Meet the iPhone SE and iCouch: Apple's service bundle for the pandemic
Apple has launched. It’s called the iPhone SE.
At the beginning of last year, I gave this phone — which was heavily rumored at the time — a name: Diet iPhone. The specifications have been pretty well established for a long time, too. It has a “classic” iPhone design resembling an iPhone 8, complete with a 4.7-inch display, Touch ID, a single rear camera, a selfie camera, and an updated A13 Bionic chip just like the iPhone 11.
But, most importantly, this high-performance, entry-level model costs $399. A magic number to attract customers to upgrade their phones in the many millions — thrusting a dagger into the heart of Samsung and other Android OEM device businesses. Nothing, presumably, can compete with hardware that powerful at that price point.
All this, of course, is based on the assumption that people have money to spend on a new phone, no matter how attractively priced.
A lot of iPhones, but no money to buy them
April 2020 looks nothing like April 2019. We have millions of people in the US that have filed for unemployment due to businesses shutting down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have been furloughed or lost their jobs entirely.
Those folks — who could have afforded a $399 phone upgrade from their two or three-year-old device — are having a hard time paying for their rent, utilities, and essential survival goods such as food and other perishable and non-perishable supplies (if they can even find the things to buy because of hoarding).
So, the release of a new low-cost iPhone, which would have been an exciting development a year ago, is now just yet another low-key product release from the company, such as its latest — and long-awaited update — to the iPad Pro, which was announced with virtually no fanfare whatsoever.
However, I think the real Apple product release of 2020 is not an iPhone, iPad, MacBook, updated Apple TV or HomePod, or any other piece of hardware. I think it’s a service — or, rather, a bundle of services.
With millions of people out of work — and many millions more confined to their homes and working remotely — they are using whatever free time they have doing home-bound activities. And is there a better way to get loyal Apple customers than by getting them hooked on services that tie them into the Apple ecosystem?
Apple already has a wide variety of services that people subscribe to on a piecemeal basis:
If you were to buy all these services a la carte, you would likely spend between $25 and $40 per month for just the services alone — not counting piecemeal content purchases for books and videos that could easily add up to another $50 to $100, depending on your consumption habits. This is, of course, also does not include other subscription services you likely use, such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney, and our own CBS All Access platform if you like Star Trek.
Your yearly bill could be easy $400 to $600 a year for just Apple services alone.
Of course, not all of Apple’s services platforms are big moneymakers. It’s estimated that TV+ and News+ have very disappointing numbers for overall subscriber usage and retention. So, Apple has some serious challenges ahead if it wants to spur adoption.
Right now, with everyone stuck at home, Apple has an extremely captive audience. And the way I expect Apple to keep that customer base addicted to its services is through an all-you-can-eat bundle that I am tentatively calling iCouch.
Conceivably, this bundle, selling for as little as $100 a year, would include access to all these things, including an Apple Card signup to process the billing for premium upcharges.
I envision the basic $100-a-year plan akin to what Amazon does with Amazon Prime — a certain amount of built-in content would be available, such as everything in Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Arcade, and even Apple Books (to compete with Kindle Unlimited and what is available to Amazon Prime members for free).
Premium upcharges could be offered, such as for higher levels of iCloud storage (I foresee the 200GB plan being standard), or for special partnership types of one-offs for major Hollywood film releases in iTunes that would have otherwise have ended up in movie theaters (all of which are closed now). In fact, I could see an upcharge plan similar to what Regal Cinemas or AMC had for their all-you-can-view theater programs before they all closed down during the pandemic.
iTunes Unlimited for the majority of Apple’s video portfolio would be a groundbreaker.
Could Apple completely replace movie theaters after the pandemic ends? If people get hooked on a premium streaming service like this, they very well could. And while Netflix, Amazon, and HBO have some excellent content, they’d have a difficult time competing with a service like this from Apple.
Take my money! So, how do I sign up?
If Apple is going to do a bundle, I expect it soon — as early as this month, to complement the introduction of a new iPhone SE. But if it wanted to get people hooked, I think it should give the basic level for free to anyone for the first year who has bought a new device in 2020.
That includes any iPhone and iPad and Mac purchases.
I could also see Apple giving the bundle away for free to Apple Card customers who spend a certain amount of money per month (such as $1,000) and using Apple Cash rewards from Apple Card purchases toward premium upcharges — thus keeping the money all within Apple’s ecosystem.
Would you subscribe to iCouch to get every single Apple service bundled for a single price? What would you be willing to pay? Talk Back and Let Me Know.