Posts by Aaron Pressman

  • Apple moved a lot more watches than Wall Street thought, IDC says

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 2 days ago

    Market research firm International Data Corp. reignited the debate over sales of the Apple Watch on Thursday, with a surprisingly high estimate of early buying interest. Apple (AAPL) shipped an estimated 3.6 million of the new devices in the second quarter, IDC said, about 1 million more than most Wall Street analysts had thought. Apple reported its second-quarter results on July 22 without disclosing the actual watch sales and lumping the revenue into a broad "other" category that also includes sales of iPods and other accessories. The watch suffered from mixed reviews and early supply shortages stemming from a manufacturing glitch in the device's vibrate mode motor. Initially, consumers could only buy the watches online. Apple didn't start selling the watch in its own stores until mid-June and just announced sales would expand to Best Buy (BBY) starting next month. Despite the challenges, IDC said that for the second quarter, the Apple Watch trailed only fitness tracking maker Fitbit (FIT), which shipped 4.4 million devices. Fitbit had already announced roughly that level of sales in its second-quarter report on Aug. 5. Fitbit's products -- which are generally less complicated than Apple's -- range in price from $60 to $250, well below the $350 and up price for the Apple Watch and have a more focused, if limited, range of features. Among smartwatches only, which IDC defines as devices capable of running third-party apps and so excludes Fitbit devices, Apple took two-thirds of the sales, IDC said. "Apple has clearly garnered an impressive lead in this space and its dominance is expected to continue," Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC, said in the report. "Fitbit only sells basic wearables – a category that is expected to lose share over the next few years, leaving Apple poised to become the next market leader for all wearables," Ubrani added.

  • Apple, Google and Samsung try to spark mobile payments

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 3 days ago

    The big shift to mobile payments seems to have been just around the corner for years now, but Google (GOOGL), Apple (AAPL) and Samsung (005930.KS) are bringing improvements in the next few months that could finally give a boost to smartphones at the checkout register. All three have smarter payment systems about to come out, while the major credit card companies, Visa (V), MasterCard (MA) and American Express (AXP), have added needed technical standards and incentives for retailers. And all of the players finally seem to have realized that they need to give regular consumers a better reason to pull out a phone instead of a credit card at checkout. If it finally happens, a major shift to mobile would help cut down on the widespread incidents of card theft from retailers that have become all too common. Target (TGT), Home Depot (HD), and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) were just a few of the most publicized breaches in recent years. U.S. credit card fraud totaled $7.9 billion last year, according to the Nilson Report, accounting for half of global losses even though only 21% of transactions take place in America. Mobile transactions don't expose credit card numbers, leaving nothing useful behind for hackers to steal. Samsung Pay opens for business in the U.S. on Sept. 28. Apple and Google haven't announced dates for their revised offerings, the first major update to Apple Pay and Google Wallet's transformation into Android Pay. Analysts expect both debuts within the next few months. There's been fairly minimal usage of Apple Pay and Google Wallet, despite the former having a year on the market, and the latter having been introduced in 2011. Only 1-in-50 people who own a recent Apple iPhone are using Apple Pay on a regular basis, a survey by Trustev found in March. While 1-in-5 had tried the service at least once, most dropped off or use it only occasionally. More broadly, less than 0.5% of all phones capable of making contactless mobile payments were used to do so at least once a month in 2014, according to Deloitte Touche, which predicts such usage will rise to 5% by the end of this year. The first factor that could improve the situation is a big change in how credit cards operate starting in October. That's when most U.S. retailers begin widely accepting a new, more secure form of credit cards already common in Europe, so-called EMV standard cards. The transition to EMV cards, which use an embedded computer chip to generate unique security codes for each transaction, provides the opening for more radical change. But dipping one of the new EMV cards into a state-of-the-art checkout register suddenly adds several steps and noticeable time delay to the simpler current process of paying with a swipe. That will likely make smartphone payments seem relatively quicker and more desirable. Plus, retailers hate delays at check out, which reduce their efficiency and profits, giving them an incentive to start favoring phones, as well. The EMV transition also likely will reduce much of the acceptance problem for smartphone payments. Apple Pay and Google Wallet both require special check out registers that can read wireless signals from a phone's Near Field Communication, or NFC, chip. Not many stores had them -- fewer than 1-in-20 last year. But that number is expected to rise dramatically because retailers are upgrading their checkout systems to deal with EMV cards and many are adding NFC in the process. (Small businesses, not surprisingly, will be lagging.) Samsung has another way to attack the acceptance problem that's rather clever. The Korean company incorporated into its newest phones a technology called Magnetic Secure Transmission. It generates magnetic signals that mimic the information a register gets from an old fashioned credit card swipe. That means Samsung Pay will work almost everywhere, even at the millions of registers that don't accept wireless payments.

  • Tech stock bargain hunters grab Apple, Google

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 4 days ago

    With markets careening over the past few days, the technology sector has been among the most volatile. The sector had the second-largest drop over the past month, down 11% as a group, lagging only energy stocks. But on Tuesday at midday, tech stocks were up 3%, the top snapback performance of any sector. With some stocks 20% or more off recent highs, investors have been going bargain hunting among the fallen. Some analysts say it's still too early -- they think the market could be easily spooked again on more bad news out of China -- and suggest taking a disciplined approach. The recent declines have left prices on some big names in the "blue-plate special" category, says Kristina Hooper, U.S. investment strategist at money manager Allianz Global Investors. "We probably haven't seen the end of this -- we're probably going to see more of a sell-off and certainly more volatility," she said. "But this is an opportunity to buy what had been some high-priced names." The debate over buying beaten-down tech stocks starts at the top with the two largest companies: Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL). At the opening on Monday, Apple was trading for more than $40 less than its recent peak of almost $133, which it hit a month ago. Trading at around $109 at midday Tuesday after a partial recovery, the iPhone maker is valued at just 11 times earnings, well below the S&P 500 Index average of almost 16. And that's actual GAAP profits at Apple, not the funny adjusted numbers that most tech companies issue. Apple's price-to-earnings growth ratio, or PEG, is at 0.7 -- it's typically above 1.0. The problem is China. A majority of Apple's revenue growth of late has come from sales in China and that's obviously the focus of all of the economic worries.

  • Technology stocks finish crazy day on a weak note

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 5 days ago

    (Stock prices udated at 4 p.m.)

    Technology stocks suffered from severe volatility on Monday, clawing back from huge early losses sparked by chaos in Chinese markets only to finish with still serious losses.

    The moves included some huge swings in the share prices of even the largest tech stocks, such as Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB). Apple's stock market value, for example, swung from $524 billion at the opening to over $620 billion by early afternoon and closed at $588 billion.

    Investors have been in a near-panic over the past few days, as Chinese stocks have plummeted amid signs of slower economic growth in the world's second-largest economy. Further losses there overnight helped push the entire U.S. market to massive opening losses on Monday -- the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down over 1,000 points initially -- before buyers swooped in to turn the tide.

    Some losses erased

  • Confide and other mobile apps going back to the desktop

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 8 days ago

    The disappearing-message app for business, Confide, made an unexpected announcement this week, offering users desktop software versions of the previously all-mobile service. Instead of limiting the exchange of sensitive communications to smartphones and tablets, Confide, which launched its mobile app at the beginning of 2014, now also works across Macs and Windows PCs. All of the versions offer the same basic features, allowing colleagues or friends to chat privately via text that self-erases after being read.

    Messages first appear on both the mobile app and desktop as a series of orange bars. On mobile, a user runs their finger across the screen to reveal the text. On the desktop, a user hovers their mouse over the message to reveal the entire text. In both, the text is destroyed after the message is closed.

  • How Fitbit's outsmarting Apple, at least so far

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 9 days ago

    Fitbit (FIT) became synonymous with fitness tracking by keeping it simple, but CEO James Park sees further growth for the maker of the world's most popular wearable gadgets by branching out. The company's coffers are flush after its successful $732 million initial public offering in June and Park tells Yahoo Finance that he sees opportunity in creating more options for consumers, as well as its own line of accessories to supplement those from fashion line Tory Burch. "The great thing about the IPO is we have lots of money to do exciting things," Park says in an interview. Branching out also means more marketing than Fitbit did in the past, with television commercials and even cereal boxes now within reach. Park, the Harvard dropout who co-founded the company in 2007, is in good spirits after a record-breaking second quarter. Revenue increased 253% to $400 million on sales of 4.5 million Fitbits -- as many as the company sold in the entire year of 2013. Most were the latest, and most expensive, models including the $150 Charge HR and the $250 Surge. That came as a huge surprise to Wall Street, where analysts expected only $319 million of sales and many thought Apple's (AAPL) new watch, released in April, would eviscerate the Fitbit. But while Apple didn't disclose exactly how many watches it sold, estimates indicate it lagged far behind Park's company, selling perhaps half as many of its new wearables as Fitbits sold. Now analysts are cutting forecasts for how many watches Apple will sell this year while increasing their outlook for Fitbit. Advantage of the ecosystem Obviously, consumers have a clearer grasp of their Fitbit's practical uses compared with the somewhat amorphous aims of the more multifunctional Apple watch. And even the most expensive Fitbit costs less than the watch, which starts at $350 and quickly zooms past $600. But several less obvious strengths also helped Fitbit come out ahead of Apple and more direct competitors like the Nike's Fuelband, Jawbone and Garmin -- strengths that should continue to propel the simpler device to greater sales. Fitbit had a leading 68% share of the fitness tracker market to start the year, according to NPD. First, Fitbit offers a wide array of devices with different functions, prices and designs. The strategy is much like Apple's iPod line in its heyday. An entry-level Fitbit Zip costs $60, fits in a pocket and does little more than count steps. It appeals to customers perhaps just getting interested in improving their fitness level. Meanwhile, the top end $250 Surge, which includes GPS, a heart-rate monitor and even some smartwatch-like functions, is aimed at the hardcore athlete training for a marathon.

  • Phone price wars are winding down, but consumers can still get a deal

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 11 days ago

    Mobile phone consumers have been treated to almost three years of fierce competition -- and lower costs -- but the great pricing war may be winding down. Some of the most recent moves by the big carriers have scaled back cuts and even imposed new fees. And analysts say the battle is, at the very least, on hold for now. That's not good news for consumers, but everyone remains much better off than they were just a few years ago and there are still ways to save money in the current environment, especially for Android phone users. It may feel like the mobile calling wars have been around forever, but it all actually started in 2011 when the government rejected AT&T's ( T ) bid to buy T-Mobile ( TMUS ), a combination that likely would have killed competition. T-Mobile's owner, Deutsche Telecom, then brought in maverick CEO John Legere, who started by eliminating those restrictive two-year contracts, introduced a host of price cuts and reined in other anti-consumer practices that had been in place for decades. But now it seems like the price cutting may be slowing down. AT&T recently added new and higher fees for activating and upgrading phones, T-Mobile made some...

  • No, Google's restructuring isn't about cutting taxes

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 15 days ago

    Google's ( GOOGL ) decision to restructure itself under a new holding company called Alphabet has generated a flood of theories about what the search giant is really up to, but some have reached the level of extreme wishful thinking, especially on Wall Street. Some analysts who follow Google say the changes will enable Google to avoid more taxes, bring back some of its billions trapped overseas without paying taxes or even lead to a tax inversion deal shifting its headquarters. It's pure poppycock, according to leading corporate tax experts, who say there's no tax benefit to the new structure over the existing set up. "I know there is a feeling on Wall Street that this maneuver was somehow tax motivated, but the consensus among tax professionals is just the opposite," says Bob Willens, one of the best-known corporate tax advisers on Wall Street for decades. "We do not see any tax advantage to be gained from forming a holding company." Shares of Google have gained modestly since the announcement after the market close on August 10, up 4%. That came on top of a much bigger boost over the past month of more than 15% from leaks and statements around its ...

  • Same old phone strategy may not help Samsung much

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 16 days ago

    After failing to beat competitors with beautifully crafted, premium smartphones earlier this year, Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) is back -- with more of the same. The struggling South Korean phone maker unveiled two snazzy new models on Thursday at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in New York City: the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 Edge+. But there was no sign of a change in approach that might help Samsung claw back the market share it has lost to Apple's (AAPL) iPhones at the high end and to Chinese competitors Xiaomi and Huawei at the low end. Shares of Samsung, which have lost 14% in the past three months, fell 1% on Thursday. Apple's decision last year to offer larger screens combined with the increasing quality of cheap Chinese-made phones has put a squeeze on Samsung. Still the world's top smartphone maker, Samsung saw its global market share shrink to 22% in the second quarter from 25% a year earlier, according to International Data Corp. And profits at its smartphone unit dropped 38% in the quarter. Still, other parts of the company, like semiconductor production, are booming -- an 83% increase in chip profits nearly offset the decline from phones. Samsung also made news on Thursday about its mobile payment app, Samsung Pay, announcing that the service will be available in the United States starting on Sept. 28. Although the app faces strong competition from Apple Pay and Google's (GOOGL) Android Pay, Samsung was able to convince most of the major U.S. cellphone carriers to preload the service, overcoming a major hurdle that could have crippled consumer adoption. The updated phones are certainly gorgeous. The new Galaxy S6 Edge+ has the same attractive curved glass screen as Samsung's S6 Edge released four months ago, but with even bigger dimensions. The screen is 5.7 inches measured diagonally versus the 5.1-inch screen on the earlier model. A new Galaxy Note 5 updates last year's model, which already had a 5.7-inch screen, in a lighter, thinner package. Yahoo Tech reviewer Dan Howley said he was impressed with both new models. The phones, available on Aug. 21, will go to head-to-head with Apple's iPhone 6+ and its 5.5-inch screen. Of course, Apple is expected to announce an update to the 6+ next month. Samsung virtually invented the "phablet" category of oversized phones with its Note line, now on its fifth iteration. "Each new version of the Note has been more popular than the last," Samsung Vice President Justin Denison said at Thursday's event. But Apple has succeeded by copying the larger-screen design while adding its own iOS software and iTunes media ecosystem. Samsung's phones run on Google's Android software, as do most phones from its Chinese competitors. The more promising news may actually have been the Samsung Pay launch date. Samsung has a huge technological advantage over other mobile payment apps because of LoopPay, a small Boston startup it bought in February. LoopPay's technology allows a phone to mimic the signal a typical store's credit card reader receives when a card is swiped.

  • Retailers inch ahead with app to take on Apple Pay

    Aaron Pressman at Yahoo Finance 17 days ago

    A long-delayed mobile payments service developed jointly by leading retailers including Walmart Stores (WMT), CVS (CVS) and Target (TGT) is inching ahead this week, with the start of a public trial in Columbus, Ohio. The Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX, said consumers will be able to try its mobile payments smartphone app, called CurrentC, at select stores in the Midwestern city. Meanwhile, Apple (AAPL) last month extended its competing solution, Apple Pay, to the entire United Kingdom after launching nationwide in the United States last fall. Other mobile competitors, including Google (GOOGL) and Samsung, are also targeting general availability later this year. And PayPal (PYPL), just spun off from eBay (EBAY), is expected to make a play for mobile as well. But behind the scenes, the competition is really just the latest battle in a long-running war between the major retailers and the big credit card networks, Visa (V), MasterCard (MA) and American Express (AXP). Retailers have fought in court, in Congress and now in smartphone apps to reduce the payments power -- and fees -- of the card networks. Apple and Google have been working closely with the card networks.