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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 (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 (AAPL) may not be after it anyway. Reigniting growth is the imperative right now.