Apple profits up 90 per cent, credibility down slightly

Jobs’ pet project takes shine off bumper quarter.

Apple enjoyed its best non-holiday quarter ever, with sales up 49 per cent and profits up a whopping 90 per cent. But it's gone all coy on just how many iPads it has shifted so far, and its failure to address iPad buyers' concerns has dismayed some of the most loyal Apple fans.

The shiny white gadget and computer maker sold 33 per cent more Macs than a year ago, 131 per cent more iPhones but 1 per cent fewer iPods.

It didn't give official figures for the number of iPads it has sold, saying that they went on sale after its latest financial quarter had ended, but the lack of detail may just be telling. It was happy to brag about selling 450,000 in the first five days they went on sale, but that was before news of their flaky Wi-Fi connectivity hit the media. We shall have to wait for its next set of results to see if it's going to give iPad sales figures.

So far Apple has also been characteristically quiet about the scores of complaints about iPad Wi-Fi lodged on its own discussion boards and technology blogs. There were nearly 600 comments posted about the issue on one thread alone.

It did post a support article which dealt with some users who couldn't get any Wi-Fi signal whatsoever, but those complaining of a very weak Wi-Fi signal or signals being dropped have been told to simply move nearer their wireless router or move their wireless router nearer to them.

"We're thrilled to report our best non-holiday quarter ever, with revenues up 49 per cent and profits up 90 per cent," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We've launched our revolutionary new iPad and users are loving it, and we have several more extraordinary products in the pipeline for this year."

I always thought the 3G version of the iPad - which will give you true roaming capabilities - would be a far more compelling proposition than the Wi-Fi only model. Obviously now that the iconic company has managed a Wi-Fi tablet with iffy Wi-Fi, we must hope that its 3G version has decent 3G: otherwise you're going to be told to move nearer the mobile phone mast, or move the mast nearer to you.

Jason Stamper is technology correspondent for NS and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.