On March 25, Apple managers and partners take the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple & Cupertino campus to talk about subscriptions, software, services, entertainment and media. These are all things that Apple has had to deal with before, but never before has an event focused so completely on them, as we expect later this month.
That does not mean that it is impossible for hardware to appear. The timing is appropriate for an update to Apple & # 39; s basic iPad model, and reports and rumors are accompanied by beta technology from developers, implying that hardware accelerations are imminent for a few Apple products such as the iPad, iPad mini, iPod touch and AirPods. These would fit perfectly in an event that is focused on services such as TV, music and news: they are primarily devices for media consumption.
But this will be Apple's first public event after it reported a clear decline in global iPhone sales, worrying experts, analysts and investors that the iPhone hardware-dependent company is going through difficult times. It is fitting (and perhaps telling) that the event will focus on services – the division Apple is happiest about – rather than hardware.
Of course you have to be skeptical if you read hot takes on the Internet and state that Apple is damned because iPhone sales have mainly declined in China. It's not good news, but other companies would give anything to have the financial and market position that Apple has in most of its global business interests, even with that rare sign of weakness.
I write "the most" because Apple is actually lagging behind considerably in the only area that I expect the March event to be most successful: television.
The iTunes Store is a relatively successful platform for buying episodes of TV series, but many people nowadays prefer to watch TV shows that are part of a streaming subscription bundle such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. And although we generally appreciated the Apple TV 4K as a hardware solution for media streaming when we viewed it, Apple's market share in that space is not impressive. The cheaper, more accessible, less closed roku platform dominates. That does not mean that many of today's TVs are included with Netflix and the like, and that more than half of American households have video game consoles with large video streaming app libraries.
But the same story arose for music on iTunes before Apple launched the hugely successful Apple Music service. Can the same happen with television or with news? And what do we know about the new iPads that may or may not be announced? Let's explore both the limits and the possibilities at Apple & # 39; s March 25 event.
An Apple streaming TV service
The television industry fits perfectly with the classic profile as a dilapidated industry ready for the kind of technological flipping on the house that has previously led to Apple's greatest successes. With the iPod, iPhone, Macintosh, AirPods and other popular products, Apple has identified product categories that were promising, but that were heavily hacked by short-sighted design decisions or industrial fragmentation. Television services are such a & # 39; n product.
Television networks are the definitions of dinosaurs. Their business models and technologies are archaic and are threatened by newer innovations. And thanks to near-monopolies of local cable providers, poor negotiation positions with those cable providers through networks, inflated subsidies for content such as ESPN that not everyone wants, and glacial innovation, the user experience for cable television services is almost universally terrible now – and it is also poorly priced.
It is appropriate that the TV industry itself, in which I have previously worked, calls streaming services "OTT" – "over the top". Look right there in the name: the only way to produce a good user experience is to continue with the entire infrastructure that the industry has built and monopolized for decades.
Apple has introduced a major update of its Apple TV hardware with 4K support in 2017. New hardware is not currently required, but the features of the Apple TV 4K can give us some background information about Apple's TV strategy.
In particular, Apple & # 39; s TV app consolidates the content of almost every Apple TV streaming app (Netflix is a notable exception) into one feed, and the app also offers some live sports and news. Apple's new service will build on this.
With the Apple TV, users can also choose a standard TV provider for the device and manage subscriptions to networks such as Showtime. The new service becomes its own provider and we have seen that Apple is trying to secure add-on subscriptions such as HBO for the new service.
Apple & # 39; s efforts with Apple TV only illustrate how bad the situation is. Even Apple, with its powerful negotiating position, could not gather the entire industry behind the Apple TV 4K in a good solution built on top of the various streaming services. The channels all use different technologies, they don't play well together, and their mysterious and exclusive deals with cable providers mean that Apple cannot guarantee a universal experience for all its Apple TV users. Furthermore, the brutal grasp of cable providers is merging the networks trying to break through the status quo.
A popular biography of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson revealed that this TV problem was the most hated Jobs when he approached his final days in the company. He was obsessed with solving the problem, just as iTunes had tackled a similar mess in the music industry in the early 2000s.
This month's Apple event includes the slogan & # 39; It's show time & # 39; – a slogan used years ago at an event where Apple first announced the future Apple TV product. Apple's current leadership seems to believe that it has completed the work that Jobs has begun.
But while previous attempts worked closely with networks to easily provide a better technical platform for distributing the existing content of those networks, the new service is more like Amazon Prime Video: a machine with original content supplemented with licensed content and add-ons from premium channels such as Starz or HBO Now.