There's a long-standing notion that every business decision made by Apple has been in the service of selling more Mac computers. That may have been true when Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPod, but now that people can have iPhones and iPads without having an Apple computer, the company is shifting in the way that so many other tech companies have, into a content-and-services model.
Apple has always provided services to people who used its products. It was among the first to offer email addresses and has long supported cloud storage of things like calendars and address books. The release this fall of Arcade and Apple TV+—which provide subscribers with access to a catalogue of video games, movies, and television shows—is a continued shift into the delivery of content.
And although it might not all be in service of selling computers, it's certainly about selling Apple devices.
For a monthly subscription price of $5.99, up to five family members can access unlimited gaming with Apple Arcade. The games that are part of the service are free of both ads and microtransactions, and you can play them whether you're connected or not. In the world of mobile gaming, this is transcendent.
But it's a mistake to think of Apple Arcade as mobile gaming, because the experiences are designed to be played on multiple devices, and many of them support the use of a traditional game controller.
And many games, which run the gamut of types and genres, are being developed and published by Canadian indie studios.
Toronto's Snowman has published the skateboard sim Skate City (developed by Agens) and the puzzle game Where Cards Fall (developed by the Game Band), which has players configuring playing-card structures. And Saskatoon's Noodlecake has published The Enchanted World (developed by AI Interactive), a puzzle game where you slide tiles of the board to create a path through the world.
Four different Vancouver-area developers have titles on Apple Arcade:
- Hot Lava, a port of Klei Entertainment's game already available on Steam.
- Stela, from Burnaby's Skybox Labs, which is a side-scrolling platformer.
- RAC7's Sneaky Sasquatch, in which players become the elusive creature, avoiding humans and ultimately passing for one.
- Pinball Wizard, Frosty Pop's crazy hybrid of a pinball game and an RPG title.
By far my favourite, though, is Capybara's Grindstone.
The clever developers at the Toronto studio have managed to come up with a puzzle game that is as inventive and compelling as Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, a game the company built for Ubisoft back in 2009.
It's early days for Apple TV+. The service kicked off on November 1, and for a monthly fee of $5.99, subscribers get original programming like The Morning Show, produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, and the Jason Momoa action vehicle See.
There's also Dickinson, which stars Hailee Steinfeld as the poet and writer Emily Dickinson in a mashup of Pride and Prejudice and teenage soap opera, which has a similar sensibility that Baz Luhrmann brought to Shakespeare with his version of Romeo and Juliet.
And from Battlestar Galactica and Outlander showrunner Ronald Moore is For All Mankind, which imagines an alternate timeline where the Soviet Union was first to land on the moon and the space race never ended.
While reviews from critics and the public are all over the place on the first shows on the platform, Apple appears to be willing to play the long game with its video programming, building out exclusives that fit with its corporate tone.
The cross-device advantage
The low subscription prices for Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ are evidence that Apple is getting into the content-and-services business to sell hardware. There's also the fact that everyone who purchases an Apple device will get a year of Apple TV+.
So unlike companies that are selling subscriptions as a primary business model—like Netflix—Apple is providing subsidized content as a way of making the Apple ecosystem a more compelling place to be.
And although you don't need to have multiple Apple products to enjoy the content, the latest operating systems from Apple—macOS Catalina, iPad OS, and iOS 13—pull all of the content offerings together and enable them across devices in amazingly functional ways.
So you can stop playing or watching on one device and pick up instantly on another. It is this seamless experience that Apple is hoping will not only keep people using its devices but adding more of them.
With new iPhones and a new version of iPad just released, and rumours that a new model MacBook Pro is pending, there are lots of Apple devices on which people can play games and watch videos.
For Apple, it's not just about computers, anymore. But it is about hardware.