The Backlight
Published in

The Backlight

Quick thoughts on Apple’s announcements at WWDC

1. News

I watched the keynote (you can too — it was crazy long and everybody’s performance faded at the end). Nilay, Casey, and Dieter at The Verge did a terrific job on their liveblog as always. Likewise, Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab kicked the crap out of his first-glance analysis for newspeople. Here’s the money excerpt:

It’s another sign that 2015 really is the Year of Distributed Content. It’s not just social platforms like Facebook and Snapchat that are interested in taking in your content — it’s the device platforms they themselves squat on. There’s no guarantee Apple News will be a big hit; Google Currents, probably the closest analog up to now, was a flop. But the broader narrative is clear: Individual news apps and individual news brands aren’t the point of contact with news any more. They’re all feeding into broader platforms. The loss of power for publishers in that exchange is obvious; the potential benefits remain mostly undiscovered.

I’ve written about mobile news readers here before. I think this space is still wide open, with lots of different solutions possible for people with different habits and appetites. But I think it’s clear that just like with music, or with maps, news is an OS-level utility on mobile devices now. I’ll repeat that for emphasis, in a slightly different text style:

News is an OS-level utility on mobile devices now.

The other thing I’ll say is that the main innovation in news readers since RSS has been the use of social recommendations to drive reading lists. Flipboard, Nuzzel,, Facebook Paper, Medium — all built around either their own social recommendation networks or piggybacking on and pulling links shared on others.

It doesn’t seem like Apple has or intends to include a social dimension to its reader. I think this is a problem. People don’t just want more things to read, in a prettier or faster-downloading format — they want new and relevant things to read that they can share and discuss with other people. Even if most people will never comment on, or never even pass along, a news article, social recommendations are an important mechanism for discovery, relevance, and recency. Social advertising is also, let’s say, highly relevant in 2015. But just in case you just think I am all bumfuzzled by some new apps/services that only news junkies love, I wrote about this back in 2011 too. People have been trying to come at Flipboard for a long time now, and Flipboard’s still here. The other services that have come along that have worked or looked promising use some dimension of social sharing or approval to power their recommendation engine. Including the one you’re reading right now.

In 2015, social networks are an inseparable element of news.

2. Music

Here, I’m actually surprised they’re sticking a social element into the service, since this flopped so famously with iTunes Ping back in the day. But a one-to-many, follow-an-artist, MySpace 2015 thing? Yeah, OK — I guess that could work.

But Rob Meyer and everyone else are right that this is a weirdly nostalgic way to back into streaming music. Peter Kafka is right that most people prefer to pay as little as they can for music, and insisting that they really should doesn’t move the needle very much.

I’m struck by this tidbit in Micah Singleton and Ben Popper’s story today: “Apple had hoped to shake things up by offering a tier priced between $5 and $8, but unfortunately couldn’t get the music industry on board.” Making music available too cheaply scares everybody. Nobody wants the revenue bar to stay that low forever.

Making the service available for Android is an intriguing wrinkle — hey, Apple is an Android developer! It also feels like it may have been a late compromise — hard to think of reasons why an Android service couldn’t be ready to go at the same time as an iOS/Apple/Windows one, unless making Apple ID authentication work on Android is more complicated than it seems on its face, or it’s just not a development priority.

But you need to be aggressively cross-platform in music now. That didn’t used to be true. Desktop and mobile, yes, but iOS and Android? One place where Spotify really has changed the game.

3.  TV

The most interesting reaction to the music presentation came from JT Ramsay (now at Ford, formerly at Comcast), who wrote that Apple Music “seems very much like prelude to TV service. Live component + on demand library.” Even if it’s not a preview, music is as good a place as any to apply some ideas Apple’s doubtlessly been kicking around for a while with video, whether they ever get applied or not.

News — okay, Apple’s never been super slick when it comes to news. But music? The iTunes Store has been such a success for the last dozen years that it’s weird to see Apple dealing in content services and not seeming sure-footed. They’re building up a lot of services here, investing a ton of money above and beyond the Beats acquisition.

Luckily, Apple has enough money to lose — not everybody in streaming media does.

The goal here is to build a fortress around iOS, to continue making it seem like the most vital platform in the world. This was my other takeaway — I mean, it’s been obvious for a while now that iOS, especially the iPhone, is Apple’s bread-and-butter, but the totality of WWDC really drives home that if there’s a single center for all of these programming languages, media services, and so forth, it’s iOS.

Music is an OS-level utility in 2015.

For Apple to have the best OS, it has to have the best music service.

I think this would be true even if dominance in the music business weren’t a point of pride for everyone at Apple, as well as a way to establish expectations for media consumption across the board.


Important, enormous asterisk on  News from Ryan Tate:

In theory, any organization can submit an RSS feed to Apple News. In practice? It seems likely that Apple will exercise tight control over what does and doesn’t get in. If they don’t do it all on their own, they’ll get pressure from outside to do it once something embarrassing pops up there.

I think Facebook is seen by news organizations as much more real than Apple is. We already know how much Facebook sharing drives traffic; we’ve already seen it raise up some news organizations and lay others low.

In this sense, Apple is “new.” It seems like all opportunity. And Apple is a happier partner for a lot of established news orgs. I don’t think the potential costs are real to them yet. If Apple’s news reader takes off, they very soon will be.



notes on the history and future of media

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store