eXtensions - Sunday 4 February 2024

Sunday Notes: Apple Q1 2024; Vision Pro in Users' Hands; More Films in Production; RIP Melanie Safka

By Graham K. Rogers


Apple announced its Q1 2024 results this week. Vision Pro is now in the hands of users and comments are mainly positive: wide-ranging, with a few niggles. Many see it is a positive step even though it may be a work in progress (remember the first iPhones). Lower priced Macs are sometimes available in central Bangkok stores. If film is dead, why do manufacturers keep releasing new film types? Melanie Safka died last week.

We now have the latest information from Apple about its financial situation. The Q1 2024 figures were released this week. The stock price is dropping slightly but is still better than 12 months ago despite the efforts of Wall Street and analysts to bring bad news to the table. This week Jack Purcher (Patently Apple) reports that the often negative Ming-Chi Kuo is wringing his hands again, this time with a list of headwinds Apple is going to face with the iPhone in coming months.

You could set your clock with this analysts: every time quarterly results come round, there are the negatives. Purcher deals with the question of shipments in China by commenting that, according to Canalys (and this has been widely reported elsewhere), "Apple's Shipments were the best in Mainland China, up 6% year-over-year and gaining 8% market share."

The statement from Apple was,

"[Apple] announced financial results for its fiscal 2024 first quarter ended December 30, 2023. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $119.6 billion, up 2 percent year over year, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $2.18, up 16 percent year over year.

"Today Apple is reporting revenue growth for the December quarter fueled by iPhone sales, and an all-time revenue record in Services," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. "We are pleased to announce that our installed base of active devices has now surpassed 2.2 billion, reaching an all-time high across all products and geographic segments. And as customers begin to experience the incredible Apple Vision Pro tomorrow, we are committed as ever to the pursuit of groundbreaking innovation — in line with our values and on behalf of our customers."

"Our December quarter top-line performance combined with margin expansion drove an all-time record EPS of $2.18, up 16 percent from last year," said Luca Maestri, Apple's CFO. "During the quarter, we generated nearly $40 billion of operating cash flow, and returned almost $27 billion to our shareholders. We are confident in our future, and continue to make significant investments across our business to support our long-term growth plans."

Apple's board of directors has declared a cash dividend of $0.24 per share of the Company's common stock. The dividend is payable on February 15, 2024 to shareholders of record as of the close of business on February 12, 2024.

From other comments, Services are up and they will continue to grow as Apple increases its user-base. Wearables and iPads were down. The financial quarter was shorter by one week, but that does not really cover the drop in wearables (not just the Watch), but lower sales for the iPad are no surprise. There has been no update for a year and I, for one, am frustrated waiting for the expected M3 iPad Pro, even if it is to be more expensive as many report. The iPhone is selling well in most markets but many commentators are worried about China - they always are - forgetting the higher sales in most other areas, including the USA where it is now top of the charts, and India. Sales there have increased considerably and that is still largely an untapped market for Apple devices. The Mac is showing flat sales, but 40 years after the first Mac was released, this is a stable product. The Mac should also fare better in coming months.

5 years of Apple stock prices

I notice that not just iPads but also Macs are becoming more common in the hands of students here. This weekend I went Mac shopping in central Bangkok and had a surprise. A student I know who studies at another university and uses Apple handheld devices (and PCs supplied by the university) decided he wanted a Mac like others in the course because trying to run the necessary Excel routines on the iPad was not so easy. I empathize: I always find it much easier to create presentations on the Mac than in Keynote on the iPad; while working in spreadsheets in Numbers on the iPad has led to many pull-my-hair-out moments. Formulas are much easier to work with in Excel.

iStudio, Siam Paragon
iStudio, Floor 2 Siam Paragon

Aiming for lunch we called in at the new iStudio on floor 3 of Siam Paragon and started with the basic MacBook Air (39,990 baht), which even with the limited 256GB storage, should cover most of the needs. When an assistant was outlining the features, she mentioned that they still have some slightly older M2 Macs, with the TouchBar: 256GB for 32, 990; and 512GB for 36,990. The specifications were discussed over lunch and the decision was made to buy the 512 GB 13" M2 Mac, which is quite sensible for a student on limited funds.

iStudio, Siam Paragon
Vision Pro - Image courtesy of Apple

In the meantime, more people are becoming familiar with the Apple Vision Pro headset including local YouTuber, Spin9 with an hour-long and detailed look at the device (in Thai). If Apple invited him to San Francisco to try the device, one wonders what are the chances that, when this becomes more widely available, will Thailand would be on the list. There are plenty of wealthy people who love this. I am rather interested myself. That $3,499 comes to about 122,500 baht. Add 7% VAT and the starting price might be in the region of 131,100 baht (depending on additional taxes - as with the AppleTV).

Previously, any headsets available had been in a carefully controlled environment with Apple firmly in charge. Now that some 200,000 sets are in the public domain, we will have a better idea of the good and the bad. Some reports are rather enthusiastic and the comments suggest considerable potential for the device as long as users can confront the feeling of isolation that some have noted. Initial comments were from the usual tech sources, but I have now seen some on X from users who are expressing high levels of enthusiasm. A useful examination of a different kind is provided by iFixit whose teardown video is available on YouTube.

Apple Vision Pro Apple Vision Pro

Vision Pro - Image courtesy of Apple

There was also a report of comments from film maker, James Cameron, whose experience is described as "religious" (Tammy Rogers, iMore). He claims in Vanity Fair that he "does not bow down to the god of Apple" but was seriously impressed: "really, really blown away". Also moved by Vision Pro was Disney director, Jon Favreau (Rogers writes), although Greg Peters of Netflix who are not joining the party, thinks it's "so subscale" that it's "not relevant".

I have always wondered whether a headset would affect my use as I like to work alone. Right now I am by a window able to look outdoors, with music in the background. How would I react to the enclosed nature of the device? Some users have comments on this particular aspect and a new Apple advertisement examines how users can place the windows for work or just watching a movie.

There are a number of of useful comments online. Rob Beschizza (Boing-Boing) links to a Wall Street Journal report by Joanna Stern and has a useful quote. He adds (like me) that while VR always left him cold, he wants one of these. Jon Gruber (Daring Fireball) - in a lengthy and detailed comment on Vision Pro - cleverly borrows from the 2007 Steve Jobs iPhone introduction when he writes that he had been testing 3 new products from Apple: "a VR/AR headset with eye-tracking controls. The second is a revolutionary spatial computing productivity platform. The third is a breakthrough personal entertainment device." While he does outline some of the problems mentioned by others, such as the weight, he notes that this is a project that still needs some work, although what there is so far is of a high standard, noting that he truly believes "this is a landmark breakthrough like the 1984 Macintosh and the 2007 iPhone".

Nikon F3
Nikon F3 35mm film camera

As part of an illustration of how film photography has become, it is notable that new films are still appearing. Only a few months ago, the same company that for years has made the reliable Ilford black and white films that I use often, announced its first color film: Phoenix. Marketing it under the parent company name of Harman was wise as this does not detract from the ethos of the Ilford brand. I tried 3 rolls and had mixed results. My problems coming from what appears to be a faulty lens housing; and the difficulty I had in coming up with the right scanner settings. Harman admit that this is a work in progress and they have a sound basis for further development.

There have been several other recent film releases, including the availability of 120 (6x6) versions on Cinestill 400D and Harman's Kentmere brand also releasing its Pan 100 and Pan 400 films in 120 versions. That is good news for someone like me who prefers Medium Format photography. Although some manufacturers shy away from it, the major film producers have several choices. Lomography produce medium format cameras and film as well as 35mm (135), although the low ISO Fantôme 8 will not be available in 120 versions I was told. I still have one slightly crushed box of that in the fridge.

This week, we hear from Stephen Downling who markets the excellent KosmoFoto100 films (120 and 135) that Adox is to release a film called Color Mission Helios (its second film this year) which is billed as "a simplified colour film with only four layers of colour and very low sensitivity". They add that "hopefully we will be able to offer 35mm film and sheet film for next season" (no mention of 120, unfortunately).

Adox Color Mission Helios Lomo Fantome 8 CatLabs80

The nominal speed of this new product is IOS 3. The black and white Fantôme 8 worked fairly well for me in Bangkok where conditions are often sunny, so although my Nikon 3 will need careful setting up (3 stops?) it is worth experimenting with. Test shots online were "shot on a Leica M6 at f/2.8 and at shutter speeds of either 1/60 or 1/125." In the last couple of days, the USA company, CATLabs has announced that its IOS 80 film is also now available again. I tried this about 5 years ago and had good results. Time to try again.

Although Leica is one of the few manufacturers still making film cameras there are some smaller companies still producing these, with rumors of a Pentax that is in development which could arrive this year. Most cameras however, are used/second hand, with eBay as a major source, although caveat emptor applies. I find Japanese sources are fairly reliable. Chroma Camera produces hand-made, medium format cameras with a range of options at fairly reasonable prices. I am sorely tempted.

Last Thursday lunchtime I sat in the cafeteria at work and played some of my favorite music. Earlier in the day, an online mention of The Rolling Stones, Ruby Tuesday, reminded me of the version by Melanie Safka. It was on the album, The Four Sides of Melanie. I had first owned this album in the 1970s, but picked up a CD in the San Francisco Virgin Store the week the iPhone was announced. This album was a series of covers, including Mr Tambourine Man, each of which had a special treatment unique to the singer. Sometimes someone else does it better, like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, by Elton John.

I was shocked later that day when I scrolled through news reports to see that Melanie had died that very day (Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Guardian). Also, Alex Williams and Peter Keepnews (The New York Times) write that she was a surprise star at Woodstock and had a hit with Brand New Key (also on this album). Her cause of death is not given. She was 76. An odd coincidence that I listened to that album the same day. A later report on Medium (Stewart Mason) also celebrates Melanie and her work. Whenever I hear Melanie, the one word that I think describes her voice best is, Pathos.

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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