The story of Apple didn’t start with the iPhone, and according to Monday’s star-studded press event, it won’t end with the device either.
Throughout its bevy of announcements at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, Calif., the tech giant made one thing crystal clear: It does not see hardware as its future. That’s striking for a company that reimagined the computer’s beige, square box, turned the MP3 player into a status symbol and cast the mobile phone from business tool to lifestyle essential.
And yet, it’s not surprising. The company reportedly projected that the iPhone’s sales would plateau, so it started laying a foundation for more services. Those efforts, at least five years in the making, culminated in Monday’s press event.
Of course, such clinical business talk was not the thrust of the presentation. Instead, for nearly two hours, chief executive officer Tim Cook and other executives and Apple partners, including some Hollywood mainstays, waxed poetic about the power of storytelling and its ability to inspire, enlighten, entertain and move people.
In other words, Apple is now ready to graduate from arbiter of tech — to arbiter of culture.
The plan rests on several key announcements, all of which take Apple’s vision and extend it into expansive new territories across entertainment, news, gaming and payments.
• Apple News+: The new subscription service brings newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and more than 300 magazines covering fashion, beauty, culture, politics, tech and more to the News app for $10 per month.
• Apple Card: Apple also partnered with Goldman Sachs on the new Apple Card, a no-fee payment type coming to Apple Pay on the iPhone and Apple Watch, and via a fancy new titanium physical card. The company highlighted transparency and ease of use, as well as security and privacy, thanks to what it calls “on-device intelligence.” In other words, the company doesn’t necessarily know what or how people are buying or what they paid. And what it does know, it won’t sell to advertisers.
• Apple Arcade: The privacy theme continues with the company’s new gaming app subscription service. The all-you-can-eat buffet of exclusive games offers personalized recommendations, but won’t track or collect data about how users engage these titles without their consent.
• Apple TV app: Apple emphasized that the Apple TV app won’t track viewing either — which matters, considering it’s extending out from iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs to Mac desktops and other devices, including Samsung, LG, Sony and Vizio smart TVs, Roku boxes and Amazon Fire TVs, and spreading from 10 countries and regions to more than 100.
Privacy is key to Apple’s vision. For it to succeed as a centralized platform managing so much of a person’s life, trust is crucial, especially after Silicon Valley’s string of high-profile privacy and security scandals.
Had the event ended there, it would have offered plenty of proof of the company’s lofty goals. It clearly wants to shape what customers read, how they shop, what games they play and what shows they watch. But that wasn’t all.
Enter Steven Spielberg.
Apple has always talked about its innovations and design in terms of “experience” and “magic.” Now it’s pursuing magic of a different kind in the entertainment business. Apple is now a producer of original content.
It was like Apple’s version of the TV industry’s “up fronts,” when studios showcase programs for advertisers: Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Jason Momoa, Alfre Woodard, Kumail Nanjiani, JJ Abrams, Sara Bareilles — even “Sesame Street”’s Big Bird! — talked about new shows, documentaries and other content.
Even Oprah Winfrey couldn’t resist Apple’s pull. She announced two new documentaries, as well as her famous book club, coming to the platform.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this dream for us to all someday realize that deep potential that we’re each born to and abides in each soul,” she said. “My deepest hope is we all humans get to become the fullest version of ourselves as human beings and join in the mission…to leave the world better than we found it.”
This future, she said, would be one “of our own design, all connected by Apple!”
According to Cook, storytelling is powerful because “they entertain, inspire, inform and enrich our lives,” he said. And the services that will bring it all to consumers is profoundly important to the company. “Because at Apple, the customer is and always will be at the center of everything we do.”