Last night Apple had one of its famous launch events, the kind it usually reserves for the biggest announcements and product launches. Yesterday's wasn't about a new iPhone, Macbook, or anything else like that; it was all about an update on the 'service' sector of Apple's business. The non-hardware side of its revenue stream, which has included the likes of iTunes, Apple Music, the iOS App Store, and others. While it's nice to hear about yet another video streaming service you're expected to pay for, there was a clear problem with the whole thing: the distinct lack of support for people who don't buy Apple products.
Apple has always been very focused its own thing. It has a huge stake in hardware, pumping out streams of products that come running Apple-made software that contains everything in what people typically refer to as a closed platform. In other words, getting yourself onto an Apple device means having to go through Apple's systems, and there will be hell to pay if you try and game the system. Just ask Facebook and Google.
It's by no means perfect, but it means Apple has the power to use that system for its own financial gain. Want to offer mobile payments to iPhone users? You're stuck with Apple Pay and giving Apple its cut of the sale. Want to sell apps or subscriptions on the App Store? Apple gets a 30 per cent commission on each sale. Even if there have been attempts to stop Apple demanding quite so much, the fact is that people aren't upgrading their hardware nearly as often as they used to. The money Apple brings in from services is going to be important to keep those shareholders happy, which explains why they got some a prestigious event.
The new Apple News+ service
Normally an upgrade to Apple News would be considered fluff before the launch of an iPhone, but instead it was treated with extra reverence. Which makes sense. If a company like Xiaomi can reach the stage its at by focusing on service-based revenue, then why can't Apple? That's why Xiaomi products are so cheap: the company swore that it wouldn't earn more than five per cent profit on hardware because the trade off of getting people into the MIUI ecosystem was far more lucrative.
Of course, Apple is going to focus a lot of time and energy on existing Apple users, because having them around is a double win. They buy the hardware, then they use the Apple services to earn the company even more money. But there's no reason why it shouldn't do a better job of offering those same services to non-Apple customers. Go back and watch last night's event, and you'll notice a distinct lack of product availability for non-Apple devices. Almost everything was iOS, Mac, and Apple TV. The only exception was the Apple TV app. That's coming to Roku, Fire TV, and select smart TVs.
The key point is there was no mention of either Android or Windows, two systems that have huge stakes in the global markets. Last year Android controlled 72.28 per cent of the global smartphone and tablet market, while Apple only had 23.91 per cent. Windows has 80.36 per cent of the desktop market share, while OS X only had 12.84 per cent.
Oprah talks about her new Apple TV+ series during last night's event
Of course, not all of those devices are going to be suitable for streaming Oprah's revived book club. The number of Windows PCs that run Windows for business reasons is bound to be enormous, but my point still stands. There are millions of people out there that Apple could integrate into its services system, should the company decide it's worth the effort. But sadly Apple has preferred to ignore them, as anyone who ever used iTunes on a Windows PC can confirm.
It's not like Apple can't do it, either. Apple Music was released to Google Play after all, and while it took nearly six months and left us with an app that still isn't as functional as the iOS version, it's there. You can hop in and pay Apple money to beam music to your phone, should you ever want to. Similarly, it released iTunes to the Windows store last year, even though it seems to have been promptly forgotten about. Hell, Apple Music is even available on the Amazon Echo now, which is a double competitor thanks to Amazon Music and Alexa.
Non-Apple users do have a tendency to be openly hostile to Apple when they pop in with their own things, but honestly? That doesn't matter. One of the things that's always been great about the likes of not being in the Apple ecosystem means there are usually plenty of choices for people. Some people might resist the option of watching Apple TV+ on their Pixel 3, but others might subscribe to watch whatever workplace comedy Steve Carell found himself in this time. They may not be paying for an Apple device, but Apple still gets some money from them anyway. Not as much, granted, but something is better than nothing.
Apple's new credit card (it's made of titanium, because Apple)
The same goes for money. Google doesn't have such strict guidelines on who can and can't set up a mobile payment system on its platform, so what's stopping Apple from throwing out Apple Pay? From the sounds of things you can't use that weird metal Apple Credit Card without the Wallet app, and keeping it an iPhone exclusive slices away a huge chunk of potential revenue. And what about News+? Android users read magazines too, and they'd no doubt love to a different way to get hold of them cheaply. Apple Arcade obviously wouldn't work because of the app store thing, but that's only a small exception.
In a way, I can understand that Apple may not want to go all in on having its services universally available, because it doesn't want an exodus of users. But then again, nobody really buys an Apple product for the services. The company may claim Apple Maps is the most popular mapping app on iOS, and it's certainly improved a lot since launch, but it's still Apple Maps. None of these services are particularly exciting or enticing enough to make someone drop £750-£1,450 on a phone. Or even £199 on an iPod, for that matter.
But the goal of any business is to make money and grow, so if it wants to continue it's going to have to look elsewhere for wallets to empty. And you know what? There are huge numbers of people it's been quite content with ignoring for years. Maybe it's about time that changed.