Designed to be bundled

Apple TV+ and Apple Music are okay by themselves but attractive for families sharing an Apple One bundle

Designed to be bundled

I downloaded Apple TV+ and Apple Music last week, and these are my first impressions as a consumer and marketer. (Initial impressions are like Halley's Comet - arriving once in a lifetime and often worth recording because later memories can be deceiving.) In short, Apple's target customer is families, and Apple is trying to sell Apple TV+ and Apple Music primarily via the Apple One bundle.

By itself, Apple TV+ generally seems focused on helping users find and enjoy high quality shows simply and easily. Here is what I noticed:

  • High quality, limited quantity content. Apple TV+'s shows were all of high production quality, like the comedy "Ted Lasso" starring actor Jason Sudeikis, stunning nature documentaries like "Earth at Night," and a series of Oprah Winfrey interviews, with enough shows for every viewer to find a favorite. But compared to Hulu or Netflix, the smaller number of shows available was noticeable. It felt like regular viewer would run out of content in the near or medium future.
  • Where's the algorithm? Hulu, Netflix, and others will try constantly to recommend shows that you would like, a necessary feature for any streaming service with a vast library. With Apple TV+, no such personalization feature was easily apparent other than one "what to watch" section. At the top of the service is the customizable "Up Next" list of programs you add to manually.
  • Simplicity. As with all Apple products, simplicity appears to be a major design value for Apple TV+. For example, Apple TV+ lacks Netflix-style automatic video previews. And when you boot up Apple TV+ and want to continue watching a show, just click once on the show and you're into the next episode, which saves a click compared to Hulu.
  • Ability to "connect" to other subscriptions within the same interface. Open the Netflix app, and you have Netflix. Open the Hulu app, and you have Hulu (ignoring cross-selling for select services like Showtime). But open Apple TV+ and you will see an option to connect separate services like AcornTV, CBS All Access, and Starz. Apple TV+ is aiming to make it easier to connect to a lot of the smaller services to which you may subscribe by putting them all into one interface.

Apple Music also features a simple, easy-to-use interface but seemed to lack the world-expanding recommendations of its competitors Spotify or Amazon Music:

  • Excellent selection, limited curation quality. After using Amazon Music for years - and occasionally seeing songs become available and unavailable for reasons unexplained - I was able to type and find all the songs I was looking for in Apple Music. While the selection size was great, I didn't find anything especially new and fun on the radio stations, and my personalized station ("[Your Name]'s Station") was based around songs I bought and listened to on iTunes 10 or 15 years ago. This was after being prompted to choose a few genres and artists I liked. But I assume the recommendations improve as you use and explore the app.
  • Limited talk content. While Apple Music does have some musician interviews and DJ-hosted radio shows if you click on the browse button, podcasts are still only accessible through Apple's Podcasts app and not Apple Music. This is another sign that Apple is sticking to simplicity, given that Amazon Music and Spotify have both added podcasts recently.
  • All your old music is there. If you are like me, you bought and downloaded at least a few songs on iTunes some years ago. They will all still be there in Apple Music, everything song with your Apple account. It was good to see my old was not lost, time capsule though it is.

Individually, Apple TV+ and Apple Music fall short. Spotify beats Apple Music with its awesome recommendations, and Disney and Netflix beat Apple TV+ with their endless selection. The same could be said for Amazon Music, Hulu, and HBO Max, and any number of competitor services.

But Apple is playing a different game: bundling. Apple includes Apple TV+ and Apple Music in its Apple One bundle, targeting families wanting to simplify their digital and financial lives. As of this writing, a family of 3-5 people could subscribe to the Apple One family plan for $20/mo. on one account, for a final cost of $4-$10/mo. per person. At that price, Apple One could easily pay for itself if it replaced a combination of standalone services for storage (iCloud), video (any one of Netflix, Hulu, etc.), music (Spotify, etc.), or gaming (iOS apps, GeForce Now, etc.). Similar logic holds for Apple One premium plan at $30/mo., which adds news and fitness subscriptions. For a lot of familities, that is a deal.

And over time Apple One will only get better. Not only does Apple have a long history of steady improvement to the iPhone, Apple Watch, and Macs, but the Apple One flywheel will give Apple both the money and reason to make sure Apple One is better tomorrow than today. As shared Apple One subscriptions incentivize more and more people to stay in the Apple ecosystem, increased sales will allow Apple to underwrite additional service improvements, attracting more customers. Like other streaming services, Apple TV+ Apple Music should be considerably improved by 2022 or 2024.

The bottom line is this: Apple TV+ and Apple Music are okay by themselves but attractive for families sharing an Apple One bundle.

Header photo by Hal Beresford