AWT News Update: May 25, 2016

Foxconn robot workers!

Foxconn robot workers!

REMINDER: AWT News Update will be on hiatus between 5/26 and 6/6/16, returning on June 7.

A few stories for today:

  • Apple's hopes in India are dashed by some government bureaucrats who decided that the company would not be given an exemption to a local-sourcing rule
  • Foxconn managed to reduce workforce by 60,000 people at one plant in Kunshan, China. How? It gave their jobs to robots
  • A fantastic piece by Brian Roemmele over on Medium points out that a new and improved Siri may be just about ready to debut

The text version of this podcast is located below.

Text Version

Hi, I’m Steve Sande from Apple World Today, and this is the AWT News Update for May 25, 2016. Just a heads-up — the AWT News Update will not be available between Thursday, May 26 and Monday, June 6, but will be returning on June 7.

Well, it appears that Tim Cook’s time in India last week was for naught, as a new report is claiming that the Indian government has decided to NOT grant Apple an exception to regulations that govern opening retail stores in the country. Those rules state that at least 30% of a store’s product sales must come from local sources, and at this time Apple has no production facilities in India. That, of course, will be changing as Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn is allegedly building a plant in the country, but for now the rule will be putting a hold on plans to open three stores by the end of 2017. Reuters reported that “A change in legislation last year exempted foreign retailers selling high-tech goods from the rule, which states 30 percent of the value of goods sold in the store should be made in India. However, Apple's products were not considered to be in this category, said the official, who has direct knowledge of the matter. He declined to be named as the decision by the finance ministry is not public. A finance ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.” This is just the latest in an endless parade of bureaucratic garbage that has been vexing Apple’s plans in India.

Speaking of Foxconn, it looks like the company has finally found a way to keep employees from griping about long working hours and low pay. The South China Morning Post reports that the Foxconn plant in Kunshan spent $4 billion yuan or about $610 million on robots, and as a result it has been able to reduce the plant workforce from 110,000 to 50,000. The Kunshan government’s publicity department head Xu Yulian notes that Foxconn “has tasted success in reduction of labour costs. More companies are likely to follow suit.”

Over on Medium, Brian Roemmele has posted a fascinating read about the next advances in Siri. At the present time, it looks Apple is clueless about AI given the scant progress made by Siri in the past few years. Roemmele notes that Apple has made a number of acquisitions, all of which deal with AI, and that since the death of Steve Jobs it appears to many that the company has squandered its lead in the area. Well, one of the original Siri team members — Tom Gruber — stayed with Apple after others left, and to quote Roemmele, “During most of 2016 and 2017 we will begin to see the results of this work. I call it Siri2, and I am very certain Apple will call it something else.” One of the key acquisitions Apple made was of a company called VocalIQ, which produced a self-learning dialogue API that puts real natural conversation between people and their devices. According to information published by the company in 2014, VocalIQ’s API gets smarter every time it is used, calling on past conversations to better understand future requests and react more intelligently. Apple has also made other acquisitions in the AI and voice recognition world, such as Emollient, Perception and other unknown companies. I’m personally hoping we hear more about a future, improved Siri at WWDC starting on June 13.

I’ll be back on June 7th for the next edition of the AWT News Update.

We’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with another edition of the AWT News Update.