Today, I’m going to tell you why Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 7 is way ahead in the race to build the next new device, the one that comes after the smartphone as it now exists. I think that leading position means you should add Apple stock to your long-term portfolio. (And I’ll be doing that today in the 50 Stocks long-term portfolio on my JubakPicks.com (and other) sites.
But even if you’re not an investor or find technology stocks too risky for your portfolio, as a consumer you should understand the logic of where Apple is leading us.
My argument for owning Apple if you’re an investor or for caring about what Apple is doing/has done if you’re a consumer, doesn’t have anything to do with the implosion at Apple-competitor Samsung as the Korean giant pulled its Galaxy Note 7 from the market because it’s batteries kept catching fire. It’s not a timing call that says buy Apple now because the iPhone 7 has been a relative disappointment that has set up the next iPhone to be a big success. It’s not a rejoinder to the current Wall Street mantra that Apple has lost its innovative edge. And it certainly goes against the grain after Alphabet, AKA Google (GOOG,) introduced a phone, Pixel, that is clearly intended to be an iPhone killer.
No, the argument that Apple is leading the way toward the next evolution in devices, the one that will come after the smartphone, hangs on two developments:
First, the sense that everybody in the smartphone business seems to share that the only way to revive smartphone sales is to make a breakthrough in the things that the device can do.
And two, the software and hardware demands that a breakthrough in phone function will impose on the device.
Take a step back from the visions of the future narrated by any of the smartphone makers or the smartphone dependent service providers to understand what these changes add up to. The new smartphone will have a digital assistant so far improved from the current generation of Siri and her ilk as to be something new. The device will be able to anticipate requests based on its understanding of your past requests. It will be able to interact with keys in both the actual environment and with the online environment of friends and advertisers. It will be able to run intelligent, natural language searches that are way more targeted than current Google searches. And it will be able to extend the concept of a “search” to everything from mapping in general to transportation to restaurants so that the device can customize “search” results based on what it knows about you. Furthermore once you’ve done a search, you’ll be able to directly go to “order” the service.
We’re talking about something so beyond the current ad for the Pixel that shows four millennials amazed when one of their group can ask his phone for restaurant recommendations in Boulder as to be different in kind.
And at that point, I’d argue we’ve moved beyond the smartphone to some other kind of device, the next Big Thing.
Device makers know that to arrive at this future they’ve got to make break-throughs in software that pack more processing smarts at fast speeds into their devices. That’s one of the reasons for all the emphasis among smartphone makers on artificial intelligence and voice processing/recognition. Look at the acquisitions Alphabet has made in the last year to see what I mean.
But they also know in their hearts of hearts that sometime relatively soon they’re going to run into a hardware problem as they try to pack more and more computing power into their devices. The new devices have to be able to deliver their new super powers at a convenient speed that is indeed faster than many smartphones are today. Nobody is going to wait around while some future generation of Siri, which knows you like very crisp, thin-crust pizza, processes the location of the best (for you) pizza restaurant. To get these new functions and services, these devices are going to have to do a huge amount of processing and do it very fast.
In the short-run and at the moment, most device makers seem to be thinking that they can solve this problem by putting stuff in the Cloud and letting the processing occur on big computers connected to the cloud but that live at service (of one sort or the other) providers. The solutions then get sent back to the cloud and then get sent down to the individual device. If that sounds cumbersome, it is and it exposes the device to all kinds of delays in processing and transmission at several levels. You get frustrated now when your desk top computer shows you that endlessly cycling pinwheel. I think the device user on the street waiting to act on a recommendation from a handheld device or waiting to make a purchase is going to be much less willing to wait before blowing off the whole exercise. These devices have to deliver fast and almost all the time or they’ll die in the market.
Which brings me to development two. To enable this next generation of device to deliver all these functions and services it is going to have to be packed with significantly more computing power than any smartphone now on the market–with the possible exception of Apple’s iPhone 7.
The technology press has been in full-throated debate about whether the newest iPhone 7 chip, the A10 Fusion, packs as much processing power into a smartphone as Intel (INTC) has packed into its desktop and laptop computers. The consensus seems to be that, although Apple’s smartphone chips are hard to benchmark, the single-core performance of Apple’s latest generation of smartphone processors has caught up with Intel’s laptop processors. It looks like the A10 has the power and efficiency to carry the workload of a PC.
Most of the debate about the implications of this statement (and about whether or not it’s true in a meaningful way) have focused upon whether this spells the end of PCs and desktops and Intel. I think those are interesting and important questions. After all the number of smartphones shipped in 2015–at 143 billion–far exceeds the number of PC’s shipped–at 276 million. The future indeed belongs to the mobile device.
But it also belongs to a mobile device that is a huge jump from today’s smartphone. And the question there is who can get to that new device and that mobile future?
Here Apple has a huge edge in its integration of hardware and software and its control over the development of its own chip architecture. (Apple now designs its own chips internally using patents licensed from Arm Holdings (ARMH).)
Nobody that I see in my crystal ball when I look at future of the mobile device after the smartphone has that edge. Samsung is a superb chip maker but on the performance of its Android-based software on its smartphones, I have to question its ability to move into the next generation of service delivery over smartphones. Android phone-makers, with the exception of Samsung, don’t have the internal chip design teams to build their own competitors with the A10 (and the next iteration of Apple’s mobile chip family.) Intel’s mobile chip family, Atom, hasn’t been able to gain full traction in the mobile world. Qualcomm is a major player with competitive technology but smartphone companies still have an integration disadvantage against Apple.
Apple isn’t a sure bet to lead the way to this next, post-smartphone device. It isn’t being, as least visibly, as aggressive in artificial intelligence acquisitions as Alphabet. Siri has gone from being a wonder to a lagging position behind competing digital assistants from Alphabet and Amazon (AMZN). And Apple hasn’t laid out its next device strategy very clearly. (In fact I haven’t been able to find such a strategy articulated anywhere. But maybe that’s just me.)
Nonetheless, if you’ve got your crystal ball tuned to the long-term development of the device that will succeed the smartphone, it’s likely to be looking at Apple.