Halloween held tricks and treats for some companies this year.
On October 31, the so-called consortium "Rockstar" -- which
) -- filed a lawsuit against Android manufacturers including
(GOOG). That very day, Strategy Analytics also reported the Android
operating system had a whopping 81% market share in Q3 2013. In the
wake of such revelations, investors are left to wonder exactly what
strategies Apple will turn to in order to stay competitive.
During the Q&A portion of Apple's fourth quarter earnings call
last week, CEO Tim Cook indicated the company indeed has some
tricks up its sleeve, stating that "we obviously believe that we
can use our skills in building other great products that are in
categories that represent areas where we do not participate today."
One such category may be wearable tech, and specifically smart
watches. Apple has yet to confirm that it is making an iWatch,
though recent reports that
LG Display Co Ltd
(LPL) is in negotiations to supply LCD panels for such a device,
combined with Apple's recent hiring of Angela Ahrendt to lead
retail appear to give credibility to the rumors that the product
could launch in 2014. (Interestingly, former
Wall Street Journal
reporter and tech insider Jessica E.Lessin pointed out that Ahrendt
is a "watch lady," having launched a high-end watch line for
(OTCMKTS:BBRYF) while at the company.)
There's also speculation about what the future holds for Apple TV.
Though the company did release its new iMovie Theater channel in
October, and acquired Matcha.tv (whose service includes detailing
all content available online and on TV) there aren't strong signals
that TV is a key area of Apple's immediate focus.
But based on Apple's recent regulatory filing, there's a clear
focus on forward momentum: Capital spending, which was $7 billion
for the 2013 fiscal year (not including research and development
costs) is projected to reach $11 billion for the fiscal year ending
September 2014. Perhaps Apple is as focused on keeping pace with
its competitors as it is with innovation. Its acquisition activity
in the past year seems to prove the point.
Take for example, mapping, a technology with which Apple has
notoriously struggled (remember CEO Tim Cook's open letter to
consumers) despite its access to robust cloud-based data that it
should be able to harness for accuracy and leverage for innovation.
In March, Apple's focus on stepping up to the "mapping wars" became
clear when the the
Wall Street Journal
reported a $20 million purchase of WiFiSlam. According to the
company's AngelList description, its technology capabilities
include the ability to pinpoint a smartphone location "in real
time, to 2.5m accuracy using only ambient Wi-Fi signals already
present in buildings," and location-based mobile apps that provide
"step-by-step indoor navigation, product-level retail customer
engagement, and proximity-based social networking."
In July, Apple bought Locationary, a Toronto-based startup which
powers local business listings using crowdsourcing, and "Saturn,"
its platform tool, which allows participants to control data in
their own preferred format and in real time. According to
Locationary's YouTube video, Saturn "help[s] fulfill the potential
of local search and mobile commerce." Shortly after that
acquisition, news broke that Apple bought HopStop, another mapping
service which provides detailed subway, bus, train, taxi, walking,
and bike directions to users in more than 300 cities. Soon after,
it purchased Embark, a small Silicon Valley-based service whose
mapping apps also help users navigate underground transit services.
But Apple's 2013 buying spree isn't really about mapping. It's
about reclaiming its stake in innovation, and mapping has become a
significant part of the user experience. Though Apple's 2011
official introduction of Siri once earmarked its position as the
leader in artificial intelligence, it has since failed to keep
pace. Siri is now as recognized for what it can't do as for what it
can. Apple's newer Today feature, meant to rival Google Now, simply
aggregates data to give a snapshot of a user's day. By stark
contrast, Google Now uses predictive technology based on a user's
email, social media, and calendar data to add value, with features
like notification of traffic congestion and suggested routes.
But does the technology really drive a buying preference? Based on
TechCrunch reporter Michael Panzarino's opinion and the market
share divide, all signs point to yes: "Google Now can be considered
reason enough to buy an Android phone, and I don't think Apple is
blind to how good it is," writes Panzarino.
Based on Apple's October purchase of personal data aggregator Cue,
which reportedly cost anywhere from $35 million to $60 million,
Apple indeed has a big-picture plan in place -- and it has just
been set into motion.