(AP/Richard Drew)

Please, Apple, stop: Focus on making better tablets, not engineering the next "Orange Is the New Black"

If Apple's rumored original TV programming is rolled out like Apple Music, we know it will be a bust


Scott Timberg
September 3, 2015 12:53AM (UTC)

Apple is one of the biggest companies in the world; its market capitalization is north of $700 billion, and it has shiny stores in more than a dozen countries. Somehow it has even managed to maintain some sex appeal that you don’t find in other huge companies, like Exxon Mobile or GE. Steve Jobs is as close as we have to a secular saint these days: Alex Gibney’s documentary (“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine”) is about to drop, and Danny Boyle’s feature, in which Jobs likens himself to an orchestral conductor, comes out next month. And Apple store employees do look cool in those T-shirts.

But it’s time to ask Apple: Please, stop.

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It’s not the world domination – or history of sweatshop-like labor practices overseas -- I’m talking about here, though that stuff is well worth thinking about. The issue is Apple’s post-Jobs attempt to do everything under the sun.

Apple makes great computers and software. But the success of the iPod and iPhone has apparently made Apple think it can and should bring its Midas touch to everything,

The Apple Watch, which was supposed to show the company innovating its way into the Tim Cook era, has been either a bust or a disappointment, and neither consumers nor Wall Street are that excited about it.

Apple Music, which in some ways replaces iTunes (which music consumers had started to hate even before U2 forced an album on everyone) cost the Cupertino-based company billions of dollars to put together. It’s too soon to tell how it’s going, but the service introduced itself in a way that frustrated many musicians and indie labels, and resulted in a public shaming by Taylor Swift.

Apple’s latest plan – though the tight-lipped company will not confirm it – seems to be to produce original television and movie programming. “The moment the media and technology industries have been expecting for years may finally be arriving,” Variety reports. “Apple is exploring getting into the original programming business.”

Here’s what Variety reports so far:

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"Sources indicate the Cupertino, Calif., colossus has held preliminary conversations in recent weeks with executives in Hollywood to suss out their interest in spearheading efforts to produce entertainment content...

The scale of Apple’s ambitions vary depending on whom is asked, but one high-level executive who talked with the company said the goal is to create development and production divisions that would churn out long-form content to stream in a bid to compete with Netflix."

Between the current vogue for streaming TV and Apple’s sleek, frictionless cool, what’s not to like?

Well, so far, Gizmodo is not convinced it will ever happen. (“There’s certainly something car-related going on in Cupertino,” Chris Mills writes, “but whether that ends up with Beyoncé driving an iCar is a different question; equally, I’d bet money that there’s a Cupertino dumpster filled with Apple TV prototypes.”)

And Vulture has a smart piece arguing that Apple’s creative process functions in just about the opposite direction from the way prestige television of the “Mad Men”/ “Orange is the New Black” model typically works. Adam Sternbergh writes:

"The overall genius of late-period Apple — that is, the Apple of Steve Jobs’s second coming; the one that dominated the '00s with its colorful iMacs and ubiquitous white earbuds and life-altering pocket computers — has never been to create some brand-new thing we didn’t know we wanted. It’s been to wait, hold fire, and then unleash the perfect iteration of an already-existing technology, in such a way as to convince the holdouts (and everyone else) that this gizmo was essential all along.

This is impossible to do in TV. For starters, there’s too much TV already, and there’s no one left who needs to be convinced to watch it. If anything, we’re watching as fast as we can. Second, Apple is certainly not going to redefine content the way it redefined music players, smartphones, and tablets, unless it’s been hiding some kind of genetically engineered Weiner-Whedon-Kohan clone in cryogenic freezing. The TV-content game has always run on a spaghetti-at-the-wall model, all the way back to the days of rabbit ears — and nowhere is this more true than for the digital entities who’ve so notoriously disrupted the TV market."

We know corporations need to expand to be profitable, but what about the idea of doing a few things really well? Can Apple just concentrate on its laptops, desktops, iPhones, iPads, iPods, software, shimmery stores, and, um, customer service?

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Apple is becoming like a high-end pizza-and-pasta restaurant that tries to do pad thai and Korean noodles as well. Please, stop.


Scott Timberg

Scott Timberg is a former staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He's the author of the book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."

MORE FROM Scott Timberg

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