6 seeds of thought from Apple’s foray into TV, news and credit cards

26 Mar 2019

Image: Apple

Apple’s big services push is not as simple as taking on Netflix or Google, as it also speaks volumes about the future of data privacy, machine learning and fintech.

Apple yesterday (25 March) revealed what everyone had been waiting for: its new services that may define subscription-based digital entertainment for the years to come.

But it wasn’t just about combating Netflix or Google, as it also gave vital insights into what’s going on with Apple as a business, including the role of its hardware, AI and machine learning; its take on privacy and advertising; and the realisation that Apple is stealthily becoming a kind of neobank (without a vault or your data) in terms of next-generation financial services.

“As you can tell, today is going to be a different kind of event,” intoned CEO Tim Cook. He wasn’t joking.

1. Apple News Plus could bring magazines back to life

The event began with the reveal of Apple News Plus, a $9.99 subscription service launching first in the US and UK but coming to Europe and elsewhere later this year. The launch provoked the very feelings I had about the iPad in 2010: about how it could potentially be the portable lightbox to beautifully present magazines. As someone who grew up publishing magazines, always aiming for that stellar cover design, I often felt that the opportunity to potentially to revive magazine design as an art form went missing in the intervening nine years.

Finally, it seems Apple is back on track, and magazines and good design may indeed be given the love they need. Apple News Plus will launch with 300 magazines in a single package. Not only that, but it will include premium digital subscriptions to online publications such as Wired and The Skimm.

The service will enable the download of thousands of articles from Apple’s servers, but then on-device intelligence will kick in to make recommendations. This means Apple doesn’t know what you read and won’t allow advertisers to track you. The app is also available as a family subscription to iOS and macOS devices, and the first month is free.

2. Apple’s entry into the credit card business makes it a stealthy fintech player to watch

If you are a fan of Apple Pay and Apple Wallet, you’ll be glad to hear the tech giant is cementing this capability with what it calls Apple Card.

That’s right, the California tech giant has created its own credit card with a few key differences that make the most of on-device intelligence and its take on privacy.

Apple Card, which was co-developed with Mastercard and Goldman Sachs, has no fees, no PIN numbers, expiration dates or CVV numbers. It just is.

Launching as a US-only service for now, users just sign up on their iPhone and within a minute they get a card in their iPhone Wallet app and they can start using it right away.

Wallet has new capabilities such as telling you what’s going on with your account, and you can make changes such as new address or get details on a transaction by just messaging Apple. The Wallet uses machine learning and Apple maths to transform your spending trail into names and locations you’ll recognise. It also totals purchases to keep track of spending by categories, such as food and drink, and shows how your spending is trending week over week, month over month.

Every time you spend with Apple Card, you get cash back. That’s right. Every time you pay with your iPhone or your Apple Watch, you’ll get 2pc of your purchase back in daily cash. For purchases directly with Apple online or in store, you get 3pc cash back.

3. Apple Arcade could rain on Google’s Stadia parade

Battle lines are being drawn and the first skirmishes are about to take place in the streamed future of gaming. Apple last night revealed Apple Arcade, a gaming subscription service for mobile, desktop and the living room. With a single subscription you’ll get access to more than 100 new and exclusive games across your iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV. Crucially, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off as you change devices.

Unlike streaming services, however, all games are playable offline. Once again, there are no ads, and parents can manage access with Screen Time features. The gaming platform will launch later this year in 150 countries around the world.

It will be interesting to see how this stacks up against the Stadia platform launched by Google last week, which promises instant HD gaming direct from the data centre.

4. Apple TV Plus and its new TV App are a powerful statement of intent

Screenshot of Apple TV with a still from the Spiderman into the Spiderverse film as the lead image.

Image: Apple

Last week Netflix said it wants no part of Apple’s new streaming subscription services and for very good reason. It is a real competitor from the point of view that Apple is giving it guns in terms of exclusive original shows, movies and documentaries.

Apple TV Plus will be the company’s original subscription video service, with content from Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Octavia Spencer, JJ Abrams, Jason Momoa, M Night Shyamalan, Jon M Chu and more. The arrival of Apple into the streaming original content market could be a bonus for creatives and follows on from last year when we revealed that Apple bought the rights to the Wolfwalkers film from Kilkenny animation studio Cartoon Saloon.

Yes, for Netflix and other streaming giants, it is more competition. But for filmmakers, writers, actors, set and costume designers, and all the people who make films around the world, it could potentially be a new outlet to make a living. For viewers, it is simply more choice.

Apple also debuted the new Apple TV app that comes with Apple TV channels, which will launch in May. The app will bring TV shows, movies, sports, news and more to iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, smart TVs and streaming devices, paying only for the services they want from providers such as HBO, Showtime and Starz.

What is interesting about this is that it really puts it to satellite and cable TV platforms such as Sky or Virgin, for the first time allowing users to curate the channels they wish to get.

5. Apple is bringing Apple TV to other hardware platforms

If you were paying attention, you will have noticed we said that Apple’s new TV app is launching on smart TVs and streaming services.

This signals a change in direction by Apple to bring its software and services beyond iOS and macOS. This was perhaps the biggest bit of news in the whole thing.

Think about it. The next time you buy a device from Samsung, LG, Sony or Vizio, it could come preloaded with the new Apple TV app, which again could be a serious challenge to Netflix, which has been busy getting itself installed on every device possible.

Apple also revealed that the new Apple TV app is coming to Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV streaming devices. If Apple is indeed investing heavily in its own original and compelling content, it could be a concern for traditional broadcasters that have already seen linear TV go out with the bathwater.

6. If you were looking closely, Apple took digs at Google and Facebook’s hegemony and approach to privacy

Apple News Plus: “We don’t know what you read and we won’t allow advertisers to track you.”

Apple Arcade: “No data is collected about you nor will we track any information without your consent.”

Apple TV: “It’s an ad-free subscription service.”

If you studied the launch, you will realise that Apple is throwing down the gauntlet at rivals such as Google and Facebook, which have probably done more to threaten the traditional media landscape by devouring all the advertising, sparking numerous privacy debacles and barely leaving anything of the advertising carcass for traditional media to pick over.

In some ways Apple is taking the moral high ground, just as it did with GDPR, but in others you get the feeling it is allying itself with traditional media and content creators.

If so, then the beleaguered media industry has finally found a digital ally that it sorely needs. Interesting times indeed.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years