Apple as a Service: What Apple One could mean for the biggest company in tech
Combining News+, Music, TV+ and iCloud could be good for all those services, and scary for competitors.
Apple has always understood the appeal of a bundle. It bundles hardware and software; sells millions of songs in a single subscription; charges credit cards only periodically to save on fees. Even Apple's retail stores are a bundle, if you squint a little.
With Apple One, Apple's getting even deeper into all things bundle. For individuals, it's $14.95 a month and includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and iCloud storage. The Family plan costs $19.95 a month and includes more users and more iCloud storage. For $29.95 a month in some countries, there's also the Premier package, which includes the new Fitness+ service and Apple News+, both of which cost $9.99 a month on their own.
Apple framed Apple One as both a cost-saving mechanism and a way for people to discover new services. Apple Music has 60 million paid customers, for instance, and for only a small extra charge, Apple can now try to get those people playing games in Arcade and using iCloud instead of Dropbox. And for less than the price of a monthly Peloton membership, users can get Fitness+ plus all of Apple's other services.
There's one possible path for Apple One that eventually includes almost everything the company makes. For one monthly price, users would get occasionally updated iPhones, iPads, Watches and Macs; subscriptions to Apple Music, TV+, News+, Arcade and more; iCloud storage; and an Apple Card for purchasing everything else. The bundle, investors and analysts argue, would keep people locked into their subscriptions — and thus Apple's ecosystem — for even longer, and help expose them to Apple's new services.
This is not an outlandish future. As Cook pointed out on a 2019 earnings call, Apple's upgrade programs already accomplish some of the same goal. "In terms of hardware as a service or as a bundle, if you will, there are customers today that essentially view the hardware like that because they're on upgrade plans and so forth," he said. "So to some degree that exists today. My perspective is that will grow in the future to larger numbers. It will grow disproportionately." Apple Card owners can already pay for their Apple gear in installments, too, which is not far off from hardware as a service already.
Bundling is also a bit of a trend in Big Tech. The best-case bundle scenario comes from Amazon, which has turned Prime from a free-shipping subscription to a way to get music, movies, books, groceries and photo prints. More than 100 million people in the U.S. now use Prime. Meanwhile, Microsoft is building Microsoft 365 into a similar bundle, with Windows and Office but also services from Adobe, Headspace and others. Google also launched Google One, "one membership to get more out of Google," though that hasn't yet expanded beyond storage and customer service.
Of course, the more Apple bundles the more those bundles are likely to come under antitrust scrutiny. The more deeply it locks people into its ecosystem, the more it upsells users into more-expensive and expansive bundles, the more the competitors left on the outside will complain, and the more powerful Apple's walled garden will look. Spotify said as much in a statement on Tuesday: "Once again, Apple is using its dominant position and unfair practices to disadvantage competitors and deprive consumers by favoring its own services."
There's no doubt that Apple One is a key part of how Apple understands its future. The question, as ever, will be which — if any — of Apple's services are enticing enough to get people into the bundle in the first place. So far, Music is the most obvious success, but as more shows come to TV+ and more people get started with Fitness+, those could grow, too. And offering the equivalent of Spotify and Netflix (and more), for roughly the cost of one of those services, is likely to be a compelling sell. It gives Apple more recurring revenue, locks customers even deeper into its hardware, and pushes Apple ever closer to being the one bill people need to pay every month to get everything they need. And if Apple can get there, it'll be nearly unbeatable.