AWT News Update: March 20, 2017

The oddly creepy Bixby logo from Samsung

The oddly creepy Bixby logo from Samsung

Today's news is seemingly all about competition:

  • Apple's possibly announcing new products tomorrow morning, as the online store and some other services are shut down from 3 AM - 8:30 AM ET. Could it be new iPads or Macs? Or just maintenance?
  • Apple's buddy SoftBank apparently yanked a $100 million investment from Essential, the new smartphone startup created by Android creator and ex-Apple employee Andy Rubin
  • Microsoft wants Mac users to switch to Surface so badly that it has created a migration tool to speed up the process
  • Siri is going to get even more competition in the AI realm, this time from Samsung's Bixby

The text version of the podcast can be viewed below. To listen to the podcast here, click the play button on the player below. Note to Apple News readers: you’ll need to visit Apple World Today in order to listen to the podcast.

Text Version

This is Steve Sande for Apple World Today, and you’re listening to the AWT News Update for March 20th, 2017, the first day of spring!

Birds may be singing on the first day of spring, but it’s the world of Apple that’s all a-twitter today. Apple’s online store will be down tomorrow morning from 3 AM until about 8:30 AM ET, so there’s a lot of speculation that a product refresh could happen tomorrow. What could it be? Perhaps the new iPad Pro models will be released without a keynote address, or maybe some Macs are getting upgraded. More likely, it’s just a major upgrade to server infrastructure at Apple as the Photo Print Products system — that’s what you use to order photo prints, calendars or books from Apple — is being upgraded at the same time.

What do you do after you create Android? You decide to start a new company that’s going to create a smartphone to compete with the iPhone. That’s what Andy Rubin — the aforementioned creator of Google’s Android operating system — is doing, and his new company Essential is in the news today. Why? Well, Japan’s telecom company SoftBank was going to provide Essential with $100 million in funding, and apparently they’ve decided to not go ahead with that deal. The $100 million investment would have put Essential’s valuation at about $1 billion. Some people have speculated that Apple is behind the loss of the investment, as the company has a very close relationship with SoftBank. Word had it that SoftBank was also going to help Essential launch the new smartphone in Japan later this year, with the phone sporting a bezel-free edge-to-edge screen larger than 5.5 inches. That sounds an awful lot like the proposed iPhone 8. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Apple “did not actively pressure SoftBank” to stop the investment. It looks more like SoftBank realized that they were rapidly heading into a potential conflict of interest.

Speaking of competition, Microsoft — which has done a great job of migrating its signature Office products to iOS and Mac — wants to get some of the switchers out there to switch back to Windows and the Microsoft Surface in particular. The company has produced a new “Mac to Surface Assistant” to ease the transfer of user files and settings from a Mac to a Surface tablet. Users select folders they want to transfer to the Surface, like photographs, music and personal documents. Once the folders are selected, users set a destination for a file archive, which is zipped and stored on an external drive. That data is then restored on the Surface. While Microsoft keeps saying that more users are switching from Macs to the Surface devices than ever before, they still decline to share sales figures for the hybrid notebook/tablet device.

It looks like Siri is going to have a bit more competition in the market as well. Samsung today revealed that it will ship “Bixby”, an AI assistant that will first appear on the upcoming Galaxy S8 later this month. So what will Bixby do? Apparently handle a lot of tasks that require touch or button input on the phone. It will use contextual awareness to even let users mix touch and voice input. Samsung says that Bixby will have “cognitive tolerance” that allows it to recognize commands with incomplete information, then prompt the user for more details. Samsung hopes to expand Bixby’s world to TVs and other appliances in the future as well. Perhaps they can add it to one of their exploding washing machines, responding to voice commands for “please don’t explode, you’re washing my shirts, Bixby”.

That’s all for today; I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with another edition of the AWT News Update.