Apple yesterday laid out a set of new services, including its new streaming TV service, but the overarching story is much bigger. Tim Cook orchestrated a show of Apple flexing the muscle of its 1.4 billion devices as a platform not just for services that will bolster its financial performance but as a force for returning the power of technology to the users.
The features of all the services Apple announced were underwhelming, especially compared against its history of breakthrough innovation. I’ll use the new Apple TV app and TV+ streaming service as an example. Most of the features and content sources are available in other apps already. But, as usual, Apple finds some ways to tweak the usability to offer a more integrated experience, especially in terms of the ability to get straight to your content instead of bouncing from app to app for each channel. Apple News+ and Apple Card offered similar modest improvement over other existing services.
While it failed to convince me that Apple can be a Netflix beater, the ambition of these services is much, much larger: to bring the world together through shared experiences of great storytelling in proprietary Apple TV+ content. Oprah Winfrey explicitly stated this vision as the core reason why she signed on to Apple TV+. She gave the vision reality in her description of a global book club connecting people around our common humanity.
Apple is clearly distancing itself from the rest of the big tech industry that has become associated with privacy violations, exploitation of consumer data, and the perception that technology is the source of all sorts of divisions in society. Each service hammered home Apple’s commitment to privacy and security, from not allowing advertisers to track you on Apple News to not storing your viewing history on Apple TV to not selling data from its Apple Pay and Apple Card services.
Like the 1984 TV ad that launched the Mac, Apple again aims to play the role of champion of the people, hurling a sledgehammer to destroy the Big Brother forces of the rest of the tech industry.
There are many layers to this positioning: latching on to a current meme to give these announcements more power; a way to lock users more firmly into the Apple ecosystem; a clever branding exercise; and a way to powerfully tap the edgy, rebellious spirit associated with Apple to further bond its users and attract more fans.
I’ll be watching to see if this message migrates from this industry-insider announcement into the consumer advertising and marketing for these services. And if it does, will consumers care? (We have yet to see mass defections from Facebook over its privacy blunders.) Can Apple convince consumers to care about privacy the way that it has taught consumers to care about the design and elegance — not just speeds and feeds — of technology?