Mar 26, 2019

Apple's messy media smorgasbord

Screenshot from Apple video

Apple's reputation for launching products that transform entire markets could become a casualty of its transition from selling gadgets to peddling "services" — the company's catch-all label for the grab-bag of TV, news media and gaming bundles it announced Monday.

Why it matters: Apple's genius under Steve Jobs lay in focusing on a very small number of unique products, but its new offerings are scattershot additions to already crowded media marketplaces. Some may prove hits, others may flounder — but none of them looks poised to "change the world," no matter how many times Apple and its partners repeat that phrase.

Between the lines: Apple's event featured one speaker after another — from CEO Tim Cook and other Apple execs to Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey — lauding what Cook called "the power of creativity" to "move us and inspire us, surprise us and challenge our assumptions."

  • The formidable array of directors, actors, musicians and other artists who are contributing their work to Apple TV+, the new premium content service, are fully capable of doing those things.
  • But so are many of their peers currently working for Netflix, Amazon, and other content studios.
  • A distributor is a distributor: Consumers are no more likely to choose a show based on which streaming network it's on than to choose one based on which broadcast network is offering it. Ditto for movie studios and book publishers.

Reality check: Apple is touting privacy and security as differentiators for all its offerings. Each of its product intros ritually promised not to sell users' personal information, and each pledge evoked cheers from the crowd in Cupertino.

  • Privacy controversies for Facebook and other online giants have raised public concern, leaving Apple an opening.
  • But there's little evidence so far that entertainment consumers will make choices based on privacy concerns.

Other catches:

  • In the Jobs era, Apple made a point of not announcing products till they were ready to ship. But many of the media offerings unveiled yesterday lacked basic details on pricing, timing, and lineup — and won't be available for months.
  • Apple's new "services" focus will rise and fall on the ability of the company's developers and designers to write great, reliable software. In recent years, Apple's hardware designs have continued to dazzle while its software has often languished.
  • Apple's phones and computers are premium brands for which people pay premium prices. But the world of services is one of monthly fees that get sliced into slivers by multiple stakeholders.

The bottom line: Apple's "services" pivot is already making the company fresh billions, and it will likely make more over time. But it also risks bringing Apple's lofty brand down to earth.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Sign of the times: A pro-Warren super PAC

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally in Nevada. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of women progressives who back Sen. Elizabeth Warren has formed Persist PAC, a super PAC airing pro-Warren ads starting Wednesday in an effort to boost her performance ahead of Saturday's crucial Nevada caucuses, a spokesman told Axios.

Why it matters: Warren has spoken adamantly against the influence of unlimited spending and dark money in politics. But these supporters have concluded that before Warren can reform the system, she must win under the rules that exist — and that whether she likes it or not, their uncoordinated help may be needed to keep her viable through this weekend's contest and into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Pentagon policy chief resigns amid reported discord with Trump

John Rood. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

John Rood, the Pentagon's top policy official, will resign from his post on Feb. 28, CNN first reported and President Trump confirmed.

The state of play: CNN said Rood "was perceived as not embracing some of the changes in policy the White House and senior Pentagon officials wanted," such as peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban and a decision to cut back on military exercises with South Korea as the president courted North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Coronavirus cases rise, as warnings of global pandemic grow

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We may be "at the brink" of a global pandemic, warns a top U.S. public health official, as cases continue to spread despite containment efforts. Meanwhile, the global economy is being affected, including the tech manufacturing industry.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,000 people and infected over 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 136 new deaths since Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health