Today’s “It’s Show Time” Apple event wasn’t a big surprise; most industry pundits and bloggers knew ahead of time what some of the announcements would likely be — a new magazine subscription service as part of Apple News, new content finally appearing from collaborations with some of the top names in Hollywood, and so on. As usual, though, it was the details of the announcements that is making the news today. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at Apple’s event and how those details may change your life. Please note that I also included some personal opinions on the announcements, and that those opinions are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of OWC, MacSales.com, or the Rocket Yard.
It’s All About Services
One blogger made a good point before the event began, saying (and I paraphrase here) that “Apple is going all-in as a services company”. We’ve heard this from Wall Street analysts in the past few years, how Apple’s services are becoming an ever-larger piece of the revenue pie and that the company’s future depends on establishing and growing those services. Throughout today’s event, Apple’s products were shown only as the vehicle on which these varied services exist.
Apple set the stage last week with a series of hardware announcements (the iMac, AirPods, iPad Air, and iPad mini were all updated), which indicated that today would take the focus off of hardware. Let’s see what was revealed.
The event began with a look at Apple News and what makes it so compelling to a large population of Apple users. Tim Cook brought up the fact that Apple’s services are easy to use, show attention to detail, are private and secure, and in many cases can be shared with a family. He also showed a slide with a quote from Slate that essentially said that Apple News prioritizes a news source’s reputation and the value of its content over being click-bait.
As expected, Apple News+ is an extension of the Apple News app, and it is available today. What does Apple News+ bring to the table? An all-you-can-eat subscription to over 300 magazines, with family sharing enabled right out of the box. This includes digital versions of many popular magazines, as well as subscriptions to digital media like TechCrunch. Several newspapers are also included, with the LA Times and Wall Street Journal being the foremost titles.
Apple News+ has “Live Covers” that move, something that is eye candy but definitely highlights Apple’s attention to detail. While Apple News is free, Apple News+ is a $9.99 monthly subscription, with a one-month free trial.
There is a good mix of magazines, although the list seemed to be heavy on fashion titles and technical journals (outside of the mainstream science magazines) are nonexistent. Will Apple News+ be a success? It depends on how many people are willing to spend an extra $9.99 per month to get digital versions of magazines, when magazine subscriptions worldwide have been falling. Perhaps the method of delivery — digital, not dead-tree — will be enough of an incentive to make Apple News+ a bright point in Apple’s future revenue stream.
The service is available in the US and Canada now, and Australia and the UK are slated for this fall.
Apple Pay and Apple Card
Next up on the agenda was a discussion of Apple Pay, which is targeting 10 billion transactions in 2019. It will be available in over 40 countries by year’s end, and Tim Cook noted that the service’s ability to be used to pay for public transit will be improved in the US this year when Apple Pay is added for transit systems in Portland, Chicago and New York City.
Apple loves to disrupt things, and they have decided to join with Goldman Sachs and MasterCard to disrupt the credit card industry. Apple Card (AKA Card) is a credit card that you can apply for quickly in the Wallet app, get fast approval, has no fees associated with it at all, low interest rates, and clear and understandable rewards program, and enhanced privacy.
Apple Card’s app is impressive. The card is accepted wherever Apple Pay can be used, and it’s always with you on the iPhone (they didn’t mention anything about Apple Watch availability). The app shows exactly how much you currently owe, the date of the next payment, and all transactions.
Like many things from Apple, Apple Card will let you take more control of your life. There’s a simple real-time calculator that shows how much interest you will pay over time if you don’t want to pay your entire balance, and the company has no problem with you making multiple payments per month to reduce your debt. Support for the card is unique as well, done with live messaging.
The rewards program provides “Daily Cash” that goes into the Apple Pay Cash card, and it adds that cash every day when you make transactions. The normal cash back amount is 2 percent, but purchases made directly from Apple will earn 3 percent.
This is probably the most secure credit card ever, as it creates a per-device card number for every device it runs on, and each payment has a dynamic, one-time security code that’s associated with it. Each and every transaction is secured by Touch ID or Face ID. Apple and Goldman Sachs agreed to never know what it is you’re buying, and they won’t sell data to third parties for marketing purposes.
If you need a “real” physical credit card, Apple will have one for you. It’s made of titanium with laser etching, has no card number on it, no CVV security code, no expiration date, and no signature on the back.
Apple knows just how big the gaming business is on the App Store, with iOS being the largest gaming platform on the planet. There are currently over 1 billion players on iOS and over 300,000 games, with those games being free, free with ads, “freemium” (pay for extras) or outright “paid for” apps.
Apple Arcade is a game subscription service for all Apple platforms, and it will be available in over 150 countries at a to-be-determined price point. That price point is critical; too much, and Apple will lose market share to the new gaming subscriptions from other tech firms, too little and the developers won’t be happy with their cut.
The idea is to start with over 100 new and exclusive games that are not on any other platforms, then grow the number with new titles coming on all the time. Offline play is possible with every game, and there’s one feature I found compelling — every game will be available on almost every Apple platform, including macOS, iOS, and Apple TV. Your scores and status are cloud-stored so that it’s possible to move from one device to another seamlessly.
Will it succeed? Gaming is a huge industry, and people love the chance to play their favorite games anywhere, anytime. Apple Arcade’s attraction is that one can start a game during a commute, then finish the game on a 65-inch TV with an Apple TV. We’ll see how Apple Arcade is accepted when it arrives this fall.
Apple TV App and Apple TV Channels
The Apple TV app is pretty impressive already, with content available on iOS and on the Apple TV. Apple wants to make your TV-watching life even better by letting you only pay for what you want, search for it on one app, let you view your content on demand and ad free, online or off, with the best picture and sound for any device…in your household.
The company announced that the Apple TV app will soon be available in most Smart TVs, including those from Samsung, LG, Visio and others. What that does is make it easier for Apple to gain a foothold with its software and services, without the need for consumers to buy “yet another box”. Are the physical Apple TV’s days numbered? Perhaps…
Of all of the announcements, I was personally least impressed with Apple TV Channels. It provides a group of channels, but I felt that a lot of them (with the exception of the well-known Starz, Showtime, HBO, CBS All-Access and Cinemax channels) were unknowns – Mubi, Shudder, PBS Living, and Noggin don’t exactly sound like an all-star lineup.
Apple TV Channels is an “a la carte” service, where you’ll pay only for the premium channels you want. It doesn’t arrive until this fall, and there was no word on the pricing for each channel.
Frankly, I think this is too little, too late from Apple. Streaming services from just about every other big name in tech (like Amazon, for example) have been around for years. However, it does bring a la carte pricing to Apple devices and familiar apps, so it could be a surprise winner from Apple’s announcements.
This is what most everyone was waiting for, if just for the chance to see their favorite Hollywood directors and stars at an Apple event. Apple TV+ is Apple’s new service for content created in-house. Once again, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others have been doing this for a while, so Apple’s entry into content creation seems a bit late. As I mentioned on Twitter, “All the other cool kids were doing it, so they had to do this. Why not just excel at making new content easier to discover and view, at a less oppressive cost?”
The rest of the event was a blur of stars (Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon, Octavia Spencer, Big Bird…), directors (Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, M Night Shyamalan, JJ Abrams), and shows and movies that will be coming out.
The service is “coming this fall” and you can sign up on the Apple site to be notified. As with several of the other services, there’s no word on how much Apple TV+ will cost.
The Last Word
Off-hand, I’d say that much of the chatter about Apple’s event today was somewhat muted. Twitter was filled with competing streams of commentary, with many pundits echoing my feelings — Apple might be coming to the streaming TV and exclusive content market too late to make a difference. I also wonder about the timing; since some of the big services won’t be available until autumn, why announce them now?
Of all of the announcements, my bets are on the Apple Card and Apple Arcade to make the biggest splash. Apple still has a lot of brand recognition, and an Apple credit card with many benefits could gather a lot of users very quickly. Gaming is a huge market already, and I think there will be a good number of iOS and macOS users who would jump on the chance to pay one monthly fee for a virtually endless feed of curated games.
Apple’s next event is likely to be the WWDC 2019 keynote on June 3rd; hopefully we’ll finally see some attention paid to improvements in the primary operating systems for Apple devices as well as new pro-level Macs.