Apple’s Show-Time event on Monday sure was different from the Apple events I have been attending for over ten years. A lot has been written about each service and predictions have been made on whether they will be successful, and, as you can expect, I have my thoughts on that. In this column, however, I want to address three challenges or opportunities I believe these new services bring to Apple.
The Responsibility of Choosing
Most users of Apple products are used to the company deciding for them: whether we are talking about the right time of giving up the headphone jack or when they should get 5G. On Monday, however, Apple brought up the concept of “curated content” several times. This means that Apple is choosing what content to bring to you. With Apple Arcade, Apple is working with developers to bring you exclusive games as part as a subscription service. With Apple TV+, Apple is working with producers and writers to bring you exclusive content. And with Apple News+, Apple is bringing you news and stories they think are either great content or are the kind of articles you want to read.
For gaming and video what Apple decides for me will not have a material impact other than on my decision to subscribe to the service based on the quality and relevance of the content. With news, however, the effect that Apple’s curation might have is pretty significant. I trust Apple to keep my viewing data secure and I trust they will not be malicious about the content they will present to me. This does not mean I necessarily trust I will see everything I want or need to see. Curation does not mean that those articles that Apple highlights for me are the only articles I can read. Chances are, however, that most consumers will start and stop at the articles presented to them, more out of convenience than anything else.
Apple has, therefore, a great responsibility in both hiring editors and training its algorithms. Editors should be able to follow guidelines on what makes for best content based on anything that can be easily measured and assessed leaving no room for subjectivity. Similarly, the data used to train their models should truly reflect the reader’s preferences, habits, interests and other data such as location.
All the good intentions in the world would not get Apple easily off the hook if consumers ever felt they did not get the full story with Apple News+.
The Risk of not Fully Controlling the Experience
Something else that was different at Monday’s event was that Apple did not control all the storytelling on stage. While I am sure everybody spoke from a pre-approved script, it was not Apple’s voice we heard. A long list of celebrities told Apple’s content story. Letting someone else tell their story, somewhat lowered Apple’s level of control.
Apple has different levels of control on the new services as well. Apple does not create every app in its app store, but they make the rules of the game, so in a way, they still control the experience, and this will certainly be the case with Apple Arcade.
With Apple Card, Apple is in control of what the card looks like both digitally and physically and how the AI-driven spending report is shown on your phone. But Apple is not in control of the approval process or any other banking aspect. It will be very interesting to see how smoothly the sign-up experience will be for users who might not have the perfect credit score. Also, is the fact that I can iMessage for support mean I should expect a level of service I get from the genius bar or a banking chatbot? Even if these are trained bank employees, I am sad to say customer service is not necessarily a strength that comes to mind when I think of my interactions with my bank. Even Amazon, which offers a Rewards Card with very favorable terms, must deal with very unsatisfied customers complaining about Chase, the card issuer and not Amazon.
When it comes to the production of their video content, there have been reports about Apple trying to control the process too much rather than letting the talent they hired to do their job. It was clear on Monday that Apple is selective about the topics they want to address with their creations. Ultimately, however, I am subscribing to Apple TV+ because I want to watch Oprah’s content, I want to be able to hear her voice loud and clear not one that is compromised by Cupertino’s interference. So while Apple may decide the type of content they want to air based on what fits with their brand and goal, it should not try to control the overall experience, or it would fail to deliver on the very promise they made of empowering storytelling.
The High-Bar of the Straight and Narrow
Over the past few months, Tim Cook has been very vocal about privacy being a human right and security being a core focus of Apple. On Monday, Apple took on even more of a role as a bastion of humanity by wanting for its users way more than privacy. Quality news, reporting, and writing, content that inspires us to think and learn as well as better financial health was how Apple talked about the new services. Apple is no charity, so of course, there is revenue potential in all these areas. To unlock such potential, Apple could have presented these services calling out ease of use, breadth, fun but they were very deliberate in what they highlighted. What Apple wants to deliver with these services reflects how I believe Tim Cook has earned respect and admiration across the company: morals and ethics, the legacy he wants to leave as a leader.
If you buy into what Apple is selling with these services, you are likely to keep Apple at a very high standard, and you will scrutinize their behavior more than you would that of a company for which you have low expectations, Facebook comes to mind.
The Apple I saw on stage at the Steve Job’s Theater was not a different company. I saw Apple’s core values and beliefs, its focus on elegance, ease of use, quality vs. quantity, and the power of a large installed base of users. I also saw a company that is entering new territory, at times with confidence and at times knowing they do not know it all and they cannot do it alone. And this is a good thing!