Apple services are the next big thing. At least, that’s what Apple wants shareholders to think. Their earnings calls go out of their way to talk about it in detail and Tim Cook has made it a primary focus of his future results. It does seem like a good business. There’s high growth and high margin and it has helped Apple results in recent years. The phone still sells a lot but Apple wanted to prove that they’re no longer a one trick pony. Services was their answer to the old “too reliant on iPhone” chestnut.
As an Apple investor, I think they’ve done a decent job with that. Apple services still only make up 13% of their revenue but are growing over 20% per year. It’s a $10B+ per quarter business now on it’s own. That’s impressive. It’s clear why Apple value’s this part of their business and why today’s event was focused entirely on services. They wanted to show investors that their current trajectory is going to continue.
I watched today’s event at work(working hard here!) and I’m not sure how successful they were. They introduced a few new services but the lack of clarity around them and their need still left me with a lot of questions.
Apple has a tendency to overstate the innovative nature of their releases. That was on full display here and a few moments during the presentations made me groan.
First, there was Apple News+. It’s a simple product and essentially an extension of their current news app for premium content. For $9.99/month, users and their family will have access to 300+ magazines and some newspapers like the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal. On the surface, it seems like a great deal(Apple claimed it was $8000 worth of content per month). However, what’s unclear is the usability of the product and how good the content within will actually be.
For example, a digital subscription to the WSJ costs $15.60/month. Can Apple really offer the full package plus a ton of other content for $9.99/month. There was a lot of talk about curated content during the presentation – does that apply here as well?
The question in my mind is whether this is a full fledged offering or something more neutered with only curated content available for certain newspapers or magazines. If it’s the full thing, it does seem like it could attract a certain customer and be a good deal for Apple and the end user. However, I’m not entirely sure how good a deal it would be for the various newspapers.
Next, came the big drop; THE APPLE CREDIT CARD. Once again, Apple is changing the way the financial world works with…well, it’s basically a credit card. However, Apple did make it sound like they were re-inventing the wheel at times here. There was a focus on confusing points programs and the easy CASH function of their card(i.e, cash back like most credits cards already have). There was the focus on it being a digital first credit card, security and favorable financial terms. It all sounds fine and I’m all for anything that makes debt more understandable and accessible.
And honestly, this was a bit of a pleasant surprise. I do love Apple Pay and think it makes transactions painless and easy. I almost never have to take out my card anymore. This seems like an extension of that an easier way to use credit. Debt can get complicated and Apple seems to be trying to make it simpler and more accessible. It’s hard to tell whether they’ll be successful without knowing the details. Still, their focus on low fees, easier debt pay off schedules and other factors was nice to see. Goldman Sachs and Mastercard are their partner here in this endeavor and it seems like a relatively easy and risk free way for Apple to enter the credit game.
However, despite the bells and whistles Apple may put on it, at the end of the day, it’s just a credit card with 2% cash back at stores and 3% cash back at apple stores. It may have some pretty graphs and a nice look but it won’t massively change the experience.
Now, you can buy your Apple Phone with your Apple Card and subscribe to Apple Services right on your phone!
The key moment for me was the short video showing the actual credit card being created using lasers, and in true Apple fashion, it was way over the top and groan inducing. IT’S A FREAKING CREDIT CARD APPLE, get over yourself with the design aspect of it.
Next came a service I’m not sure anyone wanted but here it is. It’s Apple Arcade, a game service with 100+ new and unique games. It can be played on the phone, iPad, mac or apple TV. I’m not a mobile gamer and all the games they showed looked like Indie-like PC games. They seemed neat but not sure if this will have mass market appeal. On top of that, they didn’t announce a price which is odd. You’d think they’d have something like that ironed out by now.
Mobile games are often free to play and targeted at casual players. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of audience this will attract. The games seemed more complex and creative and I’m not certain how well that will be received by the mainstream audience. As with all things like this, price point and quality will drive the end result and it’s hard to tell those right now. If it’s cheap enough and the games are good, I could see it being somewhat popular.
It’s not for me but I never play mobile games so I’m clearly not the target audience. However, I’m not sure if these types of games are suited to a mobile experience. I can get decent indie PC titles quite cheap during steam sales and if these aren’t much better than that then even $9.99/month might be hard to stomach. Perhaps, Apple is targeting a lower price point but it’s too early to tell at this point. It’s likely a low risk effort and if it succeeds, maybe we can see expansion with more marquee games later.
Next, came the final area of discussion for the evening and the one most people looked forward to, the TV stuff.
First, came the new TV app which will allow users to aggregate their TV services into one platform. It sounds cool if it works well and all the big hitters outside of Netflix are there. You can add your cable package(or streaming TV packages), Hulu, Prime Video and various TV channels right into your TV app and see it all on one screen. That’s much better than the jumping between five apps I have to do right now.
On top of that, much like Amazon Channels, you can now subscribe directly to premium channels like HBO within the app. It sounds neat and while I’m sure Apple will take a cut of the subscriptions, it probably won’t be a huge revenue driver for them. I do like the fact that they’re opening the app to places like Roku and FireTV. I’ll probably give it a try when it’s on my Roku to see how it works.
Beyond that came the next in ever growing field of streaming services, Apple TV+. It was thirty minutes of celebrities talking about but not really showing their work. Talk about a bloated announcement with next to 0 details and a lack of excitement.
Apparently, Apple is changing the face of TV by focusing on the creators and good quality TV. According to them, it’s the “new home for the world’s most creative storytellers.”
Steven Spielberg headlined, followed by various actors and directors talking about their projects. Oprah was there too as was big bird! In the end, the announcement was light on details and a bit too high on pretentiousness.
I’m not eager to jump into another streaming service and none of what was shown here got me excited about it. Sure, there’s a good deal of talent involved but how is that any different than what Netflix or HBO are doing? On top of that, there was no mention of how much Apple is actually spending on content NOR was there mention of the actual cost of the service!
I get that Apple probably wants to get an idea of what the market will allow. However, I think it’ll be hard for them to charge anything above $9.99 for this service.
They’re far behind on everyone when it comes to content and nothing they showed today really wowed me. We’re in a world that’s already getting saturated with streaming services and Disney’s is still on the way. Apple will be hard pressed to make inroads into this unless they make the offering really appealing.
Integrating everything within their own ecosystem via the new TV app is a good start but we’ll see how TV+ does as a standalone.
Much like arcade, quality and price point will be key here and we didn’t get a sense of that in this announcement. It’s possible that TV+ blows people away with a low price point. An attractive package deal with News+, Arcade and Music is a possibility too. I’m already an Apple Music subscriber a small fee to add TV+ might work for me.
It’s also possible that it’ll be a way to push the Apple TV device by offering it for free with that. However, it’s quite possible that this will simply be another $9.99+ offering that viewers will have to pick between. Netflix is already spending $10B for content. The question is, can Apple keep up with that and make the financials work?
At this point, and based on what I saw at the event, it’s too early to make any meaningful conclusions. It’s not a step back for Apple services but it’s not a huge leap forward by any means.
As an investor, I was a bit underwhelmed with what I saw here. It doesn’t change my thesis but it doesn’t make me more excited to buy more Apple. I felt the same as an Apple product owner. There’s nothing here I personally want but I’ll see where it prices out before I decide if any more Apple services are for me.
Disclosure : Long Apple