Apple as Content Middleman

It feels like the other shoe has dropped.

For the past few years, Apple has been talking up their active install base, and hot on the heels of their slightly disappointing earnings miss last quarter, we have the next suite of services, that in part show Apple’s future strategy.

Not to suggest these services have been reactively developed based upon recent hardware sales—all these initiatives have been in development longer than that, and Apple has been telegraphing a shift in strategy for years. It’s a natural direction, now the smartphone market has matured.

Still, it’s interesting to see this services–focused event, following the unceremonious way Apple updated a wide range of their products last week1.

Apple Arcade

Apple Arcade was perhaps the most interesting announcement, and the least expected.

Apple has never really focused on gaming before. The Mac has always been overlooked as a game platform, in part due to its price-inhibitive hardware, which in turn, makes it less of a priority for developers.

This changed with iOS and Apple’s excellent chip team. Modern iOS devices are not hamstrung by computational constraints2, and due to the dominant audience (particularly the segment willing to pay money), games on iOS have flourished, despite Apple’s relative inattention.

Granted, the economics of the App Store have lead to the proliferation of some less desirable trends in gaming, like micro-transactions, in-game timers, and loot boxes. Something Apple Arcade will hopefully solve.

I have a lot of thoughts on Apple and gaming3, but Apple Arcade has a lot of potential. Particularly for indie titles, and in its ability to distinguish itself from existing AAA console and PC gaming markets. It’s a no–brainer for indie studios making games for other platforms—like the Nintendo Switch—to also be on Apple Arcade, if the economics make sense.

As for customers? We have to wait to see the pricing, and the library.

Apple tv+

Whereas Spotify, Apple Music and other music streaming services have nearly equivalent libraries (timed exclusivity windows aside), the streaming video market is very different, with companies like Netflix and Amazon investing heavily in original content.

Apple is investing in its own library original content, too, and the consistency and variety of their library will play a large role in whether people see value in signing up for an additional video streaming service (or are willing to cancel a current subscription for Apple tv+).

Apple Card

An Apple branded credit card is perhaps the most un-Apple product for Apple to announce. They have the infrastructure and connections with Apple Pay, but it’s a curious move.

Apple can talk up the seamless payment experience and the unique user experience angle provide, but it’s still a little tough not to see this as a market Apple probably could do without entering.

Apple News+

Of everything announced, this service seems like the most niche.

As John Gruber points out, the Magazine subscription component of Apple News+ is reminiscent of Newsstand, which never really seemed to gain any traction.

While the convenience of access to a vast library of digital music, TV showss, and films makes streaming music and video services appealing, I’m not sure digital versions of magazine subscriptions benefit in quite the same way.

While eBooks are undeniably popular alternative to physical books, digital magazines feel like they compete more directly with the open web — anyone choosing to read a magazine over browsing the web in a point in time is probably not doing so in front of a device.

Likewise with news in general, it’s been so devalued by the web (not without its consequences), that asking people to pay for news seems like a bit of an uphill battle, compared to the value proposition of “listen to unlimited music”, or “watch our entire video library”.

Apple as content middleman

It’s interesting to consider how many of the services Apple announced are more reliant on external content providers outside Apple, to make these services compelling.

Granted, that’s always the case for . Now they have to differentiate based upon their platform of devices

Ultimately, it makes sense for Apple to diversify. Hopefully we’ll get some great new games, movies and TV shows out of it, that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

And hopefully Apple won’t be quite so pressured by Wall Street to jack up the price of my next Macbook Pro either.


  1. Granted, they were all minor revisions, not exciting new launches. There’s no reason to actually read too much into it. 

  2. New constraints emerge, however. Apple’s stringent desire for physical minimalism is not ideal for traditional games. More experimental, or storytelling–focused games can get away with less precise input. 

  3. I don’t think gaming is particularly in Apple’s wheelhouse. Apple enjoy the benefits of the videogame market when they happen to have the marketshare, but it’s never been their focus until now. Scaling a game across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV is also going to be interesting, because the input methods vary so greatly between each. For a long time, Apple required Apple TV games would be playable with the Siri Remote, which hampered a lot of potential for that platform. They reversed this decision, but the cross–platform input situation still feels like a mess.