One of the most captivating story lines at Apple over the past fifteen years or so is the growth of their services business. It’s now booking over $7 billion in revenue per quarter for the company, and its tight integration with the first-party software that Apple ships on its product lines helps build a case for customer loyalty, but only if they make their cloud services truly great. And, for a long time, that wasn’t the case.
But today, Ryan Christoffel makes the case in MacStories that Apple’s services are actually, well, good:
The Apple of today has made services a core part of its business. Not only from a financial standpoint, but also in the area of user experience. The experience Apple sells is not merely one of hardware, or software – it includes services. And it’s that Apple experience that helped make the iPhone one of the most successful products in the history of the world.
You can draw your own conclusions from this story, but mine is that Apple’s services get a bad rap they generally don’t deserve; the company’s reputation for not doing services well is outdated. Are things perfect? Of course not. But they’re a lot better than the common narrative says.
Of the fourteen services Christoffel says he relies upon, I am a frequent user of eleven: iCloud Calendar syncing, iCloud Drive, Photos, Maps, Apple Pay, iTunes, Apple Music, News, iMessage, Siri, and the App Store. I also use a few services he doesn’t mention, like Reminders and Contacts syncing, and iCloud Keychain.
And, much like many of you I’m sure, I’ve had shaky experiences with pretty much all of these. iCloud Drive files take forever to show up on different devices, for example, and Maps data is still incomplete and occasionally incorrect where I live.1 iTunes preorders are still buggy,2 while Siri remains painfully obtuse when it comes to following context.3
But a few years ago, I went practically all-in on Apple’s services and I’ve reached a similar — if less enthusiastic — conclusion as Christoffel: they’ve become quite good. iMessage notifications, for example, go to the device I’m currently using without lighting up every device at once. Apple Music has performed reliably, and the For You recommendations strike a good balance between discoverability and familiarity. Much to my surprise, iCloud Keychain and Photos have been bulletproof over the past couple of years, in particular.
I don’t blame anyone for their skepticism of Apple’s cloud services offerings; for a very long time, these services were entirely deserving of their lacklustre reputation. Next to Google’s established and reliable offerings, Apple was playing a fast game of catch-up in public, and it showed. Despite their presently-good state, however, I get a wary look whenever I recommend many of Apple’s services to someone who asks. A lot of people have been burned before by bad experiences with Maps or iTunes, and are reluctant to trust in more Apple services.
And that’s unfortunate, because I’ve found that Apple’s products — much like any other tech company’s — work a lot better when you invest deeper into their ecosystem. Getting users to trust in doing so, however, is going to be as hard for Apple as were the technical improvements to their services.
Recent highlights include an entire stretch of businesses that were placed on 10A Street instead of 10 Street, a car dealership marked as a golf course, and areas marked as parks contradicted by the aerial view. ↩︎
When my preorder of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” became available for download, iTunes failed to update the tags on the lead single “HUMBLE.” for accuracy. ↩︎
My girlfriend’s conversation with Siri, not too long ago:
“Remind me to send in my application tomorrow at 9 PM.”
Did you mean Sunday or Monday?
Okay, I found this on the web for Sunday. ↩︎