Apple (AAPL) Internet software and services chief Eddy Cue made a splash at SXSW.
Cue's appearance at the tech and entertainment conference coincided with news that Apple is acquiring Texture, provider of a $10-per-month digital magazine subscription service, for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition received some airtime during Cue's SXSW talk, as did Apple's music, original video and augmented reality (AR) efforts.
Here are 4 key takeaways from Cue's talk.
1. Apple is unlikely to make a big media acquisition
In response to a question about whether Apple would be interested in buying Netflix (NFLX) or Disney (DIS) , Cue said that both companies were great partners, but noted that "generally the history of Apple -- we have not made huge acquisitions." He followed that up by saying Apple likes to "skate where the puck is going, not where it is," a reference to a line from hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
Cue said that Apple will instead focus on internal original content investments. The tech giant was reported in Aug. 2017 to have set a $1 billion budget for acquiring original content over the following year, and has inked deals with Drake, Reese Witherspoon, Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard and Amblin Television, Steven Spielberg's TV production firm.
Aside from cost -- Netflix is worth $139 billion, and Disney $158 billion -- strategic differences could make Apple think twice about making a giant media acquisition: Netflix and Disney owe their success in part to supporting a wide variety of tech platforms and distribution channels, something that Apple (for obvious reasons) hasn't always been keen to do for its services.
Moreover, customer overlap could limit a large deal's synergies. Outside of China, where Netflix doesn't operate, a large percentage of iOS users are already signed up for Netflix. And many others will be within a few years.
2. Apple remains hungry to find new ways to grow its Services revenue
In January 2017, Tim Cook set an ambitious goal of doubling Apple's Services revenue, which totaled $24.3 billion in fiscal 2016 and rose to $30 billion in fiscal 2017, by 2020. Texture, whose content will be integrated with the Apple News app, might not single-handedly do a ton to help Apple reach that goal. But the purchase does act as a fresh sign that Apple is keen to better monetize its 1.3 billion-plus active users via subscription-based services.
During Apple's Feb. 1 earnings call, Cook disclosed Apple now had over 240 million paid subscriptions across its various services offerings; in addition to directly offering subscription services (Apple Music, iCloud storage, the iPhone Upgrade program), Apple takes a cut on subscriptions purchased via iOS apps.
3. Spotify should be a little worried about Apple's video spending
To date, Apple's original shows have launched as Apple Music exclusives. Assuming this continues -- And why shouldn't it, if growing Services revenue is a priority? -- the company's originals will soon give Apple Music (38 million paid subs as of March) a valuable selling point in its battle against Spotify (71 million paid subs as of December).
Financially, this could put Spotify, which will soon be going public through a direct listing, in a no-win situation. Spotify has produced a modest amount of free cash flow (FCF) over the last couple of years with the help of favorable timing for owed payments, and has continued reporting large operating losses. If the company, whose video efforts have been limited to date, sets a video budget that's just half the size of Apple's in order to keep pace, it will once more be burning hundreds of millions in cash.
On the bright side, Cue insisted that there are about 2 billion people who can access and afford an online music service. Between them, Apple Music and Spotify claim a little over 5% of that total.
4. Apple expects augmented reality to blow up
Not surprisingly, Cue declined to comment when asked about Apple's rumored AR headset efforts (Bloomberg has reported an Apple headset could arrive by 2020). But between Cook's past remarks about AR and the enthusiasm Cue showed for Apple's ongoing smartphone AR efforts, it would be surprising if the company isn't thinking in that direction.
"[W]e think AR is a very mainstream product and something you're going to use all the time, every day," Cue said. He highlighted some of the compelling apps that have been developed via Apple's recently-launched ARKit software framework for iOS 11. Among them: A PGA Tour app that superimposes a golf course on any flat surface, and shopping apps that let users see the interior of a car or virtually try on clothes. Amazon.com (AMZN) is among the shopping app developers to have embraced ARKit.
Cue argued that smartphone-based AR provides the benefit of letting users switch between a normal real-world view and a digitally augmented one. True enough, but it also requires a user to hold a phone in one or both hands to get the augmented view. A headset with a built-in voice assistant could enable a hands-free AR experience, while also providing a larger field-of-view.