Apple is putting on of its big events this coming Monday, March 25. But if you’re holding your breath for new gadgets, then you can exhale—they’re already here.
Throughout this week, Apple has announced new iMacs, iPads, and AirPods unceremoniously via press release, clearing the big stage for something less tangible: a rumored new streaming service. Hardware has been relegated to second fiddle, which marks a sea change for a tech giant in transition and watershed moment for Apple events, which had generally made phones and laptops and watches the stars of the show.
It’s not that quiet hardware rollouts are unprecedented for Apple. In fact, they’re the norm for spec bumps to the hardware company’s more established lines. Macbooks, which recently got center stage when the Macbook Pro gained a flashy touchpad, are traditionally announced quietly whenever Intel’s newest chips hit the market to upgrade Macs and PCs alike. No opportunity to say anything sexy about Apple’s innovation there, so no need to waste any stage time on it. This is precisely what’s happening with the new iMac Apple rolled out on Tuesday, March 19.
This time around, though, Apple’s quiet announcements include some more substantial tidbits. The iPads Air and Mini now both sport Apple’s most advanced in-house chip, the A12 Bionic. Meanwhile, the new AirPods carry an entirely new Apple-designed chip called the H1, the first an only in a new ‘H-series’ line! That’s a bit more than a cursory spec bump, and it’s something that, in previous years, we might expect to be held for a stage show.
But this is not previous years, and this is not the same Cupertino. Back in January, Apple warned its shareholders about declining revenue, which CEO Tim Cook attributed to declining iPhone sales. Cook pointed to macroeconomic trends as the cause, but there’s also the self-evident trend of phone stagnation, at Apple and on the whole. Yes, the folding phones finally are coming. But is that because we need them, or because phone companies need something expensive to sell? The same stagnation effect applies, perhaps more extremely, to the gadgets that exist within the phone’s periphery. iPads last forever, and AirPods are really just headphones.
And so Apple is redirecting its energies—and the extremely valuable resource of Apple Event Stage Time—in a direction with promising potential for profit, and more importantly the growth of profit. For now, that appears to be services, a streaming service in particular. Apple Music leads the charge, striking out at Spotify. Rumor has it this year’s launch is a TV streaming service with original content, free on Apple devices but paid on other gadgets, and without content from major competitors like Netflix and Hulu, with HBO up in the air.
In other words, Apple wants to talk about a product you pay for repeatedly forever, instead of a gadget you buy once (and then again in a few years when it reaches obsolescence).
The world of streaming is getting crowded. But in the face of Peak Smartphone, it’s a sensible place for Apple to go. There are millions of Apple device-owners who, if they receive the service (or any part of it) for free, function as a foundation that keeps Apple from having to start from scratch.
In addition, Apple doesn’t have many other options. Unlike Google, which is at heart an advertising company, Apple can’t puff up its profit in the roundabout ways that Google can. That makes it uniquely positioned to promote important things like privacy, but leaves it with a more limited set of revenue-making tools.
We’ll have to wait until Monday to see what Apple’s streaming service actually looks like, and even longer to find out if it’s going to be successful, but either way: This is just the start of Apple’s shift to sell you things more ephemeral than glass and steel.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics