Apple appears set to take a significant step beyond both web-based computer programs and sales or rentals of downloaded content in Monday’s opening session of its annual developer conference.
Both moves by the world’s most influential hardware company could have big implications, for those able to pay for a premium and private online life, and for companies depending on advertising to drive their businesses.
Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, opening at 11 am PDT Monday in San Jose, is where the company typically unveils the newest additions to its operating systems and services for all its hardware, and sometimes shows new hardware too.
Widespread reports ahead of this year’s conference, combined with the removal of numerous iTunes-related online and social-media pages, suggest the company is about to overhaul its oft-criticized do-everything content manager.
Apple first launched iTunes in 2007 as a tool to “rip, mix, burn” and generally manage all the random MP3s that people were collecting on hard drives and rewritable CDs from various sources, legal and otherwise. This was back when CDs, Napster, and BitTorrent provided much of our access to digital music. Video wasn’t really even an option, given typical broadband speeds and storage limits.
Over time, as bandwidth blossomed, new tech emerged, and consumer use patterns adapted, Apple glommed lots of other functions onto iTunes. There was podcast discovery and listening;, purchases and rental of audiobooks, video and music; iPhone management and finally, the Apple Music subscription service. By most experts’ assessment, iTunes is an unholy mess.
Apple already had begun parting out iTunes in several areas, beefing up its TV app, launching a Podcast app, and launching. a standalone News/News+ app and subscription service. Earlier this year, it previewed the Arcade cross-platform subscription game service and a TV+ subscription service that now is scheduled to launch in the fall.
The next step is a likely dismemberment of iTunes (including dumping the name, given current Apple nominative conventions). Downloads are largely done, despite Steve Jobs’ long-ago contention that consumers would never rent music.
The 50 million Apple Music subscribers, and another 180 million on Spotify, suggest that the late genius whiffed on this one. So too does the fact that three-fourths of the music industry’s revenues last year came from streaming services, a number likely to keep growing.
That shift to a content-as-a-service model is even more prevalent on the video side. If you’re not a film historian, how many times do you want to watch that Tyler Perry or Adam Sandler movie? Or even that Russo Brothers, Steven Soderbergh or Spike Lee joint?
As the DVD/Blu-Ray business has found out, that group includes fewer and fewer people these days.
At the same time, Netflix has bulked up to almost 150 million subscribers, and Hulu to 28 million. Every major media company is launching at least one ad-supported or subscription streaming service, and consumers are buying or renting fewer and fewer video downloads too.
The lone possible exception here may be kids content, especially landmark titles, that kids may watch repeatedly for a few years before they become Minecraft or Fortnite players and TikTok or Snapchat users.
But even Disney doesn’t believe in TVOD anymore. It’s plundering The Vault, its collection of 32 classic kid-friendly films, to further goose interest in the Disney+ streaming service it launches this fall.
So, expect the TVOD store function on iTunes to either go away, or head to a standalone app, much as AOL still provides dial-up connections, and Netflix still has a lingering DVD-rental service. For those who like their media that way, they’ll still be able to get it, just poured from a different bottle than the iTunes jug o’ too much.
TVOD’s imminent departure signals, among other things, the final departure of several societal traditions, like giving an album or DVD as a gift. That wall of beloved albums, films and books that used to signal our tastes and interests is increasingly endangered.
But for marketers, it’s also another signal of the continuing decay in importance of nearly any film or TV show or book or album.
Electronic sell-through may not go away soon. But studios will be pressured to justify to consumers why they must endure yet another exclusive distribution window and months-long wait before a movie shows up on the streaming service they’re subscribing to.
For the purveyors of said content, that means even more work for marketers to create events around new products that connect to core fans., Campaigns will need to be ever more data-driven and focused on fans and influencers, ever more clever and viral.
A project that’s not an event will easily get lost in the bigger cultural conversation. In some ways, it’s a broader version of what Netflix faces every week, trying to turn yet another new show into something a slightly broader audience will watch.
Apple also is likely to finally allow developers on its iOS mobile operating system to easily port their programs to its MacOS desktop operating system.
At last year’s WWDC, Apple announced the tools to make that happen, and put its own Stocks and some other mobile apps on MacOS,.
Soon, outside companies will be able to easily convert their iOS apps. That could have a dynamic impact on the undernourished Mac App Store.
It’s easy to imagine thousands of new apps joining the store in coming months. Imagine a sea of low-cost and powerful tools to edit photos and video, create music and art, develop web sites, learn new skills, perform productivity tasks, and, probably most importantly from a revenue standpoint, play games.
The change could create significant downward price pressure on desktop giants such as Adobe and Microsoft, who will have to justify the huge deltas between what they charge for many services on mobile versus on computers.
It also will probably force Apple to be more aggressive about bad actors who’ve been abusing iOS loopholes such as Apple’s enterprise private-app program to track and share sensitive private data.
Apple’s own marketing position on data privacy, and laws such as the EU’s GDPR and a coming California privacy statute all suggest that a crackdown is coming. How service providers who rely on sometimes sketchy data collection survive will be a big question going forward.
Most important, however, will be a likely major shift on MacOS away from the broader web. Self-contained apps purpose built for Apple’s 1.4 billion devices will allow those with the savvy and wherewithal to insulate themselves from many of the web’s worst abuses.
Self-contained apps rather than web-based services also will mean getting good data from third-party providers may be more difficult than ever. And it likely will shift some user behaviors as mobile and desktop become more closely knit together
Much will be revealed Monday. But if even part of the day’s announements go as expected, we can expect more plentiful, more focused content-management apps, tied to a more tightly integrated and app-driven experience. It could help Apple and its users turn increasingly away from the abuses that have made the Wild, Wild West of the Web so vexing in recent years.