Rich Warren | Breaking down Apple's latest offerings

Rich Warren | Breaking down Apple's latest offerings

Take another bite out of the Apple with me. Before revealing all the March 25 introductions, here's a reflection. When Sony opened its gallery on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago in the early 1990s, one of the first, if not the first in the country, it was a rather sedate affair showcasing Sony products. The company proudly showed me the birds-eye maple flooring, in addition to the diverse array of high-tech products.

Recently, I visited the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue overlooking the Chicago River. Apple's all-glass extravaganza radiated a far different vibe. Entering was somewhat akin to an alien spacecraft abduction overloaded with lights and screens.

It was as mobbed as Six Flags on July 4. A lecturer gave an introductory course on Apple's Garage Band software in front of a mammoth screen.

Unlike Sony's wide spectrum of products, the Apple store mainly displays phones, tablets, laptops, a limited number of serious desktop computers and accessories.

My partner brought me along hoping one of the Genius Bar techies might repair the sticky mute switch on her 15-month-old iPhone.

After a 30-minute wait for a technician, and a few minutes in the backroom with the phone, he informed her that the switch could not be repaired. He offered to sell her a new phone for $319. Of course, had she purchased Apple Care for about $100, the cost of replacement would have been much less.

On March 25, Apple revealed updated operating systems, including iOS 12.2, mainly for its new enhanced services, as predicted here a couple of weeks ago, as well as some important security patches.

You can subscribe, for a fee, to Apple Arcade for unlimited game play on about 100 games without time limits or additional charges. Apple pays prominent game developers for the rights to existing games and development of new games. You'll be able to move your game play between devices, such as leaving your iPhone and resuming on your Mac.

Apple TV+ goes head-to-head with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other streaming services. Like its competition, Apple will commission and produce original series and programming.

To emphasize this, Apple invited Steven Spielberg to the stage to promote his forthcoming Apple TV+ programming, such as a reboot of "Amazing Stories." Even Big Bird was on hand to plug "Helpsters," a new series from Sesame Street.

Initially, only available on the iPhone and iPad, TV+ will expand later in the year to include the Apple Mac, as well as Roku, Amazon Fire Stick and many smart TVs. A special, easy-to-use streaming app will bind Apple and other programming into one package. You'll be able to separately purchase individual "channels" such as HBO and Showtime.

Finally, for the readers out there, Apple introduced Apple News+, a $10-per-month service that delivers about 300 newspapers, magazines and other publications. Also on News+ are digital-only publications.

Apple builds News+ on a platform called Texture that it acquired a year ago. In some way, this resembles Spotify for magazines.

Apple made a note of privacy, promising that advertisers would not know what you read and would be unable to track you. That's worth $10 a month all by itself.

To help you pay for all of this, beyond its already existing Apple Pay, Apple announced, in conjunction with Goldman Sachs, a real-honest-to-goodness no annual fee MasterCard, in case you find yourself in a primitive spot where Apple Pay is virtually non-grata. Apple promises no late fees or over-limit fees; otherwise, it appears to be just another credit card.

Unlike unique, innovative hardware and the original iTunes store, Apple faces mighty competition from experienced, well-funded industry giants in these new realms. Its reality distortion sphere that it so carefully cultivated in the past might not work this time. Differentiating a streaming TV subscription requires more than clever marketing and the extension of the Apple brand.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

Topics (2):Internet, Technology
-