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It’s been almost eight years since writer Walter Isaacson wrote in his biography of Steve Jobs that the late entrepreneur said he had “finally cracked it.” He had finally figured out how to reimagine television for the digital age.
“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Isaacson recalled Jobs’ revelation in the book. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
On Monday, his company took a giant step toward the realization of Jobs’ vision. Apple announced the launch of expanded services for news, gaming, entertainment and credit-card transactions.
"We've also been creating a growing collection of world-class services, and that's what today is all about,” Apple CEO Tim Cook announced at the Steve Jobs Theater.
Services have been long the driver of Apple’s revenue growth. However, the company may not have had much choice but to rethink its services after dwindling iPhone sales led to a reduction in first-quarter 2019 revenue guidance, the first quarterly cut in a forecast in 15 years.
Apple’s expanded services make it even more difficult for startups and independent studios to get the attention of the larger market, but will the new services actually make Apple a competitor with the kings of content?
Apple is launching itself back to the forefront of entertainment, something it enjoyed in the heyday of iTunes’ rewiring of the music industry. But more importantly, the company is finally bringing solid tentpole services like Apple News, the App Store, and Apple Pay up to speed with the rest of the industry.
On the flip side, Apple’s expanded services will make it more difficult for the little guys to effectively compete. They could stifle innovative business models that might actually change how consumers spend on and interact with the entertainment, personal finance, and news circles.
By far the most talked-about announcement was an entertainment streaming service called Apple TV+, “the new home for the world’s most creative storytellers.”
While not much different Amazon Prime Video Channels, the new and improved Apple TV app will enable users to access all of their subscription services in one place. This includes streaming services (except Netflix), cable subscriptions, and premium channels like HBO and Starz.
But most importantly, it also includes Apple’s own streaming service, Apple TV+, which is jam-packed with shows, movies, and documentaries from some of the biggest names in entertainment.
The tech giant rolled out the red carpet to welcome Hollywood top brass to announce their Apple Originals series. Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Jason Momoa, Oprah, and even Big Bird all made the trek up to Cupertino. Though none of the stars screened trailers, they did repeatedly pat Apple on the back for its efforts to support creators, as well as stir up a lot of buzz online about the new service.
Apple TV+’s content efforts are being led by former Sony Pictures Television execs Jamie Ehrlicht and Zack Van Amburg. When the two were hired in 2017, they were set up in a Culver City, California office with a $1 billion budget to fill out Apple’s original content slate. However, with names like Oprah and Spielberg on the marquee, it’s fair to say they likely have blown through that original figure.
It’s been a long time coming for Apple, which bought its first show rights all the way back in July 2016 with Carpool Karaoke, an unscripted series based on the viral segment from CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Apple TV+ puts the company ahead of The Walt Disney Company, which will present a first look at Disney+ to investors on April 11.
Apple will announce pricing for Apple TV+ fall of this year, but there have been rumors that the content will be free for anyone with an Apple product. However, there’s also been talk a that the service may cost significantly more than Netflix or Hulu, even as high as in the $30-$40 a month range.
“Late to the Game”
The service is a belated answer to the Netflixes and Amazons of the industry.
Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer of Netflix, even told Deadline that he thinks both Apple and Disney are “very late to the game.” Indeed, it may prove difficult for Apple to compete with Netflix and its 139 million global subscribers.
But when all is said and done, if Apple effectively markets the service to the approximate 2.2 billion iPhone owners, it could find a subscriber base that’s nothing to shake a stick at.
Another long-awaited announcement finally came to fruition: a revamp of the Apple News app.
Last March, Apple acquired Texture, a joint venture of Condé Nast Inc., Hearst Communications, Meredith Corporation, News Corp, Rogers Communications Inc., and the now-defunct Time Inc. Apple News+ piggybacks off of that deal with the addition of magazines to the Apple News app.
For $9.99 a month, subscribers unlock access to over 300 magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Elle, People, Better Homes & Gardens, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, and National Geographic. A few traditional news publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and Canada’s largest daily newspaper, the Toronto Star, will also be available, as well as digital subscriptions like theSkimm, TechCrunch’s Extra Crunch, and New York Magazine culture-focused sites Vulture, The Cut, and Grub Street.
Roger Rosner, Apple’s vice president of applications, estimated that a person subscribing to each individual publication available through Apple News+ would shell out more than $8,000.
With the resurgence of the paywall over the last few years, an all-in-one offering like Apple News+ may steal readers that might have subscribed to individual publications like the Wall Street Journal. Publications might begin to offer enhanced incentives for direct subscribers that can’t be accessed through Apple News+, such as exclusive conference calls, podcasts, or newsletters. On the other hand, publications that opted out of participation in Apple News+ might also be jeopardizing the opportunity to capture a new wave of readers they might not have reached any other way.
Apple News+ is officially live with a 30-day free trial offer available.
Apple is already dominating the games category on the App Store, but it decided to kick it up a notch with Apple Arcade, a subscription service for mobile games.
Games featured in Apple Arcade will be exclusive to the service. They will be come from the minds of storied game creators such as Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the popular Final Fantasy series, and Will Wright, the original designer behind The Sims. So far, Apple has teamed up with 35 developers and publishers, including SEGA, Disney, Annapurna Interactive, Cartoon Network, and Konami, among several others.
Because Apple Arcade is a paid subscription, all games will be ad-free and “all-you-can-play,” meaning no in-app purchases will be required. Additionally, every game will be available to play offline and an entire family can use one subscription at no extra cost.
The concept of a cloud-enabled gaming service isn’t new by any means. Sony’s PlayStation Now has been streaming since January 2014, and gaming giant Electronic Arts, Silicon Valley staple Microsoft, and chipmaker Nvidia all have at least one too. Just last week, Google announced its own cloud-based service called Stadia.
However, Apple’s mobile gaming focus could give it a competitive advantage because it may help parents keep their kids busy.
Last but not least, Apple presented Apple Card, its reimagining of the credit card. The card, created in partnership with Goldman Sachs and MasterCard, will work much like Apple Pay.
Other than an ability for tap-and-go payments, Apple Card doesn’t appear to offer many tangible advantages over a card from a major bank.
Cardholders can use the virtual card online or at locations where Apple Pay is accepted.
They can also earn 2% cashback when using the Apple Card in general and 3% when buying yet another dongle from the Apple Store. The reward, called Daily Cash, will be put toward a user’s Apple Cash Card every day rather than at the end of the billing period.
When the card launches in summer 2019, prospective cardholders will be able to apply directly through their iPhone and immediately start racking up debt within minutes. The card is also fee-free, featuring no annual, late, international, or over-the-limit fees.
Cardholders will also receive a titanium physical card for use where Apple Pay is not accepted. The card does not feature a card number, CVV security code, expiration date, or signature. The only markings are the cardholder’s name and the Apple logo, which are laser etched into the pristine white card. Because of the lack of information on the card, it is supposedly more secure than others. The card’s number is stored in the iPhone’s Secure Element, which is a special security chip used by Apple Pay.
Because of the Apple logo, Apple Card may still likely cement a relatively strong user base, especially among young people that will go wherever Apple leads.
CreditCards.com analyst Ted Rossman said it best in an interview with CBS News: "This card will get a lot of headlines, but its bark is greater than its bite. People will sign up for it, but that will be mostly because they love Apple, not because this card is better than anything that already exists.”