Apple tries to get beyond the iPhone

How badly does Apple need to sell something other than the iPhone? asked David Goldman in CNN.com. Badly enough that it just held its splashiest event ever and didn’t even bring up the iPhone. Instead, Apple CEO Tim Cook is “getting into show business.” The company enlisted celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey to introduce its new streaming video service to compete with Netflix, as well as a news subscription service, video game platform, and credit card. It’s betting— big—that these services will make up for lost iPhone revenue. “The iPhone accounted for nearly two-thirds of the company’s revenue last year,” but sales fell by 15 percent in the fourth quarter. This is a major transition that’s going to take time, said Michael Simon in Macworld .com. “Selling pretty hardware is easy.” Getting people to agree to a monthly charge takes “commitment and focus.” But Apple has successfully transitioned before—like from Macs to handheld iPods and iPhones—and it “has a knack for entering a new industry and turning it on its head.”

Cook hopes to distinguish Apple from more “unscrupulous” Big Tech rivals, said Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal. With Apple News+, he emphasized “trusted news partners and human curation,” versus the algorithms and viral news of Facebook and Twitter. With its new credit card, Apple said, it would make interest rates more transparent. With Apple Arcade, it pledged not to hit users with “gimmicky in-game purchases.” This follows some conventional marketing wisdom. If you’re “entering a crowded market, a message of social responsibility” can gain positive attention. Unfortunately, Apple has nothing new to offer, said Rick Tetzeli in Fortune. Cook talked a lot about innovation. But “this was Apple’s least creative event since 1996,” the year before Steve Jobs returned. It’s just feeding off the creativity of others. “Start a TV service to compete with Netflix? Hire some stars!” Enter Spielberg, Winfrey, and Jennifer Aniston. “A news service?” Charge publications 50 cents on the dollar for the right to bundle their stuff. “How about a credit card?” The new collaboration with Goldman Sachs has the same perks as “every other credit card on the planet.”

I’ve already hit peak subscription fatigue, said Scott Stein in CNET.com. I currently pay for three streaming services— Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix—not to mention Apple Music, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, even my gym membership. “Suddenly, we’re subscribing to everything,” and the monthly bills are piling up. Apple isn’t giving any sense of the price of its options or how they will work on a budget. The company “doesn’t seem to acknowledge this subscription overload.”