 bn vs $43.21 bn estimated. Up 9.7% YoY
  • Mac revenue: $11.51 bn vs $9.36 bn estimated . Up 25.4% YoY
  • iPad revenue: $7.17 bn vs $7.94 bn estimated. Down 13.6% YoY
  • Other Products revenue: $9.65 bn vs $9.17 bn estimated. Up 9.9% YoY
  • Services revenue: $19.19 bn vs $20.1 bn estimated. Up 5% YoY
  • EPS$1.29 vs. $1.27 estimated

On the surface, it looks like a routinely great quarter for Apple, but there are a few points worth calling out.

Apple's revenue growth
Figure 1 – Apple’s revenue growth

First, Apple got hit with a 600 basis point of unfavorable foreign exchange impact due to the strength of the dollar. Had the currency exchange stayed constant, Apple’s revenue growth would likely have been two-digits and could have gone up to as much as 14%. Despite significant foreign exchange headwinds, product margin was 35%, flat compared to Q3 FY2022, and 100 basis point up year over year. This indicates Apple managed to gain efficiency and sell more expensive products. To investors who care about how a company is run, this is a good sign.

Second, the stickiness of iPhone. Since Q4 FY2020, iPhone revenue has increased year over year every quarter. In FY2022, iPhone revenue grew by 7%, on top of the monstrous 39% growth achieved in FY2021. As a billion business worth more than $200 billion, that’s no mean feat. More impressively, the numbers could have been even rosier. According to Tim Cook, the company has been facing and still faces supply chain constraints for the popular iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Had Apple had enough parts to meet the demand, they could have added a couple of more billions to their top line. In the time of unprecedented inflation and uncertain macro-economic conditions, this shows how much consumers love their iPhone and considers it more of a necessity than a luxury.

Apple business segments' revenue growth
Figure 2 – Apple business segments’ revenue growth

Next, Services grew 5% YoY and slightly missed analysts’ expectation. Adding the estimated foreign exchange impact of 600 basis points, Services would have grown by 11%, beating the consensus. Since 2018, Services has grown by double digits every year, reaching $78.1 billion in annual revenue in FY2022, up from almost $40 billion in 2018. Compared to previous year, FY2022 posed a lower annual growth, but there are levers that Apple can pull:

  • Apple recently announced price hikes on Apple Music, Apple TV+ & Apple One. The company explained that the price increase for Apple Music is due to more payouts to artists while that for Apple TV+ is fair considering the amount of content that Apple has added since the launch of the streaming service. As the flagship overarching subscription, of course, Apple One will also be more expensive. I think the justification makes sense because if Apple REALLY wanted to increase Services revenue and abuse its power, the company would raise iCloud’s prices. There are alternatives to Apple Music and TV+, but there is nothing to replace iCloud and no Apple user I know doesn’t buy additional storage. In short, this is not a move out of desperation.
  • Apple is loading more ads on the App Store. In their 2022 annual report, the company already cited advertising as one of the main drivers behind Services’ growth. Ads revenue is great and all, but too many ads will harm the user experience. Plus, there is already backlash from developers who saw online gaming ads placed next to their apps. Hence, Apple needs to be careful and considerate about pushing their advertising division
  • Apple Business Essentials. There has been no disclosure from Apple regarding this service, but I suspect it will come to the fold more in the next couple of years

Last but not least, I am really pleased with how Apple manages its costs. The gross margin profile of Products, Services and the whole company have been very stable in the last four years, despite Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, the withdrawal from Russia, the supply chain challenges and other macro-economic events. Operating expenses, including R&D and SG&A, as % of total revenue never exceeded 8% in the last four years. Based on the commentary from the executives, that should be the case for the next twelve months:

When we look at our capex, as you correctly said, I mean, we’ve been fairly stable, and I think our capital intensity is really very good. We have three major buckets in capex for the company. We have certain dedicated tools for the manufacturing facilities. We had some spend around data centers, and we have spent around our office facilities around the world. We obviously monitor all of them. There is nothing unusual that we see for the next 12 months.

When a company reaches a trillion dollar mark in valuation and generates billions of dollars in cash flow every 90 days, there is understandably a risk of being negligent on cost control. Think about yourself. Do you allow yourself more luxuries and impulsive purchases now than you did as a student and when you had lower income? From this perspective, Apple has been a disciplined and prudent steward of shareholder capital. To some extent, I don’t think you can make the same point about other big techs, such as Amazon or Facebook.

Apple's gross margin
Figure 3 – Apple’s gross margin

In short, this quarter’s results were not the most impressive that Apple has ever put out. They were just routinely and boringly good from my perspective and for the reasons I listed above. Even though there is no headline-grabbing debate-fueling stuff such as the investment in Reality Labs by Facebook, I prefer a stable and effective management that keeps their feet on the ground and produces results for shareholders.

Weekly reading – 29th October 2022

What I wrote last week

Uber plans to advertise to riders based on destination data

Business

Forget Netflix and Disney: a local streaming service is king in Indonesia. Vidio is winning because it understands the local audience and what they want from a streaming service.

ESPN, Formula 1 Extend Track With New Rights Deal. Formula 1 has seen its popularity soar high across the globe and in the US in the past two years. Some say that Netflix’s Drive To Survive elevated the sport’s standing. Others say that being one of a few sports organized during the pandemic to entertain folks at home helped too. Whatever the reason is, it’s undeniable that more American viewers know about Formula 1 than ever before. Viewership has never been this high. Next year, the country will host races in Las Vegas, Miami and Texas. There is a strong chance that an American driver, Logan Sergeant, will be on the grid too. The stars seem to be aligned well for the sport I love

($) The Fantasy of Instant Delivery Is Imploding. Some venture capitalists are poised to book millions of dollars in losses. “Along with entering too many markets, they overspent on marketing, with billboards in Times Square and European soccer and Formula One team sponsorships, former finance executives say. During Gopuff’s billion-dollar funding rounds, the co-CEOs had also sold portions of their stock to investors. (Rank-and-file Gopuffers were not allowed to sell shares unless approved by the company.) After they became multimillionaires, they purchased a Gulfstream jet and mansions five minutes from each other along the Intracoastal Waterway in Miami’s Golden Beach. Gola also bought Joe the Jeweler a home in Cherry Hill to replace the one he’d lost when his cash-for-gold business went bust.

Exclusive: YouTube’s new redesign is built to feel more like TV. Some insights into how YouTube redesigned its User Experience. It must have been a massive undertaking and I’d love to be a fly on a wall of the meetings that led to decisions being made on the new design.

Square sells access to your inbox. No one seems to know if the law cares. Read how Block (Square) collects your email and sells access to said email to hundreds of sellers. The company also goes to great length to circumvent regulations pertaining to consumer privacy.

Apple on iPhones, Chips, Privacy, Working From Home and More | WSJ Tech Live 2022. I like Joanna Stern as a journalist and a tech reviewer. She is smart, funny and knows her stuff. This interview was really good and featured some hard-hitting questions that, unfortunately yet unsurprisingly, Craig and Joz evaded. Their response to Joanna’s question regarding EU mandate on USB-C was more nuanced than what was widely reported on the news. Their opposition to the Metaverse, a concept that Facebook/Meta champions, was noteworthy. Plus, I found it good Joz’s brief explanation on why ATT was introduced. Overall, if you have 30 minutes to spare, you really should check out this interview.

White House hammers economic issues with attack on ‘junk fees’ two weeks out from Election Day. While they are at it, they should talk to AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky on the outrageous fees that hosts on his platform charge to guests.

Other stuff I find interesting

Little rules about big things. Morgan Housel is one of my favorite writers and he struck gold again. “Most financial mistakes come when you try to force things to happen faster than is required. Compounding doesn’t like when you try to use a cheat code. Risk’s greatest fuels are leverage, overconfidence, ego, and impatience. Its greatest antidote is having options, humility, and other people’s trust.”

Voyage of the Gross Even though every other option is better, most of New York’s trash still goes into a hole in the ground. A fascinating piece that describes the journey of…trash in New York

($) The World’s Biggest Source of Clean Energy Is Evaporating Fast. “The water woes of China’s iconic mega-dam are part of a global hydropower crisis that is being made worse by global warming. From California to Germany, heatwaves and droughts have shrunk rivers that feed reservoirs. Hydroelectricity output fell by 75 terrawatt-hours in Europe this year through September — more than the annual consumption of Greece — and fell 30% across China last month. In the US, generation is expected to fall to the lowest level in six years in September and October. It’s a cruel irony that’s forcing utilities to reconsider the traditional role of hydropower as a reliable and instant source of green energy. Dams are the world’s largest source of clean energy, yet extreme weather is making them less effective in the battle against climate change.

Stats

84% of maternal deaths in the US are preventable

“Only five percent of plastic waste generated by US households actually gets recycled”

One out of four US adults under 30 gets news on TikTok

The FDIC’s 2021 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households also found an estimated 4.5 percent of U.S. households were unbanked

Online spending in Southeast Asia is forecast to reach $200 billion in 2022 and $330 billion by 2025

Source: Reddit

Weekly reading – 22nd October 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple’s pricing strategy

Business

Kroger has to win over Wall Street and Washington on its Albertsons deal – here’s how it plans to do that. It’s entirely plausible that there are operational synergies between the two companies. For instance, instead of having two purchasing departments of 1000 people, the combined company may only need 750 after the acquisition. The combined forces can likely result in more bargaining power and lower item expenses. What I seriously doubt are 1/ whether the two companies can gel together culturally and 2/ whether they have the capability to pull off advertising. Cultural mismatch is among the biggest reasons why acquisitions or mergers fail. The bigger a transaction, the bigger this risk. Regarding advertising, yes, it is a high-margin business. But these two grocers hardly have experience in delivering the kind of advertising that can convince investors that splurging out $25 billion is the best use of their capital. We’ll see.

($) Even After $100 Billion, Self-Driving Cars Are Going Nowhere. “Our driverless future is starting to look so distant that even some of its most fervent believers have turned apostate. Chief among them is Anthony Levandowski, the engineer who more or less created the model for self-driving research and was, for more than a decade, the field’s biggest star. Now he’s running a startup that’s developing autonomous trucks for industrial sites, and he says that for the foreseeable future, that’s about as much complexity as any driverless vehicle will be able to handle. Self-driving companies have fallen back on shortcuts. In lieu of putting more cars on the road for longer, they run simulations inside giant data centers, add those “drives” to their total mile counts, and use them to make claims about safety. Simulations might help with some well-defined scenarios such as left turns, but they can’t manufacture edge cases.

World’s top chip equipment suppliers halt business with China. The measures sound draconian, but in order to stop China from growing its semiconductor industry, I believe this is what it takes. At least, it will bring the Asian country to the negotiation table

Shein and the Tech Cold War. If you heard about Shein but don’t know much about the company, read this!

NFL Sunday Ticket still up for grabs as Apple pushes for flexibility with game rights. As an Apple shareholder, I do think Apple is doing the right thing by holding its grounds. Apple TV+ is still a minor player in the streaming market and likely unprofitable at this point. Tacking on an NFL package that costs arms and legs wouldn’t make it a profit center overnight. Hence, there needs to be a strong business case for Apple to shell out the kind of money that NFL is demanding. If there is no win-win solution, I’d rather see Apple leave the negotiation.

Apple freezes plan to use China’s YMTC chips amid political pressure. One of the most valuable companies in the world put on hold a product plan which it has been working on for years because of geopolitical conflicts between the US and China.

($) Coming Soon on Netflix: A New Netflix. Content released in batches, instead of the binge model. Focus more on quality instead of quantity. Crackdown on password sharing. A new ads-supported tier. A significant change in culture. A new Netflix is starting to form. Bears will say that because Netflix is doing all the things it said it would never do, that’s a sign of a company in decline. Bulls will argue that the new changes will allow Netflix to compete in a hyper-competitive streaming market. Either way, the company is unlikely to regain its former valuation or the “darling of Wall Street” position that it once held

Is the Uber, Lyft and gig economy battle over workers nearing its end game? It is unreasonable to force companies to pay full-time compensation to workers who want the flexibility of the gig model. Regulators on the left love to enact rules to protect workers’ interest. The intention is great, but they need to find a common ground here. Right or wrong, the fact remains that many workers love the freedom that the gig model offers. Any new regulation needs to take that into account. Plus, additional expenses will eventually be passed onto consumers. Unlikely there is competition as the biggest players like DoorDash, Uber or Instacart will have the scale advantage over smaller companies.

Exclusive: Amazon’s attrition costs $8 billion annually according to leaked documents. And it gets worse. A damning report on employee attrition problem at Amazon. It paints a picture of a company that has serious control issues. Andy Jassy’s reign has been littered with challenges so far. Stock rout, slow growth, miscalculated planning in terms of hiring and warehouse capacity, departure of experienced veterans and leaders, and now this. I am a fan of Amazon and a shareholder myself, but this really gives me some food for thought on the outlook of the company

Source: Twitter

Other stuff I find interesting

New York seems to have a weed store on every corner. None of them are legal. A fascinating read on the unnecessarily complicated situation regarding the legality of marijuana selling and buying in New York.

Why high speed rail hasn’t caught on. The economics of high speed rail (HSR), the bumpiness of the Earth, the technical challenges of building and maintaining safe trains are the main factors why HSR is not yet popping up in many countries

Minerva Lithium uses absorbent material to change the way we extract lithium. The tech here looks very promising, given the importance of lithium in how we advance technologies and how harmful the extraction of lithium is environmentally

Stats

Almost 25% of the world’s sea bed has been mapped

75% of the Time We Spend With Our Kids in Our Lifetime Will Be Spent​By Age 12

As of Q3 2022, Apple Pay captures 44% of in-store mobile wallet transactions

How Americans spend their money
Source: Visual Capitalist

Another Superpower of Apple – Pricing Strategy

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a market in which customer preference is homogeneous. People and companies have different wants and needs. Such ​heterogeneity is a powerful force driving a company’s product and pricing strategy. A “one-size-fits-all” approach is bound to fail, but on the other hand, it’s exceedingly difficult to get the right product to market at the right price. Price a product too low and a business will leave money on the table. Price it too high and competitors will swoop in to take market share. Successful businesses are those that manage to meet diverse customer needs with different products at varied price points. Apple is among the best in the world at that.

Believe it or not, Apple has a complex portfolio of products. Every model has multiple configurations sold at different prices. For the sake of simplicity, I catalogued only the lowest price point of each model of five major product lines: iPhone, Mac, iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods. Furthermore, I included only the current models that Apple sells on its official store at Apple.com and excluded all the refurbished versions. Here is what the pricing schemes look like:

Apple's Pricing Schemes For Major Products
Figure 1 – Apple’s Pricing Schemes For Major Products

Obviously, Apple doesn’t adopt the one-size-fits-all approach. Every product line has several variations. There is an entry-level option that satisfies the basic needs of customers who do not wish to splurge a big amount on a gadget. Take iPhone SE as an example. It has Touch ID instead of the more trendy Face ID as an authentication feature. It comes with Bionic A15 instead of the latest A16 chip. There are several other compromises, but compared to iPhone 5 or even 6 a few years ago, I bet the current SE is still a much better phone. Since the iPhone SE features must already satisfy the needs of low spenders, why would Apple need to add more unwanted features and price itself out of this customer segment?

On the other side of the spectrum, the most sophisticated users have niche preferences and are willing to pay for products that can deliver accordingly. Mac Pro is a too powerful and too expensive computer if you just want to use it for Web surfing and Office 365. However, it would be a great choice for those who need a lot of computing power for their professions. Apple Watch Ultra costs more than a Mac Mini. It’s too expensive for someone like me who just wants a smartwatch for daily exercises. But for fans of extreme sports, it’s the perfect companion.

In addition, Apple has offers to the “middle class” segment that has a bit more sophisticated needs yet does not wish to pay a lot. Like myself. This pricing strategy enables Apple to appeal to more customer segments and sells more hardware. To them, the most challenging task is to get a customer to join the ecosystem. Once someone gets in, chances are that they will stay for a long time and be primed for Apple to monetize through a myriad of services.

There is also an “anchor pricing” effect stemming from having different tiers. The point is to make your main product stand out by offering lesser alternatives. Let me explain. With $599, users can have a brand new iPhone 12 with the A14 chip. However, they will be tempted to think: if I pay just $100 more, I can have a more powerful chip (A15), theoretically a couple of more hours of battery and some camera features that I may use once in a while. Some may take it further and ponder that because iPhone 14 is $100 more expensive than iPhone 13 yet it has one more GPU, Emergency SOS via satellites, crash detection and several more camera features, is it worth to go all the way? This anchoring effect is even more obvious between iPhone 14 and the Pro versions. The gap between iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro is $200, but the latter has a more advanced chip (A16), a better camera and some software features that Apple really pushes such as always-on display, Dynamic Island & Promotion Technology. I can see why users will be tempted to shell out more money for the Pro versions. In fact, there is already report on high demand for iPhone 14 Pro. I think Apple will continue to use this anchor pricing effect and bring their best updates to the Pro lineup in the future. This way, they can get a higher share of consumer wallet and maximize their top and bottom line.

But such an elaborate pricing strategy doesn’t come cheap. It requires a lot of collaboration, planning and smooth operation from the internal teams. Think of the work that the supply chain team must do to secure the needed parts. Or the planning and execution that the engineering team has to offer so that all products work as intended and carry the right appeal. I bet it’s also very challenging for the revenue management folks at Apple to analyze data and make forecasts. But hey, nothing worth having comes easy, right?

Admittedly, I don’t have any sales data on specific products. However, Apple has seen an increasingly bigger installed base, more paid subscriptions and record revenue. That goes to show that the work Apple puts in has paid dividends.

Apple's Revenue Growth
Figure 2 – Apple’s Revenue Growth
Apple's Paid Subscriptions
Figure 3 – Apple’s Paid Subscriptions

Apple Card will let users save rewards in a high-yield Savings – Apple is building a Super App in the US

Per Apple today:

Apple today announced a new Savings account for Apple Card that will allow users to save their Daily Cash and grow their rewards in a high-yield Savings account from Goldman Sachs. In the coming months, Apple Card users will be able to open the new high-yield Savings account and have their Daily Cash automatically deposited into it — with no fees, no minimum deposits, and no minimum balance requirements. Soon, users can spend, send, and save Daily Cash directly from Wallet.

Apple Card users will be able to easily set up and manage Savings directly in their Apple Card in Wallet. Once users set up their Savings account, all future Daily Cash received will be automatically deposited into it, or they can choose to continue to have it added to an Apple Cash card in Wallet. Users can change their Daily Cash destination at any time.

To expand Savings even further, users can also deposit additional funds into their Savings account through a linked bank account, or from their Apple Cash balance. Users can also withdraw funds at any time by transferring them to a linked bank account or to their Apple Cash card, with no fees.

Apple’s savings account marks the second time Apple and Goldman Sachs tag team to launch a financial product (with Apple Pay Later, Goldman Sachs’ role will be less prominent). Apple will take care of the customer experience while the iconic bank will handle the banking side. It makes perfect sense. Who is better than Apple in crafting a great user experience on devices that they manufacture? Apple also does not have any appetite in becoming a bank. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that while it’s great for consumers that banking is highly regulated, such regulatory oversight and scrutiny constitute a great deal of overhead for banks.

From Goldman Sachs’ perspective, they have ambition in growing their retail banking business. First, it’s Apple Card. Then, they got the GM portfolio and are said to be launching a T-Mobile credit card soon. Goldman Sachs has the drive and tools to handle the complex and cumbersome banking regulations. However, legendary as an investment bank as Goldman Sachs is, it will have to spend a lot of money on creating a consumer-friendly image as well as on acquiring customers.

The race to book new checking and savings accounts becomes increasingly expensive. Chase rewards new qualified customers who open a new Savings account with $300. I have seen similar offers from other financial institutions. My guess is that Goldman Sachs will have to compensate Apple for every Savings account opened through the Wallet app. The freedom that Apple mandates on the product for their customers means that it will be much more difficult for Goldman Sachs to forecast the cash flow and deposits. On the other hand, whoever opens this Savings account is less likely to close any time soon and Goldman Sachs won’t have to deal with gamers (who signs up to something just for the bonus and then leaves). If there are 10 million Apple Card users in the US, Goldman Sachs could potentially sign up thousands of Savings accounts in no time, due to this partnership.

From a consumer perspective, what are the benefits? Goldman Sachs already has a Savings product with 2.35% APY. I think this new Apple’s Savings account will have a similar yield. More importantly, it is the convenience and customer experience that will be the deciding factor. Instead of going through a bank’s complex application process, users can sign up for an Apple’s Savings account on their phone. Additionally, users can move money in and out of the account seamlessly at any time and instantly. With incumbent banks, it will take several days. We should not underestimate the impact that instant gratification has on user satisfaction.

Apple is building a Super App in the US?

Here is what Apple is currently offering:

  • Hardware: excluding very old models, AirPods and other headsets, all other Apple devices in the wild are capable of conducting transactions. And there are A LOT of them in the US. Whether it’s in stores or online, consumers can use their devices to make or receive a transaction
  • Wallet App/Apple ID: most Apple users use one Apple ID and all information is automatically updated and synchronized across devices, provided that they are connected to Internet. In other words, transactions and rewards earned from the physical Apple Card or a Macbook will show up on an iPhone without any action from a user
  • Apple Pay: arguably the most popular checkout option at counter and online on the market
  • Apple Card: an Apple-branded credit card that offers 2% cash back on everything with Apple Pay as well as 3% at Apple and a few other retailers. Users can also put their Apple purchases on installments with Apple Card. Rewards from Apple Card will be automatically turned to cash in Apple Cash that can be redeemed any time
  • Apple Pay Later: a new yet-to-launch BNPL service that will allow users to break a service into 4 installments with no interest or fees
  • Apple Cash: a service that enables Apple users to send money to and receive money from other people. Like a digital checking account
  • Apple Tap To Pay: this feature allows merchants to turn their iPhones into a payment terminal. A consumer and a merchant only need to put their iPhones close to one another and boom, the transaction is done
  • Order tracking in Wallet: starting with iOS16, Apple users can track their orders right from the Wallet app

In Super Apps, I wrote:

The term Super Apps is generally credited to Mike Lazaridi, the founder of Blackberry, who defined it as “a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience”. In laymen’s terms, a Super App is an application that offers various services on one interface. While the mix of services offered by Super Apps varies from one to another, the common denominators of these apps are 1/ they are all two-sided networks popular with both merchants and consumers and 2/ they all began their journey by being excellent in one function before branching out to others. 

It all started with Apple Pay in 2014. After almost 10 years, Apple Pay is accepted at many merchants in the country and around the world. It’s in the hands of millions of consumers who own Apple devices. Now, other pieces are in place to make Wallet and Apple devices something that consumers will use every day in “a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience”. I don’t know if the Apple executive team already had this vision a decade ago, but if they did, kudos for patience, long-term vision and execution.

Weekly reading – 8th October 2022

What I wrote last week

Take-aways from CFPB’s report on Buy Now Pay Later

Business

($) Apple’s Tech Supply Chain Shows Difficulty of Dumping China. A good piece on how dependent American companies are on China. Case in point, it is estimated that it would take Apple 8 years to move 10% of the production capacity out of the country.

The Legacy of Jack Welch’s Managerial Capitalism. A brutal indictment of Jack Welch and his managerial practices. I often heard people quote Jack on many things business-related. Hence, it’s refreshing to have an opposing view.

Elon Musk’s Texts Shatter the Myth of the Tech Genius. “The texts also cast a harsh light on the investment tactics of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest. There’s Calacanis’s overeager angel-investing pitches, and then you have the more chill tactics of people like Andreessen, who in a tossed-off Twitter DM offered Musk “$250M with no additional work required.” “Thanks!” Musk responded. In a separate exchange, Musk asks Ellison if he’d like to invest in taking Twitter private. “Yes, of course,” Ellison replies. “A billion … or whatever you recommend.” Easy enough. For this crew, the early success of their past companies or careers is usually prologue, and their skills will, of course, transfer to any area they choose to conquer (including magically solving free speech). But what they are actually doing is winging it.”

($) ‘I Am Energy’: Inside the Bang Billionaire’s Reeling Empire. This CEO would have more success if he hadn’t let his success get into his head

Embedded Finance: What It Takes to Prosper in the New Value Chain. An excellent piece by Bain on Embedded Finance

It’s Time to Start Worrying About Peacock. This is another example of analyzing data with context. Growing a subscriber base by 2 million users seems great, till one goes through what NBC had to do in the last few months to get that growth. As it turns out, there is a lot more going on that just that absolute number.

A very solid overview of financial statements and how to read them by PwC

Other stuff I find interesting

Can industrial tourism help revitalize Japan’s manufacturing regions? I, for one, would love to travel to Japan just to see how things are done. Like matcha, wasabi, Japanese swords, etc. Those long-standing craftsmanships are just beautiful.

Study reports first evidence of social relationships between chimpanzees, gorillas. Enhanced foraging opportunities, not survival from predators, are the bigger reason why chimpanzees and gorillas bond socially, according to the research. I have nothing but deep respect for researchers who spend years working on something that ordinary people like me rarely care about. To advance our science and the understanding of the world.

Coding in a war zone: Ukraine’s tech industry adapts to a new normal. A fascinating on how tech companies and workers prepared well in advance for an invasion and reacted to a new reality when Russian troops rushed in. I would be so unsettled if my employer, on my first day at work, handed me a package in case wars happened.

Stats

Apple Music has 100 million songs

Plant-based dairy is a $2.6 billion category

Source: Senator Elizabeth Warren
Source: Gallup

Weekly reading – 24th September 2022

Business

The small town that saved its only grocery store — by buying it. A fascinating look into grocery stores in rural areas and the monumental challenges that these stores have to face.

Why Toyota – the world’s largest automaker – isn’t all-in on electric vehicles. In my opinion, given the lack of infrastructure and adoption of electric vehicles at the moment, prudence by Toyota totally makes sense. Their conservative stance doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t invest when the right time comes. Of course, Toyota’s bet could put them on the back foot, but who is to say that aggressive investments by Toyota’s competitors are without risks and totally justified? Some other manufacturers vowed to have all EVs in 10 years, but these vows aren’t binding in any sense. As a result, what matters to shareholders is what is best for the business, not meaningless promises. If being prudent benefits shareholders, Toyota’s management should stick to their guns.

Siting bank branches. An interesting post on bank branches. To be honest, as someone who works in the banking industry, I learned something new.

($) Professor Behind $12 Billion Empire Fuels China’s Tech Rise. “Li was among the first Chinese to study in the US before returning to teach in Hong Kong’s pre-eminent technology university. From there, he’s groomed a generation of entrepreneurs and set up an incubation academy, funding or nurturing promising players in robotics and artificial intelligence valued at almost $12 billion.

Made on YouTube: supporting the next wave of creative entrepreneurs. YouTube attracts digital creators with new initiatives, including a revenue-share scheme and more access to a music catalog to create long-form videos.

dunnhumby Retailer Preference Index: Special Inflation Edition 2022. This RPI score measures how well retailers meet consumer needs and strengthen the emotional bond with shoppers. My favorite place to shop, Aldi, is the 2nd best retailer (I wrote about Aldi before), while Trader’s Joe and Lidl follow closely behind. If I were among the executives at Walmart, I would not be pleased when reading this report. Walmart prides itself at a low price retailer, but it came in at 16th and 17th place in this ranking. It’s worth noting that the bond forged during a difficult time like right now should last for a long time.

($) The Sneaky Genius of Apple’s AirPods Empire. “Apple doesn’t disclose sales of its headphones—its quarterly filings lump AirPods in with its watches, home speakers, and other accessories—but outside analysts say it sold 120 million or so pairs in 2021. IDC and Bloomberg Intelligence estimates suggest that AirPods account for roughly half of sales of what Apple calls “Wearables, Home and Accessories,” its fastest- growing line of business. From 2016 to 2021, sales in this category rose by 245%, to $38 billion. Piper Sandler Cos., the investment bank, estimates that 3 in 4 US teens own AirPods. Apple has set the standard for wireless headphones and turned a free pack-in accessory into a $200 must-buy. Of course, AirPods aren’t really a standalone product. They’re an extension of Cook’s larger project: a mutually dependent ecosystem of hardware, software, and services that keeps customers spending more all the time“.

Other stuff I found interesting

Guide to F1. A cool website that will ease beginners into the world of F1 with an overview of the sport’s history, cheat sheet and explanations on key terminologies.

We Spoke With the Last Person Standing in the Floppy Disk Business. The world is such a fascination because of people like him.

I enjoy John Gruber’s writing, especially when it comes to Apple. His latest review on iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro is masterful.

How Europe Stumbled Into an Energy Catastrophe. “They’re burning coal like they never have in Germany. So — climate what? I mean, does Germany actually care about climate change? If it cared about climate change, I guess Germans would all shiver instead of burning coal. Climate change is going to happen over multiple decades in a century. The war is here. The war is before us. There’s no such thing as the unicorn buffet where we have no trade-offs and every decision is a good one. It’s unthinkable that Germany would still be debating whether they should keep the nuclear power plants on. It’s unthinkable that Germany would be debating whether or not to go turn back on the ones they just turned off. And we keep saying, How much pain do you need to suffer before you reacquaint yourself with reality?

Stats

U.S. retail sales expected to grow 7.1%* this holiday season

Transactions on Zelle exceeded the 5-billion mark

Visa Tap-to-Pay Hits 1 Billion Transit Transactions

Amazon Prime averaged 13 million viewers for its debut live stream of “Thursday Night Football,” 

Source: Bloomberg

Weekly reading – 10th September 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple is gaining share in advertising; Disney is contemplating an Amazon Prime like subscription

Business

The optimal amount of fraud is non-zero. A great post on fraud as an unavoidable risk of doing business

How Capital One Became A Leading Digital Bank. Some folks say that Capital One’s rise as one of the premier credit card issuers results from its robust data analytics. That may be true, but it’s still just a surface-level observation. What really drives Capital One’s growth is their investment in infrastructure & talent, as well as smart design of process to utilize such resources. In this article, you’ll see their CIO discuss this topic at length. As someone who works in the credit card industry, I admire what they have done and can really see why they are successful.

($) Amazon Is Still Trying to Digest Whole Foods. Integrating any multi-billion acquisition is always a challenge, but the task is even more daunting when the acquirer has to divert focus and resources to its own grocery effort. To that end, it’s impossible for outsiders to judge whether this move has been a success so far since Amazon doesn’t break out Whole Foods’ individual performance. Asking Amazon’s executives for their evaluation is similar to asking a barber if you need a haircut. It’s always going to be biased opinions.

The Facebook button is disappearing from websites as consumers demand better privacy. In the past, Facebook log-in button was all over the Internet. It was convenient and people weren’t aware of how Facebook did surveillance tracking over them. Now, the public knows and they don’t trust Facebook. The lack of trust leads to low usage as well as causes websites to be concerned about being collateral damage. As a consequence, websites don’t want anything to do with the then popular blue button. This is a prime example of how Facebook’s bad reputation is biting them in the behind and unfortunately for them it will not be the last as long as their business model is advertising based on surveillance tracking. “According to his company’s data, out of a sample of 10,000 sign-ins, 42.7% of users signed in with Google, 26.5% used Apple, 20.1% signed in via email and just 10.7% used Facebook.”

What’s SAP?

The Long Tail: The Internet and the Business of Niche

Other stuff I find interesting

Less is more agile. I agree with a lot of points that this article brought up. The traditional Waterfall method of delivering software had downsides which were especially exposed when software became increasingly complex. Only when technology got sufficiently sophisticated did we come up with a new methodology that is more efficient and allows us to incorporate changes faster. That’s Agile. But at the end of the day, Agile is just a tool and how useful it is depends a lot on who is using it and for what purposes. It’s NOT helpful to blindly follow what the coaches that have no knowledge of your organization’s culture or business say. It’s NOT helpful either to keep preaching the benefits of Agile while ignoring its downsides and what it demands from practitioners. What works for some won’t work for others. Just be mindful of what you sign up to.

I Worked at Capital One for Five Years. This Is How We Justified Piling Debt on Poor Customers. Consumer loan issuers do address real consumer needs. Health emergencies, family tragedy, desire to investment, etc. Sudden need for capital infusion. However, these issuers make most money from interest income, meaning that they WANT you to pay interest and not to default. That’s clearly not in line with the best interest of borrowers. Capital One, in this case, is just an example.

Bones: Why Utah’s desert is a paleontologist’s playground. “Only a very tiny percentage of species that ever existed on Earth have been fossilized,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Of those that have, only a fraction have been discovered. That’s in part due to accessibility; many fossils are likely buried so deeply that they’re unreachable. But it’s also because paleontology, as a science, remains fairly new. This particular site, now known as T2, is the confirmed resting place of a tyrannosaur, which may be the first complete adult specimen of an incredibly rare species. And the fact that it lies under 10 feet of ancient sandstone conglomerate in the Utah desert is no coincidence. Utah has been known as a paleontological treasure chest since the late 19th century. In fact, the Utah History Encyclopedia says the state boasts a “prolific fossil record that spans the entire ‘Age of Dinosaurs.’”

European cities look to phase out cars in ‘transportation revolution’. “Across the continent, urban centers are restricting cars from entering certain parts of cities as well as imposing new fees. In Paris, which holds car-free Sundays, only newer, less-polluting diesel and gasoline-powered cars can travel into “low-emission zones” across the city; by 2030, only electric or hydrogen will be able to enter the French capital at all. In Norway, where 78% of new vehicles are electric, Oslo eliminated most on-street parking spots in the city’s core. The medieval Belgian city of Ghent limits vehicles in the city center by offering free shuttles from low-priced car parks on its periphery. Drivers heading into London during business hours must pay congestion fees of $17 a day and further entry fees of $15 simply to enter “ultra-low-emission zones”; in some parts of the city, cars will soon be forbidden altogether.”

History of Labor Day

Vietnam’s Mu Cang Chai in ripe rice season a feast for the eyes. Beautiful as it is, this part of Vietnam is quite dangerous to get to. Some folks already lost their life because of treacherous roads and conditions. One of my friends nearly lost hers a few months ago. Definitely not for conservative and risk-adverse folks like myself, but I would love for the world to see my country and what we have to offer.

Stats

“Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” series drew more than 25 million viewers worldwide on its first day

China Accounts for 36% of Global Peanut Output

Apple TV+ allegedly surpasses 6% of the global market share

Source: Recurrentauto