Apple's iPhone event is mere hours away, and it may end up being anti-climactic judging by the number of rumors running the gamut from water proof (a move that if true, puts Apple in the late to the game spotlight) to dropping the headphone jack (a sacrilege that if true will be seen by many as Apple forcing people into new behavior/making more money because they'll have to buy more expensive wireless headphones unless it comes with an adaptor or they force you to buy that) and a whole other host of supposedly leaked features like better battery life, camera and even two versions of black.
Considering most of these rumors are not that exciting, Apple's concern shouldn't be exciting the fanboys but attracting new ones. iPhone as an entity is almost ten years old. Samsung Galaxy (which is three years younger) and OnePlus which is only two years old and yet is one of the fastest growing phones in terms of sales are both formidable competitors. But with Samsung's recalling millions of Galaxy note 7's and OnePlus still an unknown from a branding standpoint, Apple may have less of a "meh," tomorrow then the whispers would indicate.
Still, phones are only as good as their telecom carriers and their networks at the end of the day. If my iPhone can't get data when I'm hiking (and it can't) then it's an expensive piece of nothing.
Apple has long since become a juggernaut and is no longer the cool edgy brand. And Phone Wars are about as interesting as the Cola Wars albeit with a steeper price tag.
Far more interesting is the competitive spark in the music department. Apple's DNA of supporting artists is still the same. I don't know how much they'll spend tomorrow talking about Apple Music, but they should. Apple Music subscribers on iOS 10 are now getting Discovery Mixes--personalized mixes to help you discover new music. These take the form of new, and favorites, with the former being new music you haven't heard, presumably
While this sounds like much ado about nada, Apple has a big opportunity to reassert itself as being the artist's choice and steer the conversation in its favor. When Frank Ocean made an exclusive deal to release Blonde via Apple, the music labels scrambled to put an end to exclusivity. As the New York Times wrote: "After the release of Mr. Ocean’s album, Lucian Grainge, the chairman of Universal Music Group, sent a private memo to top executives at the company’s labels calling for an end to long-term exclusive deals with a single service, according to a person who has seen the memo but spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was an internal document...Others in the music world have called for a truce between labels and digital services when it comes to online distribution, particularly when it concerns young artists like Mr. Ocean, who at 28 has no experience with the record industry before its digital disruption."
Ocean may not have so-called experience with the record industry, but he (and I assume his advisors) is pretty damn good at getting the best deal possible for his music. And why shouldn't he? Since when was the record label on the side of the artist? The New York Times omitted the fact that as of last year UMG was holding equity in Spotify, a direct competitor. So of course they'd be against a deal that doesn't benefit the label directly. And since Spotify is so against windowing its music, it's not wonder artists keep leaving it.
It is my opinion that for most people, a playlist recommendation is a recommendation whether its curated by a human or an algorithm. Apple can tout their playlists on Apple Music to the consumer all they want to and it'll be one more thing (along with waterproof, and shiny colors) to add to the list that will hopefully make someone buy the phone in a few weeks. Media outlets claim listeners are so upset about having to go to one source to get their music, but the success of Frank Ocean (and others') windowing their album is unprecedented. The Hollywood Reporter has a quote from brand strategist and market expert Tammy Brook that sums it up nicely
"There's a new way artists connect with fans and it's organic, authentic and direct," says Tammy Brook, a brand strategist and market expert and owner of FYI Brand Communications, whose clients include DJ Khaled, Desiigner, Tyga and Anderson Paak, among others. "Fans are no longer waiting on corporations and traditional media and advertising formulas to move the needle. It's more powerful to have a direct line of communication with an artist, which is facilitated by a wave of social media affording artists opportunities to tell their fans what they want directly in their own voices. It's changed everything."
In recent news, Spotify has been accused of suppressing artists who have signed exclusive deals. While this seems a bit hard to believe as Spotify is just as greedy as any other Big Tech and hiding access to the most accessible and biggest artists would be economically stupid, the other part to the equation that is more believable is that Spotify is indirectly targeting artists who have exclusives with competitors by not promoting their music fairly.
Oh sure, Apple will tout the shiny phone (and matte black if the rumors are true), but if Apple wants to reassert itself in a big way tomorrow, they would do well to champion artists like Frank Ocean who have chosen to align with the brand as a way to get people excited about Apple Music. Well, that and the discount subscription. The phones may now be all the same, more or less. But Apple might be the best tech company to get out of the way of communication between artist and listener. When it comes to music and the ethical treatment of artists, at least for this album, and this moment, Apple is still a brand for misfits, rebels, crazy ones, and trouble makers after all. It might even make their new features look even more exciting.
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