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Apple: China Problem? What China Problem?

Apple signals Wall Street, via USA Today.

Tim Cook
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Apple says it’s doing just fine in China.

That’s the most important takeaway from today’s very odd USA Today story, which is ostensibly about the early success of Apple Music. More on that in a second. First, pay attention to this partial quote from senior Apple exec Eddy Cue, who says that Apple did a record $1.7 billion in App Store transactions last month — “with particular momentum in China.”

Since Apple execs never speak off the cuff, at least on the record, feel free to read this as a direct response to analyst and investor concerns to a potential slowdown in a crucial market. Apple’s China revenue dropped 21 percent from Q2 to Q3 this year, and the Chinese stock market, heavily dominated by retail investors, has been swooning in the last month. Hence: Apple’s market cap has lost $100 billion in the last few weeks.

But Cue’s comment is supposed to rebut that — if app store sales are up, then Apple device sales should be up, too. Let’s see if the market responds to this hint today.

As for the rest of the piece, which is one of the weirder things I’ve read from a mainstream news outlet in a while: Yes, Apple says 11 million people have signed up to its Apple Music service. Which isn’t news, since we knew that last week.

And again: Until we know how many of those free users convert to paid users, starting in October, that’s a pretty meaningless number.

It is worth noting that Apple is admitting, out loud, that the service has generated many well-deserved complaints for its design and technical failings — “we’re aware that some users have experienced some issues, and we hate letting them down, but we’re releasing updates as fast as we can to address those issues,” said Cue.

Given that Apple’s anti-freemium stance puts it at a disadvantage against Spotify, which offers free, unlimited music, Apple Music will have to do much better.

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