Buffett Goes Bigger on Apple Investment

The Daily Observations

The Oracle of Omaha picks up more Apple, the ups and downs of Apple in India, and the people who trained an Apple AI are kind of ticked off about it…

Berkshire Hathaway Increased Apple Investment in December-Quarter

You know how we all know that Apple is the most valuable company on the planet? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we really grok it. According to a piece from 9to5Mac, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway increased its position in Apple last quarter, buying more than three-billion-dollars worth of the company’s shares. That brought Buffett’s position in Apple to $137B. And that means Berkshire Hathaway controls 5.8% of Apple’s outstanding shares. 

$137B is less than six-percent of Apple shares outstanding. 

I know it’s a lot of money, but I don’t really grok it. 

Despite liking Apple as much as he appears to, Buffett decreased his position on a big Apple supplier. According to 9to5Mac, Berkshire Hathaway cut its TSMC investment by a vertigo-inducing 86%, “dropping from 60 million shares down to 8.29 million shares…” The firm’s shares of TSMC are said by the piece to be worth just under $618 million, which sounded like a lot of money until I heard that $137B thing.

The Ups and Downs of Apple in India

“Only 50% of iPhone Casings Made in India Meet Apple’s Quality Standards,” reads a headline from MacRumors

“50% rejection rate for iPhone casings produced in India shows scale of Apple’s challenge,” according to a headline form 9to5Mac

“Apple’s India production dream hindered by low yields and a lack of urgency,” reads one from AppleInsider

Aside from a certain cynicism, what do they all have in common? They all spring from an article in Financial Times, under the headline, “Apple’s manufacturing shift to India hits stumbling blocks.” 

As is so often the case, the news here is not the news, but the negativity. Not that the Financial Times piece was overly negative. Neither was the headline, really. “…hits stumbling blocks” is certainly not as bad as “…hits a wall,” for example. 

The Trouble With Tricky Taglines

The problem with the headlines focusing on the “50% rejection rate…” well, there are actually a couple. First — it is decidedly negative, despite the source material not being decidedly negative. Props, by the way, to Apple Must, which went with the headline, “Apple in India: Culture shock and a steep learning curve?”

The other problem with those “50% rejection rate” headlines, the Financial Times cites one unnamed source in sharing it. Here is the quote:

At a casings factory in Hosur run by Indian conglomerate Tata, one of Apple’s suppliers, just about one out of every two components coming off the production line is in good enough shape to eventually be sent to Foxconn, Apple’s assembly partner for building iPhones, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“…just about one out of every two,” it says, “according to a person familiar with the matter.” 

Well, there’s your headline. 

Again — props to Apple Must

It’s not that everything is roses and rainbows. Pulling a few less than stellar points from the Financial Times article:

  • “…a former Apple engineer briefed on the matter: ‘There just isn’t a sense of urgency.’”
  • “A person involved in Apple operations said the process of expanding to India is slow in part because of logistics, tariffs and infrastructure.”
  • Mark Zetter, president of Venture Outsource, indicates that contract manufacturers in India over-promise and under-deliver. Anyway, that was his finding five-years ago when he ran research for the Indian think-tank Gateway House.

In the same report, Jue Wang, a consultant at Bain, says it’s still early days for Apple’s manufacturing expansion in India. Comparing the process to what’s going on in China, the consultant said, “everybody acknowledges there will be different efficiency, but it is happening…” That tips us to the positive side:

  • Bain “estimates that manufacturing exports from India could more than double from $418bn in 2022 to more than $1tn in 2028…”
  • Silicon Valley big thinker Vivek Wadhwa says India’s central government is “encouraging businesses to take advantage of Apple’s need to diversify from China.” He says that has provincial governments “bending over backwards to bring industry in…” According to Wadhwa, “Apple is now getting its feet on the ground, learning what does and doesn’t work . . . Give it three years and you’ll see it scaling up.”
  • Indian conglomerate Tata wants to be a bigger player in Apple manufacturing. That includes trying to buy a formerly troubled iPhone plant from Wistron, rather than forging a 50/50 partnership with the Taiwanese company. 

Then there are stories we’ve covered here before, also highlighted in the Financial Times report. They include:

  • India’s government giving the green-light “to Apple’s Chinese component suppliers to begin operation” in India
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook saying on the Cupertino-company’s most recent earnings call that the Indian market is “hugely exciting,” that it is a “major focus” of the company, that Apple plans a retail push of its own in the country “soon,” and that he is “very bullish on India.”

But please — build your headline on the one squiffy figure from the one unidentified source. 

Google Photos Update Fixes iOS/iPadOS 16.3.1 Crashing Issue

If you’ve held off on updating your Apple gear because of the Google Photos issue, go ahead and update, then update again. I told you yesterday of Apple releasing iOS 16.3.1, iPadOS 16.3.1, and macOS 13.2.1 among others. Those three were particularly important because those three plugged a security vulnerability that was reportedly being actively exploited by bad guys. 

That should be reason enough to update, though the updates came with a bit of bad news for the iPhone and iPad — they broke the apps for Google Photos. A piece from MacRumors had people on social media (and other news sites) saying that the Google ‌Photos‌ app was crashing as soon as they tried to open it once the iOS and iPadOS updates were installed.

The question Monday was whether it was a thing Google could fix on the back-end or something that would require an update. The question was answered on Tuesday. According to a piece from iDownloadBlog:

…Google has released an emergency Google Photos update that resolves the constant crashing. The update is now live on the App Store, so anyone on iOS 16.3.1 who downloads the app new won’t ever see the crashing.

So go ahead and update, then update again.

Real Readers Want Apple to Stop Using Their Voices to Train AI Narrators

You know those audiobooks narrated by AI that Apple’s offering through Apple Books? They may have gotten the company in a bit of hot water. According to a piece from AppleInsider:

Customers of Spotify’s audiobook narration firm say that they were not adequately informed of a contract clause that they agreed to, that ultimately allowed Apple to use their voices in its AI training.

Wait. What? You say “customers” and “audiobook” and I assume you mean the people buying them. This gets a tiny bit confusing, but stick with. There is a company called Findaway that, AppleInsider describes as “effectively a self-publishing audio company that is owned by Spotify, where authors pay to have audiobooks produced.” The piece cites a Wired article that says “VoiceOver artists and authors working with (…) Findaway have complained about Apple using them to train their own AI replacements.”

Apparently, Apple signed a deal with Findaway that allowed Apple to use titles published by Findaway to train Apple’s AI narrators. While the human narrators employed by Findaway apparently signed away those rights, they say they “were not adequately informed of a contract clause” that opened the door to the AI training.

How “not adequately informed?” So “not adequately informed” that AppleInsider says it’s not even clear when the clause was added. 

Not surprisingly, this has led to union trouble — specifically the audiobook division of SAG-AFTRA. The union says it is “still working with Findaway toward a solution that recognizes the union’s concerns.” For now, at least, the unintended training has come to a halt. “Findaway and Apple have reportedly agreed to immediately cease all ‘use of files for machine learning purposes,’ for union members,” according to the piece. 

So who’s looking out for non-union readers? Theoretically Findaway, if the readers are looking out for themselves. “Regardless of whether an author or actor is part of the union,” AppleInsider says, “their contract with Findaway reportedly includes the option to revoke the option allowing Apple’s use of their work.” 

Apple TV+ Adds Curated List of Rom-Coms for Valentine’s Day

Continuing its trend of small-batch curated content, Apple TV+ has added a few rom-coms to its line-up. Cult of Mac says the Cupertino-streamer is marking the Valentine’s season with such “lighthearted love stories” as Pretty Woman, Never Been Kissed, There’s Something About Mary, Sweet Home AlabamaThe Proposal, and The Five-Year Engagement

The films are not free for everyone, though they are available at no additional cost to Apple TV+ subscribers. Unlike Apple’s own content, they won’t be around forever. Some of the films leave at the end of the month, with the rest going away on March 15. 

Season Three of ‘Ted Lasso’ Starts March 15

And finally today — The moment you’ve been waiting for/dreading is upon us. Apple TV+ says the third and (more than likely) final season of “Ted Lasso” is coming soon. Like — really soon. It’s got a start date and everything. 

It’s that likely “final season” part that fills one with dread. One doesn’t want it to go on too long. At the same time, one doesn’t want it to end. 

“We’re Richmond ’til we die.” 

Twelve-episodes for season three. The first lands on Wednesday, March 15, for some reason. Episodes will follow one-per-week on successive Wednesdays, with the season finale hitting on Wednesday, May 31. 

You can, of course, stream seasons one and two now on Apple TV+. 

Today on The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations Podcast

TMO writer Nick deCourville joins me to talk over Apple using real readers to train artificial ones. Plus an update on the Google Photos breakage, and some security advice for Apple Card holders. That’s all today on the Daily Observations Podcast from The Mac Observer.

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