Apple’s December Announcements; Antitrust and Startups

Apple’s December Announcements
Early this morning, Apple made a few new announcements, keeping them on their monthly announcement cycle since late summer. Today’s news was AirPods Max and the availability of Fitness+. When I first heard the rumor about AirPods Max being announced on December 8th, I was initially skeptical because of the late release, mostly missing the holiday shopping cycle. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense they would be super high-end, which would not be the same type of holiday gifts as AirPods or AirPods pro would be. Given the ultra-end high creator, audiophile, target audience, this announcement coming in December will not make an impact but getting them to market matters most. $549 is a pricey solution, but audiophiles would know it’s hard to get a great pair of studio headphones for less than $500, and some of the top ones used by DJs and producers can cost over $2,000.

Commenters are going back and forth on the design, but as with all of Apple’s products, and their wearables, in particular, it is clear their design is meant to stand out and call attention to itself and the wearer. I keep this in mind when I think about Apple’s future glasses solutions and how they will likely follow this pattern and shoot for an iconic look.

As interesting as the AirPods Max headphones are, they will likely be reserved for the premium customer base where Fitness+, Apple’s fitness service now available December 14th, will likely see more widespread adoption. Fitness+ is one of the more interesting services I think Apple is pushing, given some of the philosophical similarities to a Peloton workout. The other thing that stands out with this service is Apple’s integration with Apple Music, iPhones, iPads, AppleTV, and Apple Watch. With this latest service, Apple is creating services in more areas of consumer’s lives and possibly working for a solution to touch all the potential parts of an Apple customer’s life.

Antitrust and Startups
You may have noticed a lot of news about different startups starting to explore or file to go public. There is a range of factors playing into this and one that is starting to cause the startup world to think long and hard about their investment strategy.

First, it is important to note most VCs prefer their startups to go public than get bought. This generally has a longer-tail of reward and upside. But many investors know exits are often their quickest way to return ROI on investment and sometimes the best thing for the startup and its team. The range of IPOs we are seeing is an indication of many of these businesses feeling the need to go beyond private capital to scale their company, and some have a great chance of succeeding in the public market. But the angle that got me thinking recently was how some startups and investors are starting to consider the regulatory challenges around antitrust as a potential barrier for more exits in their portfolio.

With antitrust scrutiny now circling, it does seem it will be harder for large-scale acquisitions to take place, and most startups are raising the kind of capital that will require a large scale acquisition in order for it to provide a return to their investors. This makes for a challenging new dynamic as investors will now have to take this into consideration as they are looking to deploy capital.

All of this to say, a healthier, more balanced venture system is one that I think will do both investors and startups well. I’ve never liked the need for a grand slam for a winning approach but rather an approach that favors singles, doubles, and triples more consistently. Simply meaning, the freedom to invest in a business that is at heart a good business, even if not “venture scale,” is a much more healthy investing philosophy. The challenge is, up to this point, those businesses didn’t do well in the public market. If that changes, and I hope it does then the entire definition of what a “venture scale” company is could change, and that would be a good thing, in my opinion.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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