Stop and think about what Apple did at opening day of this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Stop, think and take an objective look. It’s not about Apple crushing or killing anything or anybody. It’s about Apple being something more than average in one of the most competitive and innovative spaces going – Internet radio.
You have all of these innovative Internet radio services doing all of these exciting things. I’m not going to write reviews of Spotify, Songza, Rdio, Pandora and the dozens of other platforms. If you read my work, you know where I stand on much of what’s out there.
While I don’t love every platform, I respect the entire sector. It’s imaginative. It provides listeners with unlimited choice from several standpoints. How do you want to access your music? Under what conditions? Using which parameters? The consumer has never had more control.
Most assertions that Apple will “crush” this or that company rest on a semi-frozen Lake Erie. They hold up poorly to comparisons with what’s out there. Apple will win simply because Apple is Apple. Internet radio reality – and the facts – do not support this contention.
Apple has a zillion credit card numbers in iTunes. That’s not a reason why it will do radio well. It’s simply something Apple can leverage to some extent as means to other ends. Of course the length of that extent depends on how well Apple does radio. And, remember, Apple is not in this to do radio, per se. At least not like Pandora – as pure-play radio – does or Spotify, Songza or Rdio – as decidedly on-demand options – do.
If Apple was in this to “do radio” or “do music” or anything like that, it would not have unveiled a Pandora knock off. It would have gone beyond. It would have done something different and better than what exists. Like it (or Steve Jobs) did with iPod (out with the Walkman), iPhone (out with BlackBerry) and iPad (out with traditional computing for many).
It would have. If it wanted to. If it could. Maybe it simply can’t.
Apple is in radio much the same way Amazon.com is in hardware. Bezos doesn’t care about making money on hardware sales; he just wants to win when you use Amazon hardware (or anybody else’s for that matter) to buy stuff from his multi-pronged e-commerce core.
I’m sure it’s difficult for Bezos to keep a straight face when he has to approve those Kindle commercials that rag on Apple. He knows his hardware cannot compare to an iPad. If Steve Jobs were alive, Bezos probably wouldn’t be quite so disrespectful. But he’s dealing with a different company now; the old rules no longer reply. That mutual admiration is fading.
Maybe I missed it in Phil Schiller’s inane “can’t innovate anymore my ass,” babble, but I never heard Tim Cook say Apple will have the best streaming radio service out there. I reckon he and his fellow B-players referred to it as the best iteration of the Music app ever. Or something like that. Maybe I’m wrong; however that’s how they should present it.
Because that’s realistic. While they’re serviceable, just about anything on top of the existing Music and iTunes interfaces makes them better. We’re not talking about world beater software here.
Apple wants to leverage the information it gathers from music listeners to drive more iTunes Store sales and make a play for a larger piece of the mobile advertising pie, presently dominated by Google, Facebook, Pandora and Twitter. Doing personalized radio as well as Pandora does it is not easy. Apple knows this. (I think). It just feels the need to jump into businesses it has no business jumping into because the hardware innovation well is dry. (That’s a prime illustration of a misguided rebuke of Steve Jobs’s legacy).
Apple will carve out a corner of this world for itself. While I reserve the right to be wrong, I don’t expect it make a dent, not even a ding, in Apple’s top or bottom line. Remember, this company generates roughly 90 per cent of its billions in revenue from hardware. Everything else represents a round of drinks for a crowded bar. A proverbial rounding error.
iTunes Radio will be good enough for millions of people, including me (!), to use. But it will not replace the top-grossing app in the App Store – Pandora. It will not make Android users jump to iOS so they can access it. It will not drive more music sales to iTunes than Pandora does. At least not anytime soon. It will not – and this is the really scary part – be cool enough to appeal to people using Songza or Rdio or 8Tracks.com or some other unique platform.
It’s something Apple is doing for all the wrong reasons. I can’t figure out why it doesn’t just put its head down and focus on making the next generation of beautifully designed, premium hardware to follow in the footsteps of iPod, iPhone and iPad. I have an idea why. And that really scares me.
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