Since Apple’s March 25th event, I have seen and heard a lot of confusion over what Apple is attempting. Writers and pundits have tried to compare Apple TV+ to offerings from Netflix and Disney, and have worried about the absence of a back catalog of content. They have wondered at the News+ value proposition for publications like the New York Times, which are concerned about loosing touch with the direct feedback from their readers. They have expressed concern over how the Apple Arcade offering will not address the needs of app developers who have figured out how to make their money via in-app purchases. And, above all, they have scratched their heads over what they see as a confused message — one that doesn’t appear to express a unified, focused plan. They conclude from this that Apple is losing its way in a changing technology and media landscape.
I cannot disagree with this assessment more strongly. There is a clear and consistent message from Apple that was on display on the 25th — one that Steve Jobs famously laid out in March 2011: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
Taking this as a core value and apply it as a lens to the Spring 2019 event, Apple’s consistency becomes clear. Apple is expressing its belief in the artists and creators and placing them first rather than in the technologically driven analytics that will assemble a work that appeals but is something less than art.
Apple, with its Apple TV+ offerings, is turning to artists and creators and asking them to produce the content they believe in. Netflix, in contrast, turns to its algorithms to determine what people are watching and fashion programming in response.
Apple, with its News+ offerings, is turning to the reporters and writers and asking them to report on what they believe is important, rather than looking at the analytics of click throughs to determine what kinds of stories they should be following and tailor their next issue accordingly.
Apple, with its Apple Arcade offering, is turning to the app developers and asking them to create games that are worth playing rather than looking at how many times they need to create choke points in a game to get players to pony up another $0.99. $1.99, or $9.99 (or more) to advance a level or buy a nifty costume,
Apple, with each of these as well as its Apple Music+ offering, is turning to curation teams to surface quality content rather than trusting an analytics engine to present content that has been manufactured to be a hit — either through established analytics or via clickbait headlines.
Apple is putting its fortune where it has long said its values lie: in the human using the technology rather than in the technology that can parse the human. They are valuing art and artists (or creators, if you prefer that term). They are providing an opportunity for the crazy ones who want to create something new, exciting, and different rather than the safe, predictable, and manipulative.
Indeed, it is that latter item that has turned me off during so many contemporary big-budget films. All too often, I can see the image on the screen, listen to the music, and feel the film trying to make me feel something rather than having the emotional response organically develop within me, as the final moments of La Traviata did when I was fortunate enough to see it at La Fenice in Venice. That experience has stayed with me in a way that the more manipulative moments in recent blockbusters have not — even if the algorithmic calculations were able to manufacture similar responses in the moment.
This is not just an expression of Apple’s values. It is also a part of Apple’s value proposition (although I hasten to state that I suspect Apple sees this as an effect rather than a goal). Seeking a short term success via algorithm will generate a cash return. Apple has shown an interest in playing the long game — the kind of long game that is blue-chip stock consistently profitable over a generation rather than just the recent quarter — by being willing to focus on design and quality that will last longer than the immediate press cycle. That builds long-term value that is independent of a need to analyze and reduce its users to data.
This is not to say that analytics cannot surface art. It may be what is necessary to link up an artist to an opportunity. But that good fortune is not the same as a manufactured piece of entertainment that, while commercially successful, will pass the time but not last. And Apple is not interested in creation things that do not last.