Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen The Good Place yet (and what are you waiting for?), beware. This post reveals a huge plot point.
Holy forking shirtballs, the world Apple unveiled at its media event Monday looks like a tempting place to live.
Right from the kickass 1960s movie-style opening credits video (which boasted, among other things, that Apple is powered by “100% renewable energy”), through the unveiling of Apple News+ (which reminded us that now more than ever, “quality journalism matters”), via the titanium Apple Pay credit card, to the star-studded Apple TV+ launch (with its soft focus on optimistic stories and diversity), Apple CEO Tim Cook was sending one strong message: You’re in The Good Place.
The mighty media giant Facebook was not mentioned once, yet its presence was felt everywhere. We are for security and privacy, Cook said meaningfully. Subtweet: They are not. Technology firewalls mean Apple doesn’t know what you’re reading or watching. Translation: Facebook does, and it’s creepy. We don’t show you ads, nor will ads based on your browsing or buying habits follow you around the web, said Apple. That’s Bad Place stuff!
Never mind that it isn’t totally clear how much partner content the Apple News+ service — $10 a month for a range of newspaper and magazine subscriptions — will offer users. Pay no attention to the giant evil corporation behind the credit card, Goldman Sachs, or to the fact that its “low interest rate” was not announced. Forget that Apple Arcade (the safe, ad-free place for games) and Apple TV+ also didn’t come with price tags. Who needs actual TV show trailers when you’ve got celebrity introductions, a theme tune performed on piano, and tiny snippets of content mashed together with dramatic music?
Just focus on the gauzy feeling of being wrapped in a safe, beautiful ecosystem, a perfect world of uplifting infotainment. Focus on Oprah, who’s going to “convene a meeting of the minds” and give us “a unique opportunity to rise to our best selves” via a book club that will somehow be different from the book club she’s been running in the real world since 1996 (and online since 2012).
All in all, it was the keynote version of a neighborhood full of froyo shops and fashion statements: colorful, interesting, somewhat unsatisfying. Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t finished Season 1 of The Good Placeyet: the froyo comparison does not portend well.
Here’s that spoiler: The Good Place turns out not to be Heaven after all, but a highly advanced experiment devised by The Bad Place. Ted Danson’s character Michael, purportedly an angel, created a neighborhood that was all soft-pastel surface.
Here, our heroes were supposed to be grateful to have avoided landing in Hell, but also eternally irritated and anxious at the appearance that everyone around them was living their best lives.
Now I’m not saying that Tim Cook is actually a millennia-old demon trying to torture us with devilish new designs. But it is clear that his goal is not as altruistic as events like this make out. He is not trying to save journalism. He is a stone-cold businessman with a trillion-dollar business.
His mission, now as ever, is to make more of us spend more dollars on more products and subscriptions. Even as he makes noises about us using our iPhones too much, he wants you to turn over more of your life to Apple than ever before.
If and when you turn around and have an Eleanor Shellstrop moment — “wait a minute, this is the Bad Place!” — it’ll be too late.
Some of us have already fallen for everything Apple sells so far, initial skepticism notwithstanding. I watched the event on my Apple TV while typing on my Macbook and glancing at my iPhone, rising from my couch ten minutes to every hour because my Apple Watch told me to do so.
That level of immersion is only going to get more common. One largely unnoticed aspect of the Apple TV upgrade is that you’ll now be able to get Apple TV as an app on Roku, Amazon Fire, and smart TVs made by LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio. How many millions more converts to the church of Apple do you think that will bring in?
That titanium laser-etched credit card, meanwhile, will turn millions of consumers into walking Apple ads. Now, this status symbol requires you to use another status symbol — an iPhone — before it will work at all. But that subtle limitation won’t stop its enthusiastic users from flexing.
This summer, expect to roll your eyes in line for the checkout when some guy ahead of you casually pulls his shiny rectangle out of his wallet a little too early. Maybe he’ll fan himself or cool his face with it. Boy, what a day, huh? Hot enough for ya?
Flexing is basically what Apple is doing in the entertainment realm, too. None of the shows the company unveiled offered a must-see premise. All relied instead on the star power of celebs like Jennifer Aniston and Jason Momoa and Steven Spielberg. Apple’s goals were to get people talking, to head off the unveiling of other new streaming services such as Disney+, to solicit more content from more of Hollywood, and to warn Netflix that there was a muscular new competitor in town.
Right now, Netflix and HBO are the kings of streaming content, each launching at least a couple of big buzzworthy original hits every month. Then there’s Amazon Prime — where, despite the many millions Jeff Bezos is spending, there’s little beyond The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that qualifies as must-watch. Based purely on this initial outing, it seems that Apple is doomed to fall into the second category.
But who cares if this isn’t really the good place for TV? It’s another subscription to sell, another notch in Apple’s financial belt. Even if you don’t sign up for the service, maybe it’ll make it more likely that you’ll download the Apple TV app on your non-Apple smart TV.
Then you marvel at the beautiful design, the crisp and awesome screensavers, the surprising ability to offer your favorite shows and channels — and suggested viewing based on your favorite shows and channels — without ever leaving the walled garden.
Bingo: You’re a convert, someone who is suddenly more likely to wander into an Apple Store and be upsold to something else.
You can check out of the Good Place any time you like, but you can never leave.
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