Narrative: Apple Doesn't Get Services
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Narrative: Apple Doesn’t Get Services (Dec 27, 2016)
Written: December 27, 2016
The truism that’s done the rounds in consumer tech circles in recent years is that Apple somehow doesn’t “get” S/services, a broad category both in Apple’s reporting structure and in people’s descriptions of a variety of activities at Apple. This has included maps, iMessage, iCloud, and a variety of other bits and pieces, only some of which are actually part of Apple’s Services segment, and criticisms cover performance, user interfaces, reliability, feature sets, and more.
Some of this criticism has been legitimate – the launch of Apple Maps as a replacement for the earlier Google-based maps was something of a disaster, and iMessage in particular has suffered from poor syncing between devices and weird glitches involving message delivery. But both of these particular issues are largely resolved at this point – though Apple Maps arguably still trails Google Maps in some ways, it’s an entirely serviceable product at this point, and iMessage also largely behaves itself today.
Certainly, some of Apple’s cloud services aren’t as fully featured as competing products from service-led companies like Google, but that’s representative of Apple’s approach of starting with a focused product and adding features incrementally. And it’s arguable that Apple’s services don’t need to be the best for them to succeed, because of the power of being the default option. Integration often trumps naked feature functionality, and this allows Apple to maintain a parity of sorts.
Arguably the bigger recent weakness of Apple’s services has been trying to do too much in version 1, such as with Apple Music, which felt bloated at launch, but has been trimmed and reorganized since in a way that makes more sense. This is reflective of the Tim Cook era at Apple, under which that and not missing features is the problem, and rapid iteration after launch is the solution, across both services and software (see also watchOS).
At the same time, services (with a small s) continue to be one of the three legs of Apple’s stool, tightly integrated with hardware and software, and they’re a key part of the ecosystem that draws people to and keeps them using Apple’s products. The App Store in particular is both a key part of the iPhone value proposition and an increasingly important revenue driver for the company, and though it has flaws it’s by far the largest app store by revenue despite iOS’s smaller market share relative to Android. Apple’s users continue to outspend their Android counterparts, and that’s validation of the attractiveness of Apple’s services for both users and developers. And again, the privileged position Apple’s services enjoy on its own devices makes services like iMessage extremely powerful even when limited to a single platform, especially as Apple has continued to add features, notably in iOS 10.
Apple can definitely do better in services, and I expect it will continue to make incremental improvements. But such things at Apple are mostly a matter of focus in the overall context of tight resources – the company famously has to shunt engineers from one project to another rather than dedicating resources to particular products and services, and this sometimes creates a sense of benign neglect. As Apple returns to growth in the coming months, I would hope that it would ease up on its hiring freeze and bring in the necessary talent to keep the services business on the right trajectory.
The Wall Street Journal reports, with confirmation from NBC but not Apple, that the latter has signed a deal to reboot Steven Spielberg’s 1980s TV series as part of its big original video content push. This would be the first deal that’s come to light since Apple brought in two Sony TV execs to run the initiative, which I think of as version 2.0 of its original content push, with the first characterized by a variety of smaller projects with ties to its ecosystems like Planet of the Apps, Carpool Karaoke, and a variety of one-off music documentaries. Amazing Stories wasn’t a huge hit back in the day, running for only two seasons with limited ratings, but the Spielberg name will likely do a lot for it, and with a big budget ($5m per episode) and some good stories it could well be an interesting hit. Apple will obviously need quite a few more of these to use up its billion-dollar budget and secure enough content to become a draw for whatever service Apple wraps around this content, but this seems like a promising start.
Amazon Begins Selling Apple TV Hardware Again (Sep 26, 2017)
Amazon has quietly begun selling Apple TV hardware again, as part of the thawing in relations between the two companies. Apple has already announced that an Amazon video app is coming to the Apple TV shortly, so this is the first half of that two-part move, suggesting that the other shoe should drop soon. As I said a few months back, though some have suggested there was some tit-for-tat in Apple and Amazon’s frosty relations, the reality is that the barriers to playing nicely were all on Amazon’s side – the company could have built an app for the Apple TV as soon as the platform launched an App Store, but chose not to. I assume that was because of the App Store cut, but that’s been a feature on iOS too, and hasn’t stopped Amazon from launching video apps for that platform. Regardless, it’s likely that Apple has made some concessions on the App Store cut, and that that’s finally got Amazon on board as one of the last holdouts from the Apple TV, which should further increase the appeal of that hardware platform for those willing to pay the Apple premium to get their Transparent or Man in the High Castle fix.
This is a minor thing, but nevertheless an important one in several ways. Apple has updated the executive bios on its website to reflect a few changes, notably the change in responsibility for Siri from Eddy Cue (generally responsible for online services) to Craig Federighi (responsible for software), and Eddy Cue’s ownership of Apple’s original video content push. That’s notable for two reasons: one is that Eddy Cue has lost other areas of responsibility recently, notably the App Store to Phil Schiller, and Siri is an area where Apple can ill afford to be seen to be falling behind the competition. Taking it away from Cue is likely a sign that Apple wants to see the same rapid improvements there as it did in the App Store when Schiller took over, but also a recognition that the content push is going to take more of Cue’s attention going forward.
Also worth noting: though there’s still only one woman among Apple’s top-tier leadership of SVPs and CXOs as shown on its executive leadership page, the next tier of VPs is now half women, with three of the four women of color. Diversity in the top ranks at Apple has been poor and slow to change, in part because the senior leadership team has been so stable for so long, but it’s clear that Tim Cook is using the more frequent changes happening at the next tier down to increase diversity there.
via Mac Rumors