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A fierce battle has been raging for some time in the kingdom of corporate behemoths. Last year, billionaire Jeff Bezos seemed to be the reigning monarch, occupying the throne with his tightening grip on the world of retail, entertainment and – increasingly – finance. But to no one’s surprise, Apple’s Tim Cook wasn’t exactly napping on the sidelines as Amazon roared.
This week, we learned about the projects that Apple has quietly been tinkering with in sunny Cupertino and beyond. The iPhone maker is desperately trying to consign that limiting descriptor to history. The gloves are off and there are more than just dollar signs in Cook’s eyes.
Whether he can execute a coup and dethrone Bezos, however, is questionable. On Monday during Apple’s massively hyped “It’s show time” event, Cook had something of an undisciplined toddler about him, running amok in a sweet shop. Why settle for just the bubble gum when you can have the sour jellies, chocolate drops, lemon sherbets and fizzy dips too? Instead of just announcing the launch of an original content video streaming service, Apple unveiled a gaming service and an international news subscription platform. For good measure it revealed that’s its teaming up with Goldman Sachs to launch its own branded credit card.
Spurred by a realisation that in order to secure its spot in the annals of tech history, it has to stop pretending that relaunching the iPhone 10 more times constitutes legitimate industry-defining innovation, Apple appears to have gone into full kitchen sink mode.
It wants the world – nay, the universe – to be hurtling towards a future sponsored by Apple, where we talk, pay, watch and play Apple; a future where Apple becomes the infrastructure upon which our entire professional and social life is built, and where Apple enjoys such a cultural and economic monopoly that its failure would be utterly ruinous for the very fabric of society as we know it.
Obviously such systemic power is perilous. Too big to fail really should be considered too risky to tolerate. Anyone remember the financial crisis? Probably worth dusting off those history books. But fortunately for us, there’s a big chance that Apple won’t quite cut it.
Just like that frenzied toddler, indiscriminately munching his or her way through the candy store, Apple seems to be lacking that all-important quality of discernment or a commitment to doing just one new thing but doing it really, really well. Its intentions are all praiseworthy in theory but flawed (or at least lacking) in practice. It’s got some way to go before it gobbles us whole.
For starters, while many global media outlets have agreed to jump on board Apple’s news subscription service others, including The New York Times and Washington Post, have not. And several, including The Wall Street Journal, have said they could withhold some content. So no, the media industry is not about to become Tim Cook’s playground.
Nothing says corporate baller like teaming up with one of banking’s most prestigious fat cats to launch a credit card, but analysts noted that the rewards and rates the card offers aren’t really any better than that of its rivals. The world of finance has not been shaken to its core.
And then there’s the streaming service. Cook certainly managed to roll out the Hollywood big guns with Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg signing on to promote his offering, but he still managed to leave us hanging in some respects. Critics took issue with the fact that pricing would not be revealed until later this year.
“Apple’s push into original content, leaves us / investors with more questions than answers,” Aaron Rakers, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities, pointedly wrote in a note to clients. And remember, it’s those investors who ultimately make or break any public corporation’s success. Might Apple just be a little late to the party on this front? The streaming world is as crowded as a delayed Tube at peak rush hour, and some analysts particularly criticised the fact that subscribers won’t have access to a back catalogue of films and TV shows.
The early success of Amazon’s and Netflix’s streaming offerings was in large part due to them making this type of content available. Now, studios and production companies are much less willing to license it.
Apple may look like it’s taking over the world. The monopolies it’s attempting to build could potentially be quite terrifying. But I’m not quivering for the sake of market plurality just yet, and neither is Mr Bezos.
Putting on a nice show deserves a decent pat on the back. But these days, Mr Cook, you’re just going to have to try harder.
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