eXtensions - Saturday 30 October 2021


Saturday Comment: Apple's Financials and Wall Street; Monterey Fallout; a Winner from Nikon; and Meta Creepy Changes

By Graham K. Rogers


This week Apple released Monterey: its latest version of macOS. Some users are experiencing problems with 3rd party hardware. Record quarterly figures were also announced although the share prices were down as Apple missed analysts' speculations and sourcing is at risk, though device demand remains high. Facebook rebrands to Meta, although that will not change the rot underneath.

Apple just announced its financial results for the fourth financial quarter of 2021. As this is the quarter before the usually high Q1, when holiday season sales are included, some expect this to be low. We have a changed world now. People are working and living in different ways, and that includes buying computers, smartphones, apps, and services. The important parts of Apple's own press release are shown here.

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2021 fourth quarter ended September 25, 2021. The Company posted a September quarter revenue record of $83.4 billion, up 29 percent year over year, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $1.24.

"This year we launched our most powerful products ever, from M1-powered Macs to an iPhone 13 lineup that is setting a new standard for performance and empowering our customers to create and connect in new ways," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. "We are infusing our values into everything we make - moving closer to our 2030 goal of being carbon neutral up and down our supply chain and across the lifecycle of our products, and ever advancing our mission to build a more equitable future."

"Our record September quarter results capped off a remarkable fiscal year of strong double-digit growth, during which we set new revenue records in all of our geographic segments and product categories in spite of continued uncertainty in the macro environment," said Luca Maestri, Apple's CFO. "The combination of our record sales performance, unmatched customer loyalty, and strength of our ecosystem drove our active installed base of devices to a new all-time high. During the September quarter, we returned over $24 billion to our shareholders, as we continue to make progress toward our goal of reaching a net cash neutral position over time."

Note that, (1) in the Q3 report, "Apple did not provide formal guidance for the sixth quarter in a row and has not since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic"; (2) the $83.4 billion in revenue is up 29 percent from the same quarter a year ago and is another record; however (3) Wall Street is dismayed because Apple failed to reach its expectations. Wall Street is marking its own homework and as Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports quarter after quarter, most of the experts never hit Apple's actual figures. This time most estimates are way above, but it is not the analysts who are wrong, it is Apple.

To be fair, a couple of the institutional analysts were reasonably close, but the rest, and most independents, were far too high, yet it is not the closest who are seen as correct, the speculation from the others is considered to be what Apple should have reached. This is like a student who rarely comes to class and only hands in half the assignments, being upset when the course grade is not an A. Needless to say on this tenuous evidence - their speculations not Apple's facts (having warned of probable supply chain problems) - Wall Street is right, Apple is wrong, and there's nothing you can do about it.

We saw increased sales of Macs which is still a growth area: work from home and the arrival of M1 Macs. With the newest chips (and more to come) this should continue. Apple has again not provided a prediction for Q1 2022, which we may expect to be higher due to holiday and end of year sales, but Wall Street is almost sure to concoct another fiction.

Apple 16 inch MacBook Pro\
16 inch MacBook Pro - Image courtesy of Apple

When I first wrote about what was then Apple's next update, the text was altered by the text editor I use from Monterrey to Monterey. I checked online and saw that Monterey was a town in Mexico, while the double-R spelling was used for the city in California. As Apple bases its macOS names on place names in the state, I fixed the spelling to show the 2 Rs and used that afterwards. I was wrong.

Looking through the PR information released last week, I saw that Apple was using the single-R spelling. I read through several references online to make sure and, sure enough, Monterey it is. I noted in a class recently, when dealing with the risks of translation when writing English, that Apple still (wrongly) writes the déployant buckle as "deployment".

QuickTime I thought I was going to solve the problem of viewing the iPad on the Mac with Monterey I currently use cable and pretend I am using the device as movie input in QuickTime. I just don't click on the red, Record button. That allows me to see the iPad screen on the Mac and share the input in an online meeting. Unfortunately, it seems that because I also use a monitor to view the materials I need, the new Screen Monitoring feature adds the iPad to the screens. I can see the Mac on the iPad, but not the iPad on the Mac. I quickly went back to the cable solution. This is still a work in progress. But there was worse with the webcam I use.

To try and improve the online experience for my students, and allow a little flexibility with a movable camera, I picked up a Logitech 525 web cam in Bangkok a while back. It was, at that time the best I could find where I was shopping. It worked well for a year or more and then the Monterey update appeared. I always check equipment before running an online class and try the camera in FaceTime as Webex restricts testing to actually starting a meeting: not the best time to find out something is wrong. When I tried the camera, there was no Logitech camera input. Only the Mac camera worked and input was intermittent when I had the Logitech camera connected. When I did try the Mac camera in a Webex meeting panel (before running the meeting itself) the screen froze until I force quit the app and removed the external camera.

I submitted Feedback to Apple, but then looked further on the web to see if anyone else was having a similar problem. A number of suggestions included reinstalling or updating drivers, but these were not being used: macOS is usually enough. One site suggested trying other apps. I had already looked at a couple, including iMovie, but none gave me any input, although the menu system recognised that the camera was attached and a reference to it also appeared in the System Report. One online source suggested Photo Booth which is not an app I use often. I was surprised to see that the input was recognised. So the camera is not broken, and some parts of macOS do recognise it: just not the ones I want.

USB-C, Thunderbolt 4 cable\
Thunderbolt 4, USB-C cable

I am apparently not alone, which is encouraging, sort of. Stephen Warwick, iMore writes that a number of users have reported USB devices have not been able to work since the update. This affect both Intel and M1 devices. Like on my Mac it seems devices may be recognized but there is no communication of data. As I suspected, this is a software problem. Killian Bell on Cult of Mac also reports on this issue and the wide range of USB problems users are experiencing

While the Logitech camera will not connect properly, as far as I can see all of the other USB-connected devices, including my Canon 9000F scanner work fine. I ran some negatives through at the end of the week, although I was slightly surprised when setting up to see that the software I use, VueScan from Hamrick Software, did not need an update. I did however, have a problem with a Bluetooth speaker. The Beolit 20 I have has worked perfectly with the AppleTV since that was updated as well as the iPhone I have. When I connected the speaker to the Mac, although it showed that it was connected, the sound only came from the Mac's speakers. Turning the speaker off a couple of times and re-pairing did nothing. Another one bites the Monterey dust.

Nikon Z9\
Nikon Z9: The first flagship model of the Z series - Image courtesy of Nikon

Nikon have just announced their new Z9 following the Z6 and Z7 and it is receiving some high praise from professionals, many of whom are as pleased with the point that Nikon apparently has a winner after a couple of years on the back foot, as they are with the camera specifications. Most comments I had seen were praising features such as shutter technology and the autofocus system, leaping ahead of the competition as Nikon used to do. Robert K. Bag, FStoppers has a link to a video (also on YouTube) in which Morten Hilmer puts the camera through its paces on the Norwegian islands of Svalbard in less than perfect weather conditions.

A Nikon technical expert went along too and filmed Hilmer down in the dirt (literally). The photographer was not only excited with the camera, which was soaked in the intermittent rain, but made it work hard. Particularly impressive is the eye-focus: holding perfect sharpness, for example, on tiny birds foraging on the shore line. B&H Photo also have an introduction to this camera with some more details on new features (including HDMI, USB-C and Ethernet) as well as two accompanying videos. The camera also has WiFi and Geotagging. With Nikon's recent reorganizations this camera may be manufactured not far from here, just north of Bangkok.

Although I am pleased with my highly rated D850, it is a couple of years old and still working perfectly, I have long-considered the potential of the mirrorless camera. The Z7, with the same sensor as the D850 came out only a few months after I bought my current DSLR. I might have considered a change then otherwise. Now I am even more interested, although the collection of F-type lenses I have means I would need an adapter to begin with and time (and the money) to build up a new collection. Even at a recommended US price of $5498 (just over 150,000 baht) this would be a move that needs careful consideration. But Nikon has my attention.

Meta logo We know now that Facebook is to rebrand into Meta, a short version of Mark Zuckerberg's idea that the company should be immersed in the meta verse and Artificial Intelligence will rule the roost. To accompany the decision and name change Facebook/Meta put out a creepy video with the CEO taking a starring role. There are few CEOs who have the ability to perform effectively in a product presentation, let alone a video. Tim Cook, wisely takes a muted approach as a corporate ring master for example, while in classes I use a video of a presentation by one Asian CEO introducing his company's Apple-killer Padfone as an example of what not to do: including the overconfident CEO warning.

Zuckerberg who is robotically creepy at the best of times, decided to wear black pants and a black t-shirt in the virtual world, despite (as Steve Colbert mentioned) having access to any clothing he could wish for. Symbolically, as he was already wearing black pants and a black t-shirt, this perhaps sends a message of "no change". The new logo is a squashed infinity symbol with the word, Meta alongside. Already many have had fun with both the icon and Meta (Feta, Beta, and worse)

Last Thursday morning when the rumor was that the company would change its name to FCBK, I put this comment on my site:

The decision by Facebook to rename to FCBK was the final straw for me. It signals that the man in total control of this Hydra has no intention of reigning in the power of the company in the face of many criticisms and revelations, Instead, the decision to expand into the metaverse - a virtual reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users - shows a rare detachment, in the face of wide-ranging concerns. I have been teaching about Facebook and other online companies, including Google which take data from users and put it to work: earning money, targeting advertising, influencing voters among other actions.

When Mark Zuckerberg has appeared before committees he expresses no real regret and his replies to questions are deflected, ignored or minimized. He (and as the major shareholder he makes the decisions) has no intention of reforming this organization. Instead he has now signalled his intent to expand further and insinuate the company into as many aspects of our personal lives as possible. I write, "our" but in a generic way as I will no longer be a part of this. I will be shutting down my Facebook account in a few hours, using that time for friends to note my other contact addresses, should they wish to stay in touch. My decision will not affect this $1.21 trillion company, but others may (and should) follow.

This week it was reported that another whistleblower (following Frances Hayden) has come forward, claiming that Facebook "knowingly allowed hate speech and illegal activity on its platforms," adding that "Facebook officials frequently declined to enforce safety rules for fear of angering Donald Trump and his allies or offsetting the company's huge growth" (Kari Paul, The Guardian).

On that Thursday evening, I deleted the account. I will not be joining Trump's new venture, Truth. Along with the whistleblowers and current pressure from politicians, there may also be forces inside Facebook that will lead to changes, although I am skeptical while Zuckerberg still holds 51% of the shares. However, Nadeem Badshah et al (Guardian) reports that Monika Bickert, Facebook's current VP of content policy, suggests that "The tech industry "needs regulation" because it should not be left to make the rules on issues including harmful online content on its own." That may either be a risky statement from an executive hopping out on a limb, or it is approved by the CEO. If the latter (see job position changes in the near future), it should not be trusted.

That article in the Guardian outlines many of the ways in which Facebook has interfered in the democratic processes of more than one country. It will face a House of Commons committee. Among those giving evidence will be Frances Haugen who recently testified before a Congressional committee. There will be changes, but I expect they will be diluted when what is needed is a breakup of the company (Instagram, WhatsApp separated) and the removal of Zuckerberg.

Interviewed in The Observer prior to giving evidence at Westminster, Haugen is critical of Zuckerberg and confirms my views on his hold over the company: he is unaccountable; adding "He has all the control. He has no oversight, and he has not demonstrated that he is willing to govern the company at the level that is necessary for public safety" (Dan Milton, Guardian). There are a number of ingredients which will push MPs amend their American counterparts (probably Europe as well) to push for some control over this data devouring behemoth. If done in a rush, it will not be done well. The prime considerations are Zuckerberg's control, monopoly (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp et al); and the algorithms that filter and present information to users.

Meta seeks to use AI and the cloud in an as-yet unformed idea in the CEO's mind, although he does seek to include Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus: a sort of virtual cloud cuckoo land. I am neither convinced by this forced change in the narrative when the company is currently under pressure from critics, nor by the lack of real efforts to tidy up the way Facebook works, with the risk to democratic elections, support for genocide, targeting of advertisements and the poor protections for younger people. If they can (and I am not wholly confident), it is time for legislators or the courts (or both) to break up this monstrosity.

Cloud cukoo land\
Cloud cuckoo land

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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