Apple’s multi-sided game

There were quite some surprises unveiled at Apple Event today:

  • Apple Arcade: $4.99/month for a whole family
  • Apple TV+: $4.99/month for a whole family and free if you buy a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV or Mac
  • Price cuts for devices such as iPhone and Apple Watch Series 3

For a company notorious for ripping off consumers, a notoriety that they earn to a large extent, undercutting competitors and lowering prices for their high-end products are unusual. However, it may make sense in the game that Apple is playing.

Formerly relying on hardware, especially iPhones, for their revenue, Apple has been transitioning to be more of a service company. They have been pushing hard on the service part, including but not limited to Apple Pay, iCloud, Apple Card, Apple News+, Apple Arcade, Apple Care. However, to sell these services, they first need to find a way to put hardware into humans’ hands.

In return, hardware would be just boring pieces of metal without great user experience that comes from the operating system and ecosystem, including apps and services. There is no shortage of alternatives to expensive products that Apple offers. To really convince a consumer to dole out a significant amount, they need to present compelling reasons. Hence, the gradual updates to operating systems and a slew of services.

But Apple can’t do everything alone. They need partners. They need content partners such as publishers, game companies and producers as well as strategic partners like Goldman Sachs. These partners, I guess, are interested in the reach that Apple has through its installed base. By working with Apple, they hope to leverage the media coverage that Apple enjoys and get to many customers as quickly as possible.

By lowering entry prices for Arcade and offering TV+ on a very attractive term, I suspect that Apple wants to expand the subscriber base quickly from the existing user pool. The bigger the subscriber base, the more leverage Apple will have with content and strategic partners, whose future creations in turn will increase the appeal of Apple’s services.

By lowering hardware’s prices, there may as well be other reasons and I am so speculating here, Apple wants to lure non-Apple users and expand its user pool. It’s a two-pronged approach to grow the ecosystem.

It’s truly remarkable to me how a company this size can keep adapting to the changing landscape of the business environments to be competitive in a highly competitive industry. Some folks say Apple isn’t taking risks. But any strategic mistake by omission or commission may result in at least two years behind competitors and billions in market valuation. Others complain that the Cupertino-based company is no longer innovating. It’s tricky to tell if it’s completely true or false. But it’s worth remembering that Wearables & Accessories, including Watch and Airpods, generated $5.5 billion in revenue in 90 days last quarter while the main products still remain sticky to consumers.

As a student of business, I admire the company. No company is flawless, but it’s amazing what Apple has been able to do to navigate through competition and constantly changing business environments.

Disclaimer: I do own Apple stocks in my humbly small portfolio.