In the modern-era of ubiquitous “news” coverage, many of us have become accustomed to certain routines and cycles. Every four years, though seemingly two years before election day, all eyes and lenses reorient themselves towards presidential hopefuls – while our mouths and tongues simultaneously deride the premature obsession. Every November, we rehash the tragedies of past years’ Black Friday door-busting debacles, as families either roll their eyes in disbelief or camp out to do it all over again. Considering the magnitude of Christmas and Presidential elections, it’s quite a feat that Apple manages to grab headlines and airtime multiple times per year. The familiar shots of Exec’s on stage, soon-to-be-released products and endless lines outside Apple Stores might as well be stock imagery at this point.
On September 9th of this year, Apple transfixed a subset of media and consumers to announce a host of hardware updates, several new OS’s and perhaps even, just maybe, forever redefine what a “photo” is. As the month rolls on, we’ll likely hear news of long lines at stores, supply shortages and in all likelihood, a cringe inducing bug or two.
But I’m not going to talk about any of that.
Instead, I’ll do my best to look beyond the immediate sales figures and new iPhone features to some of the long-term trends which may unfold as a result of this month’s news. To folks who were either disappointed that we got a “6s” instead of a “7” or comforted by the fact that iPhone 6s sales are on pace with last year’s initial iPhone 6 sales, I would say: you just might be missing the forest for the trees.
Broadly speaking, Apple did a few less-than-wow things this September, that may help defend the title of world’s most valuable company, for many many years to come.
The New Apple TV
The Apple TV, as a product line, is nothing new, it’s been launched and relaunched in various shapes for nearly 10 years and has never gained the momentum Apple has come to expect from so many of its products. That isn’t all that surprising, considering it wasn’t all that different from a product like a Roku – which costs about the same and serves as a similar gateway to online content like MLB.TV or HBO.GO.
But that’s about to change. Big time.
Several factors have made this a uniquely fertile time to be in the living-room electronics market. First of all, people are cutting their cable providers left and right. Yes, cable cutters comprise a small slice of TV watchers, but that number is growing and accelerating. AppleTV can expect to fight for (and probably win) the title of de-facto living room device. People don’t want a hassle in their living room, they don’t want a complex interface. They want a system they can trust to access their content reliably and one that interfaces as seamlessly as possible with their existing devices. The price point, often the big “con” in switching to Apple, comes in under $200, and probably isn’t going to scare off too many folks. Many have been paying about half that per month, just for cable. Cancel the cable, keep your Netflix, buy HBO a la cart and get an Apple TV for Christmas… you’ll be saving money before you know it.
But even that formula has been in play for months, ever since giants like HBO and Showtime have moved to sell independently, it’s hardly big news. The big news is that AppleTV is about to get an App Store. That means that a respectable-sized standing army of developers are chomping at the bit to put the Apple TV’s new motion-activated Siri-equipped remote to use. Games, educational content, traditional TV content and so much more is about to get piped into living rooms everywhere. Much of this won’t be available or Roku or Chromecast or XBox or Dish or whatever soon-to-be-extinct creature you have perched beside your glorious home jumbo-tron. Perhaps, just as importantly, the ability to switch between content on one screen, or share the space in elegant picture-in-picture-esque ways, may actually allow digitally-fractured families to once again stare at the same screen, just like we did way back in the old days.
The AppleTV wasn’t a product launch, it was more like an economy launch. The speed to market and flexible pricing of games, will be a boon to gamers. The ability to use native apps on a massive screen will revolutionize shopping, not just for things you buy on amazon, but for things like houses and cars, which can truly leverage the interface. No need for two people to huddle over an iPad or hunch over a laptop, sit back on the sofa and relax.
In its broadest sense, this AppleTV launch will be very different because, for the first time, it has powerful network economics – that is to say, the value of one AppleTV will increase as others come on board. As demand for apps increase, the apps will continue to get better. As popular multiplayer games emerge, you’ll often need to have an AppleTV to join in the fun. All the while, as these boxes occupy more and more living room shelves, more people will buy their HBO via Apple, their movies and shows through iTunes and their games through the App Store. It won’t be long before the revenue made through these devices dwarf their sticker price and once consumers have all their precious media authorized and organized via that shiny black box, who but the most ambitious of us will actually endure the switching costs of trying out the next “next big thing.”
The AppleTV wasn’t a product launch, it was more like an economy launch.
Coke, Pepsi, Starbucks, Gillette (and Apple)
If you ask most adults which they prefer, Coke or Pepsi, you are likely to get a definitive response. Occasionally, you do find someone without a strong preference, but as I rule, I wouldn’t trust such flip-floppery. Apple is poised to potentially garner the same sort of lifetime loyalty you see in cola; but the hardware it sells, the storage space it rents, and the commissions it collects on games, apps and media add up to a whole lot more than 12-oz cans, no matter how high you stack ‘em.
Nowadays, many people dabble back and forth between new Android phones and iPhones. A few damn-the-torpedo types might even try out a Windows phone. But make no mistake, these young kids who pine after Mommy and Daddy’s gadgetry are forming real connections to the user experience, iconography, design elements and more. If you think soda is sticky, wait till you see what twenty years of interactive hours-per-day usage will do to a person’s consumer preferences. Add to that the tantalizing monthly pricing plans for a new iPhone every year and it’s easy to imagine many families simply getting comfy, just as they often do with the newfound ease of leasing, rather than buying cars.
Razors, specifically models like the Mach 3 by Gillette, are known far and wide for their success in terms of pricing. They practically give away that first razor and then keep you coming back for refills, seemingly forever. As per strict orders from my wife, I maintain a beard, but I do shave just my cheeks and neck with a Mach 3, so they last quite a while. That said, when I do need to re-up with a new 10-pack, the sticker shock gets me every time. But do I ever, ever, walk back across the drugstore to comparison shop what other less expensive razors may have been launched in the last 17 years? Nope. Not once. It’s just this type of thinking – or lack thereof – that will reap Apple tens of billions in terms of renewed iCloud subscriptions, annual iPhone renewals, season 35 of Top Chef and who knows what’s next.
So, what the heck does Starbucks have to do with anything? Well, it’s been discussed for many years that much of what helped to establish and differentiate Starbucks was its success in creating a “third place.” That is to say, a place you feel comfortable and familiar with, that is neither your home, nor your work. Nowadays, many of us simply bolt in and out as quickly as we can, while still getting our chemical fix, but who’s really to blame? It’s hard to keep the magic alive.
Apple are essentially erasing the lines between work and home, creativity and consumption, the media you seek and the medium which presents it.
Apple is playing a similar game and they are doing it marvelously. While not existing as a “third place”, they are proving to be a top tier choice for business purposes and entertainment, hardly the “graphic designer’s” tool of a decade ago. They are essentially erasing the lines between work and home, creativity and consumption, the media you seek and the medium which presents it. The new larger, keyboard and Apple Pencil ready, iPad-Pro is just the most obvious bridge between home and work. It falls right in line with the MacBook Air which is so light, why not bring it everywhere? Apple Pay has yet to catch fire, but once it does, it will become as common as credit cards – and twice as convenient. The new multi-use AppleTV is positioned to take the isolating nature of so much of today’s screen time and actually re-orient families back to their family rooms – a change many of us would sincerely welcome.
Before too long, Apple may not even be thought of as purveyor of devices, but rather as a person’s general gateway to activity. We can only hope they put enough parking at the Apple Store so we can all re-charge our iCars.