Since I stepped back from reviewing gadgets and commenting on general tech stories on the Beeb, I’ve paid less attention to the occasional slew of press releases that drop into my inbox from Apple. But this morning, as well as talking about the future of work, Julia Hartley-Brewer’s team on TalkRadio have asked me to comment on yesterday’s announcements. So, I took a look.
What I saw fascinated me.
For me, Apple’s announcements are not so much about new products or services, but about the way we navigate the explosion of choice in front of us when it comes to entertainment. In the announcements of Apple TV+, the new Apple TV App, and Apple Arcade, the new ad-free games service, the same words keep coming up: “curated”, “personalised”, “discover”. Apple is catching a lot of headlines for its big-name content signings. But I think its desire, and mission, to insert itself into our decision-making is much more interesting.
Fair warning, there may be some confirmation bias here. I’ve been obsessed with how we navigate the surfeit of choice we now face for some time, writing about the phenomenon of ‘reintermediation’ here, and here. This, to me, is just another example. But it’s important because of Apple’s scale and reach.
Apple offering new content is undoubtedly important. It doesn’t matter how late you are to the party if you roll up with Apple-scale swagger. But Apple inserting itself into the process for how 1bn people choose content? That’s enormous. If Apple becomes the tastemaker, the front end to all TV services, then it will have incredible power over what we watch. It can diminish the value of the brands behind that discovery engine – brands that right now act as a heuristic for choice. Don’t know what to watch? There’s probably something good on the BBC.
I believe that in the future a lot of our decision-making processes will be augmented by smart machines, just as a lot of us already let our digital music accounts do the choosing with automatically curated playlists. This potentially creates a more open market for content creators: no longer is your success at the whim of a big distributor if you can get it found by the right discover engine. But it also places enormous power with those discovery engines – just as we have already handed Google so much power by making it the primary means by which we navigate the web.
This move by Apple is a smart one as it transitions to a higher proportion of service-based revenue. It makes Apple ownership more sticky, because your preferences are bound to your Apple account. But it also allows Apple to exert that stickiness beyond its own ecosystem, if it can use its new channels as a trojan horse to get the Apple TV app on to third party devices and smart TVs.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m as dazzled by Oprah and Spielberg as the next person. But reintermediation is the bigger play here.