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Unloveable Apple, endless growth, and the ad hellscape

John Gruber:

But I worry that with its services push, Apple is turning into an advertising company too. It’s just advertising its own services. In iOS 13 they put an ad for AppleCare at the very top of Settings. They use push notifications to ask you to sign up for Apple Pay and Apple Card, and subscribe to Apple Music, TV, and Arcade. The free tier of Apple News is now a non-stop barrage of ads for Apple News+ subscriptions. Are we at the “hellscape” stage with Apple? No, not even close. But it’s a slippery slope. What made Apple Apple is this mindset: “Ship great products and the profits will follow” — not “Ship products that will generate great profits”.

Gruber is right that we’re nowhere near an ad hellscape. And a hellscape doesn’t feel particularly likely. But there’s reason to be cynical.

Services aren’t bad in and of themselves. Great services are as equally valid a product to ship as a great iPhone. It’s just that none of Apple’s services are great.

Okay, you can make a case for Arcade being great but the others? Apple Music is serviceable, fine even, but there’s nothing to distinguish it from Spotify unless you’re weirdly into Zane Lowe (and they’ve done nothing to capitalise on Beats1, which still has potential). TV+ is an expensive meh that might improve.

iCloud Storage is so baffling ungenerous that I’ve circled back around to feeling okay with paying for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Cook walked out on stage at WWDC 2020 and said

Okay, so I logged into iCloud today and realised we were charging you money, actual money, for 50GB of storage. I had no idea, I asked around, no-one here knew about it, did you? You did? My bad. My bad.

and then doubled it or something.

News+ is the most disappointing. I should be an ideal customer for it but it delivers a worse reading experience than Safari’s reader view or any RSS reader. Bouncing a reader from News in dark mode to a blaring white article screen is a wanton act of aggression.

To be fair, the New York Times app has the same problem (and it has the same low-rent ads) but at least my subscription gives me a mini crossword. I’ll endure a lot for a quick crossword. Can Apple innovate in the highly illustrious crossword space? I’d pay a few dollars a month for ceramic and space grey squares.

Services make sense for Apple. They’re staring down expectations of consistent growth in increasingly saturated markets and, despite my belief in Apple’s willingness to do their own thing, they have to meet those expectations. Hardware alone won’t do that.

Services play to Apple’s biggest competitive advantage – a swarth of satisfied users. Ads make sense here too. It’s easy to convince yourself that pinging those customers about Great New Offer X is both okay and, actually, a good thing to do.

They love Apple. They’ll love this too.

The problem is that nothing they’re delivering is all that loveable.

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