Apple CEO Tim Cook and Oprah Winfrey announced the launch of Apple’s video streaming service but left a lot of questions unanswered. (Michael Short/Getty Images)
You know Apple as the company that makes your iPhone. On Monday, it said it also wants to be your cable guy, newsstand, credit card and video arcade.
Add up all those new services, and Apple is becoming a kind of online club. The question is: Why should we join?
The Apple club promises to make life a bit simpler, includes some celebrities — exclusive access to Oprah! — and cares a lot about your privacy. But it would be an easier sell if Apple also demonstrated that Apple TV+, News+, Card and Arcade could save you money. Instead, after a two-hour commercial at its headquarters in Silicon Valley on Monday, Apple didn’t even tell us how much some of these services would cost.
Savings is the No. 1 benefit we get from Apple’s archrival Amazon, with a $120 annual Prime membership that packages free shipping, TV shows, music, online storage and other goodies. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Yet Apple was short on details about how it might sell its new services together — or, all told, how they would impact your bottom line.
The biggest news, a new TV streaming service, is coming this fall with shows from Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and other Hollywood A-listers. But Apple didn’t say how much it would charge — or even whether it would charge for it. (Maybe iPhone owners will get it free? We still don’t know.) Americans have been stacking up online subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu and others, but at some point, we’re going to hit our limit.
Are any of its new shows must-see-TV? Hard to say: Apple, which uncharacteristically offered no hands-on time with its new products, also showed only very brief clips of its shows. During stage presentations, Spielberg said he was reviving his “Amazing Stories” franchise from the 1980s, and Winfrey said she wanted to use Apple’s reach to encourage listening and create the world’s largest book club. None of the fare seemed as edgy as the blood and gore available from HBO and Netflix, and Apple didn’t say how often we’d get new shows.
Then there’s a new version of Apple’s “TV” app that will let you subscribe to other streaming video services such as HBO, CBS and Showtime. But again, Apple didn’t say whether it would discount a bundle of them like cable companies do. Far from killing cable, Apple TV subscriptions might end up costing us more.
Apple was also mum on the price of a streaming game service called Apple Arcade, coming to its App Store later this year. It’s supposed to come with over 100 new and exclusive games — but will it have the ones your kids are craving? We don’t know.
An Apple credit card from Goldman Sachs sounds like a decent deal but hardly a budget saver. It has no annual fees, offers 2 percent cash back on purchases made through Apple Pay and rates ranging from 13.24 percent to 24.24 percent.
Peter Stern, Apple vice president of services, unveiled a redesign of Apple’s TV app, which simplifies subscribing to additional streaming video services. (Tony Avelar/AP)
We got the clearest cost-benefit picture of a new magazine service called Apple News+, which bundles access to more than 300 publications for $10 per month. Making it easier to pay for news is a win for journalism, but Apple slightly oversold the savings by saying individual subscriptions to all those news sources individually would cost $8,000 per month. Reality check: Nobody would actually subscribe to 300 magazines, and some of the publications included, like the Wall Street Journal, are sharing access only to select articles.
Dodging the price discussion, Apple instead played up the simplicity and convenience of its new services. On a first look, its new apps appear slick but aren’t a slam dunk.
Streaming services have made watching TV complicated. Can Apple fix that? Apple’s “TV” app has actually been around for years, and you’ve probably never relied on it because it wasn’t actually that useful. Apple says the redesigned version will not only make it easier to subscribe to other streaming video services but also offer recommendations on what to watch next, based on editors’ picks and what you’ve watched before. None of this is so different from what we already get from services including Amazon Prime Video. And Apple’s new TV app still lacks access to some very important sources of video in our lives, including Netflix, local network TV and many big cable TV operators.
Cook unveiled a mission statement for all of Apple’s services that includes personalization and privacy. (Tony Avelar/AP)
One big step in the right direction: Apple is going to bring its TV app (and, presumably, its new original content) to more than just its iPhones and Apple TV box. The app is coming to smart TVs from Samsung, LG and Vizio as well as Roku streaming devices and Amazon’s FireTV device. This is good for consumers and an acknowledgment of reality for Apple: While it dominates phone software, it’s a distant No. 3 player in streaming with the Apple TV.
I like that Apple said all of its services can be shared by families, at least the ones who are part of the same iCloud family group. That said, sharing a password for a streaming service with a roommate or friend will probably get a lot more difficult with Apple involved because your Apple password also protects photos, email and other sensitive files.
Apple’s News app has already made a big impact on how Americans consume information, and adding more content to it is a good thing. The redesign included in the News+ subscription will have beautiful full-screen covers but comes with one important caveat: A subscription doesn’t grant you access to the websites of those publications — just their content in the Apple News app on iOS and Mac devices.
The other welcome pillar of Apple’s push into services is privacy and security. Apple promised it wouldn’t track our purchases with its new credit card, and its bank partner, Goldman Sachs, will “never share or sell your data to third parties for marketing.” Apple also said it wouldn’t centrally track what we consume with its News and TV apps.
But it was a little more vague about whether it would allow its new third-party partners, including Samsung and Vizio, to surveil our TV-watching habits — a growing practice for TV manufacturers who have a side business in advertising.
Early in his presentation, Apple CEO Tim Cook presented a mission statement for Apple’s growing world of services. I can get behind many of these: simplicity, attention to detail, privacy and security, curation, personalization and family sharing.
But as it enters into service businesses where we have many other choices — including on Apple devices — price has to become a part of how it conveys its value. We’re not going to join the Apple club just because we have iPhones.
Read more tech advice and analysis from Geoffrey A. Fowler:
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