This week: A Covid resurgence delays Apple’s plan to return, a few days with the MagSafe Battery Pack, Apple Watch software chief expands his role, and AirPods get new software.
Apple Inc. clearly had plans to mark this fall, the all-important iPhone launch and sales season, as its official return to a post-pandemic world. But new strains of Covid-19 and increasing case numbers in many parts of the world will put that on hold.
Last week, Apple’s human resources and retail chief, Deirdre O’Brien, told employees that the company’s deadline to return to the office was delayed from early September until October at the soonest. Further, she wrote that Apple would give a one-month heads up on a return date. In other words, October is truly an at the earliest timeline, and the actual date is probably tentative at best.
Alongside that return to office delay, Apple asked retail employees around the world to mask up again after dropping that requirement in June. In emails and posts to its internal employee websites, the company also urged staff to get vaccinated.
The continued return to office delay has put the spotlight back on Apple’s remote work policies. Some employees have reached out to me, saying they are considering leaving for roles at other companies with more flexible attitudes toward working remotely. When Apple does eventually have a full office return, it plans to start with three days in the office and up to two at home. But Tim Cook has already warned staff that the plan will be reevaluated next year and that it won’t apply to everyone.
This raises two points for me: I think Apple will eventually need to give in to more permissive remote work options or risk losing talent (both from inside the company and potential applicants). Adding more offices globally isn’t going to cut it as a long-term solution in the war for talent. The necessary shift away from offices during the pandemic could change work forever—no matter what Apple desires.
Of course, there are exceptions. Hardware development makes in-person work a requirement, and Apple is a hardware company. But software and services engineers, marketing and PR staffers, user interface designers and salespeople probably don’t need to be in the office to do their jobs. Apple will eventually have to make a shift, I think.
Outside of the office, the virus resurgence will impact how Apple goes about selling the next swath of devices. The biggest hardware event of the year typically takes place in September, when the company showcases new iPhones.
Why is that so critical? Not only does Apple generate half of its money from the iPhone, but it makes the other half—Apple Watches, iPads, Macs, services, AirPods, etc.—because of the iPhone. You won’t find too many Android owners wearing a Series 6 on their wrists.
If all Apple employees were back in the office as originally planned, and if cases of infections were low, it’d be plausible to think Apple would be gearing up for its first in-person product event since 2019. Instead, expect another promotional video on Apple’s website and YouTube, plus a focus on online sales.
For Apple, which generated over $100 billion in the last holiday quarter at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But Apple will need to keep its best employees happy if it hopes to keep producing record quarters, which are fueled by making things people actually want to buy.
After a few days with the MagSafe Battery Pack, so far I’m liking it. The size, the grippy design and strong magnetic attachment to the iPhone are nice. It also solves a prevalent issue with battery cases for older iPhones: The MagSafe Battery Pack will only activate when it’s attached to the phone. Other batteries obviously tend to require you to flip a switch on or off. I don’t find the device to be very bulky, but I am a bit vexed at the noticeably slow rate of charging and limited battery capacity. Anker offers a similar solution with more juice—albeit not as nicely designed or integrated—for half the price.
AirPods joined the Apple software beta cycle. Developers can now install a beta version of an upcoming software update to the AirPods Pro tied to iOS 15, and MacRumors has a nice step-by-step guide for doing so. This beta seed brings spatial audio for FaceTime and ambient noise reduction. Hopefully those features will make it to the third-generation regular AirPods coming in a few months. One question, though: Where’s the beta for the AirPods Max?
Apple Watch’s software chief expanded his role. Kevin Lynch, who has run the company’s operating system group for the Apple Watch and software development teams for health products, took on a broader role this year, adding responsibility over some operating system teams for Apple’s self-driving car. My understanding is that Lynch’s role for the Apple Watch and health software hasn’t changed, so that raises the question: How could Lynch be stretched so thin? Either he ultimately plans to leave behind the Apple Watch now that it is a mature product, or his oversight of some car software teams is temporary. Either way, I imagine there’s more to come on Lynch and future Apple products.
Apple’s third-quarter financial results are just a few days away, scheduled for Tuesday after the market closes. Analysts are expecting revenue results topping $70 billion on average for the June quarter, which is around a 24% increase, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s even accounting for a projected sales hit of as much as $4 billion attributed to chip shortages.
Samsung Electronics Co.’s next Unpacked event is scheduled for Aug. 11. Expect new foldable phones, earbuds and smartwatches.
Q: What’s the deal with Face ID and Touch ID? Will all products unify with one versus the other? Is Face ID a stopgap until under-the-display fingerprint scanners?
Q: What’s going on with the HomePod? Will the original, larger model make a return?
Q: What’s Apple’s gaming strategy?

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