A new era began for Apple yesterday. It is now officially a services company
. Sure, it still sells hardware, but its growth will come from charging monthly fees to the people who buy that hardware. And Tim Cook kicked this new approach off in style with a celebrity-packed event at Apple HQ.
The services themselves, however, feel like a work in progress. Apple News+ is available now in the US and Canada, with a UK rollout later this year. It costs $9.99 per month to get access to a wide range of content usually behind individual paywalls. However, look more closely, and it leaves a lot to be desired.
As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton points out
, Apple News+ is little more than a reskin of the Texture app Apple acquired last year. That app was like ‘Spotify for magazines,’ and so is this new service. A large chunk of its content is digital versions of monthly or weekly publications. In fact, the app is built around displaying digital magazines, to the point it can apparently be difficult to find up-to-date news from the likes of the Wall Street Journal in there.
Some people might love Apple News+, but it’s not exactly a compelling, forward-looking offering.
Apple Arcade seems potentially more interesting, offering access to more than 100 games from companies including Disney, Konami, and Lego. These are games that usually cost money up front to buy, so if you’re really into mobile gaming this might appeal. Given most mobile gaming is casual, I do wonder how many people want to pay monthly rather than just pick up a free-to-play title and avoid the opportunities to pay, though. Arcade launches later this year, and there’s no word on pricing.
As for Apple TV+, it will offer original shows from names like Oprah, Steve Carell, JJ Abrams, and Steven Spielberg. You’ll be able to add other popular subscription TV services on top, although no prices have been announced for this service, which will launch later in the year. Whether Apple’s own content can compete with what’s already out there, and whether anyone needs a place to buy other subscriptions, remains to be seen.
Then there’s a different kind of service, the Apple credit card backed by Goldman Sachs. While it seems to offer probably the best user experience of any credit card available, the 3% cashback offered on Apple purchases isn’t a huge incentive to switch if you’re a savvy shopper for financial products. No doubt, Apple’s brand and the fancy titanium card will be enough to entice some people to sign up.
There was no one standout offering from Apple at yesterday’s event. It was largely a statement of intent – an indication of the company’s new direction of travel. Apple will no doubt refine these offerings over time as it learns what its customers respond to best.
Still, I wish they’d had the guts to offer a big bundle at an all-inclusive price – an 'Apple Prime’ taking in TV, games, news, music, and cloud storage. That would help tackle the very real problem of subscription fatigue, while making Apple stand out as one of the only companies able to offer such a package in a high-quality way, tied closely to specific hardware.
That may come eventually, as Apple learns what works, and what people will pay for. But whatever they do with the opportunity, Apple is now officially a services company.