Remarkably, for all the talk about Apple’s TV service announcement, we ended up with absolutely no material details. We don’t have a date, we don’t have a list of channels or services, we don’t have a price. All we have is the use of a + sign, which since Google gave it up has become the new hotness (ESPN+, Disney+, now Apple News+ and Apple TV+). In fact, we don’t really have a firm date or price on the Apple Arcade app (not that some of those games don’t look intriguing to me) nor on the forthcoming Apple Card (which if you’re willing to be tied to the Apple ecosystem looks like—)
We really are getting into these silos where you have to pick your ecosystem for everything. Apple, Google, to a slightly lesser extent Amazon, to a considerably lesser extent Facebook and Microsoft: time was you would have an ISP and they get you online and provide your email and maybe even some webspace to go with your USENET feed, LOL. Nowadays you buy a phone, and with that phone comes the ecosystem of mail, calendaring, App Store, virtual digital assistant, GPS and mapping application, digital wallet, online document tools and photo storage, instant messaging/text application, streaming music service, digital bookstore, and now – television service AND revolving credit AND AND AND. Although to be fair, once you’re tied to all that other stuff, throwing in HBO and a no-annual-fee Mastercard is basically lagniappe.
The Apple Card is a mildly attractive proposition, and would probably be even more so if I wasn’t already on three credit cards – one of which I would long since have cancelled except I’ve been a customer for 20 years and can’t do that to my credit rating. But for a college kid who wants no fees, no hidden traps, something smoothly integrated with the phone with easy-to-read billing and actionable information, this is probably a godsend. I know I would have been a lot better off with this at Vandy than with a handful of $500-limit cards that quickly got out of hand.
But it’s that weirdest of Apple events: something that leaves you walking away with nothing in hand but the promise of a bunch of amazing stuff coming Real Soon Now. And in some cases, not even that. Apple is obviously paying over the odds to try to jumpstart a Prestige TV experience and make up for lost time against the Hulus and Amazons and Netflixs of the world (and doing so just as Google appears to be giving up), and appears to be rebuilding the old Newsstand app as some sort of streaming all-you-can-eat solution for curated published print news (which we used to just call “news”), and even seems to be on the same subscription gaming service tip as Google, with their just-announced Stadia platform.
And this is bad. See, we seem to have decided that instead of actually owning anything, you will pay a monthly nut for everything in perpetuity. Cable bill? We’ve whopper-choppered that into separate fees for Amazon and Hulu and Netflix and HBO Now. Music? Apple Music or Spotify, and no more of the Jobsian “you bought it you own it, it’s yours” approach to music. Now we’re gonna pay every month for video games? I know I was an early advocate of the concept of “cash on the freakin’ barrelhead” as a business model for Silly Con Valley, but nobody wants to sell you anything any more. They want to rent it to you, forever.
Which makes sense. After all, as I decried long ago in this space, Silly Con Valley isn’t in the business of selling things that last. Your grandad’s old WWI revolver can still shoot someone dead. Your ’66 Mustang can run just fine. Your peacoat will last you the rest of your life. Close your eyes and think: what is the oldest electronic device you currently use? Phone? Fitness band? DVR? How long did you get out of your last digital watch? The shift to “services” is part and parcel of an ephemeral world, where you will pay and pay and pay for things you didn’t think you could get a monthly bill for.
Gary Shteyngart said it, and William Gibson co-signed it, and I concur: “If only my books came with ejection seats.”