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Why the Apple TV+ Event Was So Unusual

There have been good Apple events and bad Apple events since Tim Cook took over as CEO seven and a half years ago, but there has been nothing like today’s event. For the first time that I can recall, Apple brought nothing to the table but its power.

To sum it up, Apple announced a subscription news service (Apple News+) that includes the digital version of every magazine you’ve ever heard of along with some newspapers (but not the Washington Post and the New York Times.) It announced a TV service (Apple TV+) that has original shows, just like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video. It announced that you could get to all the TV services you already subscribe to through Apple TV, which is as momentous as, say, getting a new clicker for your smart TV. It announced Apple Arcade, a set of video games that stream online across any of your Apple devices. And it announced that it was offering a new credit card developed with Goldman Sachs, the bank that Matt Taibbi called, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” The partnership seems particularly appropriate for a day when Apple tried to jam some utterly unremarkable things down our collective gullet.

All Apple had to offer today was power and numbers. “They’re in a billion pockets, y’all, a billion pockets,” said Oprah Winfrey, explaining why she had decided to produce shows for the company. It’s that simple.

Cook and his minions blathered on about creativity, but Apple’s own creativity was nowhere to be found. The “new” TV app would have benefited from some, but the interface looks just as confusing as the company’s current offering.

Instead, Apple is using its might to feed off the creativity of others. Start a TV service to compete with Netflix? Hire some stars! Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, J.J. Abrams, and Winfrey came on stage to do the least creative thing creative people do: talk about creativity. A news service? Take advantage of the fact that the news business has a fatal distribution problem by charging all those sorry publications a reported 50 cents on the dollar for the right to be bundled together and sold cheap under the Apple brand. How about a credit card? The Apple/Goldman offering has cash-back, rewards, and promises of privacy, just like every other credit card on the planet.

Speaking of privacy…Cook has taken every possible opportunity to crow about the fact that Apple’s commitment to privacy reflects the company’s essential goodness, as opposed to those avaricious data-hoarders at Google, Facebook, Amazon and so on. But today’s event laid bare just how much Apple is, in fact, the same kind of beast. Its devices may be in our pockets, but Apple wants us in its pocket. Like the others, it wants to absorb all of our time. There’s only one compelling reason to sign on for the credit card, arcade, TV app, and news service: accessing all that through one company and one phone is conceivably easier than having to access those things separately.

In the past, Apple offered creativity with convenience. The products were terrific on their own, and the way they worked together was both creative and convenient. This time around, there was nothing but convenience. For all the talk of creativity, this was Apple’s least creative event since 1996, the year before a man named Steve Jobs returned to the company. And he, unfortunately, is dead.