Apple's New AirPods and iPad Air Are Priced to Move
In 2018, Apple (AAPL) launched its first phone with a $1,000-plus U.S. starting price (the iPhone XS Max), and it also launched new Macs, iPad Pros and Apple Watches that featured higher starting prices than comparable, prior-generation models.
Given all of that, it wouldn't have been shocking to see Apple's second-gen AirPods, which bring with them (among other things) improved talk times and support for hands-free Siri activation, feature a higher starting price than the $159 price that the original AirPods have carried since launching in late 2016. However, Apple maintained a $159 starting price for its second-gen AirPods, albeit while charging $199 for AirPods that come with a new wireless charging case.
Separately, a day before it unveiled its new AirPods, Apple unveiled a new iPad Air with a 10.5-inch display and $499 starting price. Simultaneously, the company discontinued its 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which launched in 2017 and had a $649 starting price.
The iPad Mini, which was last updated in 2015, also got a refresh; like its predecessor, the new Mini starts at $399. Apple's 2018 iPad Pros, which support Face ID and respectively have 11-inch and 12.9-inch displays, still carry starting prices of $799 and $999, and its standard iPad, which has a 9.7-inch display and is also inferior to the new iPad Air in a few other ways, starts at $329.
Comparing the discontinued iPad Pro with the new iPad Air, the old Pro had a better rear camera and speaker array than the new Air, and unlike the new iPad Air, it supported Apple's 120Hz ProMotion display tech. On the other hand, the new iPad Air has a faster processor (the A12 Bionic, rather than the Pro's A10X Fusion), and it maintains the same display size/resolution and a similar form factor, while also supporting Apple's TrueTone display tech. Overall, the new iPad Air feels like a better deal.
AirPods and iPads were strong points for Apple in the December quarter as it dealt with a 15% iPhone revenue drop. Thanks to strong demand for AirPods -- judging by both anecdotal evidence as well as data such as search activity, they've begun to look like a runaway hit -- as well as the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple's "wearables" revenue, which covers the Apple Watch and headphones, rose almost 50% annually last quarter. iPad revenue, bolstered by the launch of new iPad Pros as well as holiday discounts for the standard iPad, rose 17% to $6.73 billion.
Keeping a $159 starting price following a refresh makes it quite likely that AirPods shipments will grow strongly again this year. And at the least, the new iPad Air should outsell the iPad Pro that it's replacing in Apple's lineup.
Microsoft Could Steal Google's Cloud Gaming Thunder SoonMar 20, 2019 ' 3:47 PM EDT
Alphabet/Google's (GOOGL) just-announced Stadia service will deliver 1080p and 4K-resolution game streaming on PCs (via the Chrome browser), Android devices and (via the $70 Chromecast Ultra stick) TVs.
The service will support existing game controllers, keyboards and mice, but Google is also launching a Stadia Controller that uses Wi-Fi to connect directly to its cloud data centers (this should help with input lag) and features a button for activating Google Assistant-powered voice functions.
With many of the cloud gaming services that have launched to date (for example, Sony's (SNE) PlayStation Now service) having suffered from performance issues, the scale and geographic reach of Google's cloud infrastructure should be a key competitive strength for Stadia. Integration with YouTube, which hosts quite a lot of live and recorded game footage, should also help; YouTube users watching a game stream will be able to start playing the game on Stadia by clicking a button, and Stadia gamers will be able to stream a gaming session on YouTube with little trouble.
On the other hand, we know little for now about which games will be supported by the service; only two games, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and the upcoming Doom Eternal, are known to run on Stadia thus far. Google also hasn't yet announced pricing for Stadia, nor has it given a release date outside of saying that Stadia will launch later in 2019 in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
In addition, Google is recommending a connection speed of roughly 25Mbps in order to stream games at a 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. That's not a problem for the majority of U.S., Canadian and European PC and console gamers at this point, but will be an issue for a portion of them.
Arguably the biggest risk for Stadia, however, is that the service could soon get overshadowed by Microsoft's (MSFT) upcoming game-streaming service, codenamed Project xCloud. Microsoft plans to share details for xCloud, which will work on PCs, Xboxes and phones, at the E3 gaming conference in June, and will start public trials later in 2019.
Like Google, Microsoft has a giant data center infrastructure it can leverage to support its game-streaming service. But unlike Google, Microsoft has long been an important name in the PC and console gaming worlds. The company can promote xCloud to its giant Xbox installed base, while leaning on both its own game studios and its ties with major third-party Xbox game developers to make sure that xCloud supports plenty of hit titles.
For these reasons, Microsoft could end up quickly stealing a lot of Google's thunder in the cloud gaming space. That said, cloud gaming probably won't be a winner-takes-all field, and if Stadia supports a healthy number of popular titles, is priced reasonably and is effectively promoted via YouTube, it should see a measure of success.
Regardless of whether Microsoft or Google comes out on top, however, AMD (AMD) benefits. Google confirmed on Tuesday that AMD's GPUs will power Stadia (this wasn't too surprising, given their existing cloud gaming collaboration), and Microsoft, which already uses AMD's processors to power its Xboxes, is known to to be working with AMD on xCloud.