Apple’s recent announcements of Apple News+, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and Apple Card all compete with multiple, existing, well-run, well-accepted ‘open-source’ businesses. Apple is banking that some, if not all
Apple is entitled to set up competitive, even non-competitive services to prop-up, sorry supplement, its death spiraling hardware business (sorry iPhone, Mac, MacBook, iPad…). Apple iPhone sales were down 15% in October to December 2018 in what should have been a bumper holiday sales season, but only the privileged few could afford the iPhone XS/Max. In fact, its sales performance here is the worst holiday quarter in a decade.
So rather than get the Apple boffins to channel Steve Jobs and produce some revolutionary new, must have hardware – more on that later – it took the easy path. It is shearing – exploiting – its loyal sheep – user base – by setting up me-too services Apple News+, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and Apple Card that they could already get elsewhere. It’s even allowing other brands like Samsung and LG to offer their services – shock, horror.
There is only one winner here – Apple.
Let’s look at the positives first. Apple has been touting its privacy matters mantra. If it upholds this, and Apple users don’t get bombarded with Apple, or its partner’s offers then that is great. Frankly, its competitors are in part financed by ad sales and information exploitation, but that is the model we choose to pay reasonable monthly subscriptions. What will Apple charge without that revenue stream or will it too succumb?
Next, it does not take a lot of effort for Apple’s infrastructure to adapt to the subscription service model. iTunes has been doing that for years. Add video content, games, magazines – easy and scalable up, and down! There is nothing new here so instead of announcing iTunes+ it takes three bites at the publicity cherry.
Apple’s audience has traditionally been a higher socio-economic group that can afford the eye-watering prices or make tax-deductible business lease costs to defray the same. One would imagine that the content it offers will favour that group – less reality TV, more thinking person’s content and exclusive Apple walled garden content that pirates will find hard to copy and distribute. Why the latter – all Apple content is on approved Apple devices, and they are locked-down, copy-protected tighter than a fish’s sphincter.
Let’s look at the losers
Anyone that cannot afford Apple devices will not see Apple content – the digital divide starts here. At least with Netflix et al. you can see it on almost any device and later on free-to-air or Freeview.
Content producers may salivate at the 1 billion users and see them as a huge new market. But, in reality they are already well serviced. Apple is not creating a new market – just stealing someone else’s slice of the content pie.
Some users may sign up to access exclusive Apple content. Apple hopes so as its fee is rumoured to be 30% of revenue. As iOS (in total) has around 13% versus Android at 87% global market share I suspect content producers will regret the exclusive content lock in – the digital divide widens.
I do not believe Netflix, and other streaming companies are even mildly panicking. While Apple may have some exclusive content, Netflix et al. have huge catalogues and a lot longer pedigree in providing the service. Ask an Apple user which company comes to the top of mind for streaming – Netflix. I suspect that even if they use the Apple services, these may not be sticky enough to hold them over other open source offerings that run on any computing device. Apple cannot stop these services on its devices for fear of the penalty of anti-competitive behaviour.
Wherefore art thou, Apple hardware innovations?
It did not surprise me that Huawei knocked Apple off its perch as number two in smartphone sales. The devices that did that are last year’s P20/Pro and Mate20/Pro as well as Samsung’s Galaxy S/+/Note9.
This year’s Huawei and Samsung offerings are even more spectacular. Cameras that can see your nose hair, in the dark at 10, 50 and 500 paces; 15W wireless and 9W reverse charging; 15W ultra-fast or more wall charging; DeX and Android desktops over a USB-C cable; expandable memory; amazing screens. Need I go on?
At the same time, Huawei’s Nova and Samsung’s Galaxy A and J series are capturing the hearts with flow-down tech from last year’s flagships. You can get a damned good smartphone for under $500 – and let’s add Motorola, Nokia and OPPO in that mix too. No wonder Android has 87% of the market share. Apple where is your VW – a phone for the masses?
Windows devices are verging on amazing too. MacBooks – meh!
The scantily leather-clad HP Spectre, Lenovo’s wonder 4K Yoga, ASUS’s sexy ZenBooks, Samsung/ASUS/Lenovo Windows on ARM, and Dells amazing product and distribution system. Windows is now nearly 90% of the ‘desktop’ market and macOS at around 9%.
So, what do we get from Apple? Refreshed MacBooks and iMacs with 8th generation Intel Core processors that everyone else has been using for the past year and are moving onwards and upwards to the 9th generation.
And then the AirPod 2 – it has an optional Qi charging case now. Be still, my beating heart.
Oh, and I nearly forgot – the crappy Apple MacBook KeyBoardGate and the StageLightGate screen denials. If you are a MacBook owner take cold comfort in the official Apple response, “The company is aware of a ‘small number of users’ whose butterfly keyboards/screen were having issues, and that it was sorry for the problems.”
Well, iFixit says its when, not if your MacBook keyboard breaks down – ditto for StageLight. Apple MacBook users rightly feel betrayed – it’s like trying to sell a used car with a faulty Takata airbag.
I could go on, but I would then be accused of Apple bashing.
Let’s just put this into perspective from a seasoned journalist’s perspective. On Tuesday I received four press releases from four different local Apple PR employees covering AirPod 2, Apple TV+, Apple News+ and Apple Arcade. Total word count was 3,451. After I pulled out the hyperbole, unsubstantiated claims and self-serving statements we covered everything readers needed to know in 383 words! Do the math.