We became accustomed, when the late Steve Jobs was running the show, to Apple being at the vanguard of technology. His iPod, iPhone and then iPad created entirely new markets and changed the way the world communicates.
But its subsequent smartwatch was a damp squib, and with its latest announcement it is once again jumping on someone else’s bandwagon.
The unveiling of Apple TV Plus was typically heavy on razzmatazz but alarmingly light on detail. The service will launch in the autumn, Apple’s new boss, Tim Cook, said, but we don’t know what it will cost nor what the benefit of subscribing to it will be.
What we do know is that Apple is playing catch-up with Netflix and Amazon by launching its own TV service, with a raft of movies and TV series from other providers and some it has commissioned itself. Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Oprah Winfrey were among those at the launch event the other week, promoting their original projects for Apple.
You will be able to watch the new service on an app that will run on iPhones and iPads of course, and also on some smart TVs, streaming sticks and set-top boxes, including those by the vendor-neutral manufacturer, Roku.
Apple has hinted that the app may also serve as a catch-all for your other subscriptions, though not Netflix, without the need for a separate login.
But the devil will be in the detail: what’s on and how easily you will be able to opt in and out of your contract to avoid paying for material in which you are not interested.
The small print will become clearer in the next few months, but the consensus among analysts seems to be that Apple is unlikely to be able to offer the same range of content as Netflix.
For its part, the company says its aim is to make TV viewing easy again, just as it was in the days of only four channels. Its app, it says, will pull in all the content you own, and anything to which you have a subscription.
There are other platforms that do this already – Plex and Kodi, for instance – but while they are popular among those who enjoy curating their video collections, they are perhaps too technical for the casual viewer. Apple, on the other hand, is famous for making things easy – even, as in this case when it’s gatecrashing someone else’s party.
A further example of its encroachment on to other people’s territory is the launch of its own credit card, which was announced at the same time the TV service. Again, the details have yet to come but Apple says its interest rates will be among the lowest on the market and that users will get two per cent back in cash on some purchases.
Customers will not get a physical card unless they specifically ask for one, because the company prefers transactions to go through its Wallet app, from which it derives revenue.
But despite the 21st century window dressing, the initiative is really just a case of a bank – in this case Goldman Sachs working with Mastercard – licensing a “white label” version of its service to another company. A layer of Apple’s brand of consumerism placed on top isn’t nearly so appealing when applied to easy credit for its millennial customer base.
It sounds like a blunderbuss approach to grabbing as much as possible of an entertainment market it created but no longer controls. Will Apple’s TV network and credit card be another iPhone or the smartwatch no-one wanted? Stay tuned.