I’m watching Apple’s big “It’s showtime!” announcement, and it’s one seriously mixed bag.
The lowlight was probably a detailed explanation of how to read magazines on the new Apple News+ subscription service. That was followed closely by an awkward Sesame Street introduction, which left me so bored that I never did catch what they were introducing. In fact, all the new TV/movie intros were just forced and awkward and way too long. Apple is treating these things like product announcements, at which the company excels. Someone should have told them you don’t generate hype for a new TV show the same way you do for a new iPhone.
There are some nice software updates to Apple TV, including making the TV App available for Mac and on various smart TV models. One-stop shopping for all your shows and networks is nice, but hardly game-changing.
The most meaningful announcement might have been for Apple Card — that’s right, an Apple-branded credit card. It’s secure, private, no fees (not even late fees, although I don’t know how that will work), and cash back which is actually cash you can spend anywhere. Apple Card is supposed to work like Apple Pay, where each transaction is credited to a one-time card number. So only the retailer knows what you bought, but not even the retailer gets to know your personal information — including your “real” Apple Card number. Intriguing.
Really what we’re seeing here today is how deeply Apple is becoming a services company. As a hardware company, their goal (as explained by Steve Jobs) was to produce the best hardware they could, and let the profits take care of themselves. That’s a great model for consumers, but not a sustainable one for a company that’s grown as big as Apple has. Since they focus on high-end/fat-profit products, they’ve captured about as many customers as they can — the big growth days are over.
Service companies follow a different business model: Squeeze existing customers for every dollar you can, preferably via subscriptions. So you can subscribe through Apple to the various news services, TV networks, and even games. You can subscribe from Apple directly cloud services and storage, consumer credit, music, and now TV and movies.
The old Apple, which existed to sell us something “insanely great” and then leave us alone until the next purchase. This new Apple has grown increasingly In Your Face over the last few years, and today’s news makes it clear that’s only going to get worse.
It’s the right move, but longtime fans are going to miss the Old Apple.
UPDATE: Now that the “special event” is complete, it’s an even bigger dud than I thought. Not that the new services suck — far from it. But Apple Card isn’t coming until this summer. Apple TV+ shows don’t launch until the autumn. Apple Arcade — the company’s new subscription mobile gaming service — doesn’t launch until fall, either. The new and improved TV App won’t come until May. Today’s show dragged on for almost exactly two hours, and the only thing you can actually get starting today is a $10 a month subscription to a bunch of dinosaur magazines.
I don’t know who at Cupertino thought they should mash all of these things together, months before most of them are ready to go, but hype-wise this feels like a rare fail.