Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone, but declining sales of the flagship product have many wondering what Apple’s next big breakthrough product is going to be. Apple fans and media industry insiders alike have been hoping that it will be a fresh take on television, not only with shiny new devices, but also a new service, or combination of services, that would change the way we watch.
But come January, it’s also 10 years since Apple first introduced the Apple TV — and it’s finally time to admit that Apple won’t be changing television any time soon. Sure, TV itself is changing, but it’s a long and messy process, and there’s no way for one single company to magically solve all of our problems — much less for an outsider like Apple.
That’s why it’s time for Apple to face reality, and admit that the next big thing won’t be TV. Instead, it’s transportation. If Apple wants to lead in this space, it should act now — and scoop up Uber.
The Television Won’t Be Revolutionized
Sure, there’s plenty of exciting stuff happening in the world of television. Cord-cutting, mobile viewing, the ascent of Netflix and other online programmers: all of this has started to change how we watch and what we watch. But Apple’s own forays into TV have shown how difficult it is to become a leader in this space, and how slow much of the industry is still moving.
Apple was reportedly looking to launch its own programming bundle, possibly even giving its customers the option to pick and choose the channels they want to subscribe to. Networks have long balked at this unbundling idea, and local broadcast rights represented another stumbling block. In the end, an Apple TV service would have looked much like similar propositions from Sony and others: Big bundles, local market restrictions — a fresh new skin on a stale old product.
Apple’s new approach reportedly is what competitors like Roku and Amazon have been doing for years: relying on third-party apps and cross-app search, possibly with a programming guide that looks more like Apple than an old-fashioned cable box. That’s nice, but still not groundbreaking — especially as it forces consumers to still buy into bundles to get their ESPN, local broadcasts and more.
It’s lipstick on a pig — and rights locked up for many years to come assure that this pig won’t fly any time soon, even with the hire of former Time Warner Cable exec Peter Stern.
Consumers want new cars, and less driving
So what to do to make Apple once again the company that builds industry-defining products? The answer lies on the streets — literally. 400,000 pre-orders for Tesla’s Model 3 have shown that consumers are interested in the car of the future, and the rise of Uber is a clear indicator that many more are looking for a future without driving.
Apple has invested significant resources in this space. The company is reportedly employing up to a thousand people on its secret car project, and it has invested $1 billion into China’s Uber, Didi Chuxing, which also got it a tiny stake in Uber itself after that company recently exited the Chinese market.
At the same time, Apple has seen that replacing our gas guzzlers won’t be an easy feat. The company reportedly laid off part of its Apple Car team last week, and is now looking to change focus from building the vehicle to building the underlying technology.
That technology is moving towards autonomous driving, and fast. Uber just started to test self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh. Google has been testing its own autonomous vehicles for some time. Ford has been testing autonomous vehicles, General Motors just snapped up an autonomous vehicle startup, and the co-founder of ride hailing service Lyft declared a few days ago that most of its cars will be driven by computers in five years.
Even the federal government is getting on the action, with President Obama writing in an op-ed this week that “automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year” and lead to “safer, more accessible driving” as well as “less congested, less polluted roads.”
If Apple were to buy Uber, it could combine the two companies efforts to become a leader in this space over night. At the same time, Apple would add a huge existing services business to its portfolio, at a time when Apple is already moving to become a more services-centered company.
Sure, the acquisition of Uber would come with significant risks, and it would be a huge capital investment, with Uber being valued north of $80 billion. Still, the chance to not only build transformative technology but also bring it to market is a lot more realistic than anything in the TV space.