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Zack Van Amburg, an Apple executive for not quite two years, already has mastered the company’s art of aspirational dissembling. Monday morning, he helped announce the technology giant’s yet-to-launch Apple TV Plus subscription product with a show of force and money that included Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. “It’s not just another streaming service,” he declared. He was partly right: Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and others have apps and pricing plans. So far Apple TV Plus has neither. Other than that, Apple’s looked quite similar.
In fact, Apple unveiled nothing at its big event that others haven’t done before. Its credit card offers cash back. That’s not new. (As I was reading a New York Times review of the day I saw an ad for a Capital One “unlimited 2% cash back” offer.) Apple bought its way into offering oodles of magazines in its subscription Apple News Plus product, though it didn’t mention Texture, the magazine industry joint venture it purchased last year. Apple obviously hasn’t re-invented television; its offerings, while exciting, are top-flight conventional programs bought at auction with the best money that iPhone profits can buy. Apple’s most exciting idea of the day may have been the resuscitation of Oprah’s book club.
The cognoscenti sniffed at Apple’s bid for services greatness. Breakingviews, in a dismissive report titled “Spray and pray,” said Apple is “paving a trail of mediocrity.” Fortune’s Rick Tetzeli lamented that Apple showed only its power and not its creativity of old. On Wall Street, Apple’s stock fell back 1%, while rival Roku jumped ahead 5%.
The critics may be right. It’s also possible they are missing the point. I suspect Apple can in fact buy a seat at the television-production table and then sufficiently feed its eventual TV service. Its news aggregation service, which pays news organizations for their work, is certainly better than what Facebook and Google have been paying. If Apple makes using a credit card brain-dead easier than it already is, I suspect it will succeed there, too.
Greatness is tough to achieve, and Apple may not be after it anyway. Reigniting growth is the imperative right now.
Sparkling debut. In the first official issue of our new weekly newsletter Eye on A.I., our colleague Jonathan Vanian uncovers some concerns about the pace of progress in the field. Check it out.
I’m lovin’ it. If every company is now a tech company, don’t count out fry and burger maker McDonald’s. The fast food chain is paying more than $300 million for Dynamic Yield, an Israeli A.I. startup whose technology customizes retail promotions. At the Golden Arches, Dynamic Yield will help digital drive through menus highlight more relevant and personalized items. In other M&A news, Spotify is making its third podcast-related purchase, buying premium programmer Parcast for an undisclosed sum.
Below the line. As stock market investors get ready to invest in a slew of famous startups this year, it looks like one high-flying firm won’t be going public after all. Chinese digital currency mining outfit Bitmain allowed its registration to go public in Hong Kong to lapse. Meanwhile, the race is on to provide an acronym as catchy as FANG for the new crop of public tech giants. Axios proposed LUPAS for Lyft, Uber, Pinterest, Airbnb, and Slack. But I think I prefer New York Times (and former Fortune) reporter Erin Griffin’s proposal: SLAP U.
Un-security. Taiwanese PC maker ASUS unknowingly sent a malware program called ShadowHammer to hundreds of thousands of its customers, according to cybersecurity researchers at Kaspersky Lab. Hackers distributed a software update via ASUS that added a secret backdoor to customers’ computers.
Less than free speech. In the copyright wars, looks like two losses for the public. The European Union adopted a rule to make online platforms liable for copyright infringement. And the big music labels are suing Charter Communications, the second-largest cable company, claiming that its gigabit speed Internet service fosters music piracy.
You can’t make these stories up. The first all-female space walk in history had to be cancelled because NASA didn’t have two spacesuits available on the International Space Station that could fit the two women astronauts. Instead, Anne McClain and Christina Koch each get to do an assignment out of the station separately—with a male counterpart.
ON THE MOVE
After eight years as chief technology officer at Walmart, Jeremy King is jumping to Pinterest. Senior Vice President of Customer Technology Fiona Tan gets an “elevated role” but not the CTO title at Walmart…Kickstarter CEO Perry Chen, one of three founders of the site in 2009, is resigning. Aziz Hasan, head of design and product, takes over on an interim basis…After completing its latest fundraising round and reaching unicorn status, beauty product e-commerce site Glossier hired Vanessa Wittman as chief financial officer. Wittman, who was the CFO at Oath, Dropbox, and Motorola Mobility, replaces Henry Davis, who left in December…Nancy Boehm joined financial firm Perella Weinberg Partners as chief technology officer and managing director. Boehm was previously chief information and operating officer for the commercial businesses at CIT Group.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
If you haven’t noticed over the past few years of this newsletter, I’m a sucker for “life hacks” and “daily routines” and the sort of personal productivity-focused interviews that have become increasingly common. Today’s fodder is supplied by my fellow Bostonian and venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, Nick Grossman. He’s also a former ball boy at the U.S. Open, but that’s not important right now. It’s his excellent blog that’s of interest. Nick’s post on Monday explained how he’s using a combination of software to stay organized. And there’s one central trick, which I’ve also found useful:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Senate Committee Says New Rules Will Ease Patients’ Access to Electronic Medical Records By Fred Schulte and Erika Fry
Google’s Local Experiments Project Hopes to Boost Community News By Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
While Apple preps its cool-looking new shows for the fall, there’s plenty of great TV available right now. The fourth season of Billions on Showtime is off to a strong start and the Pressman household is also enjoying The Umbrella Academy on Netflix and both seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon. And if you missed any of the three seasons of One Day at a Time on Netflix, you’re in for a treat.