May 09, 2014 2:15 AM GMT
More important than any specific product, however, is the prospect of Apple infusing itself with the creative energy Beats represents, and the willingness to look to the outside world to supply it. Apple has sat on so much cash for so long that it’s started to look like Smaug. Three billion dollars is just a small chunk of its horde, but the possible decision to actually spend meaningfully on new ideas could be a sign that Apple is finally ready to leave the lair and start acting like the hero of innovation its fans (and shareholders) expect.
And Beats is more than just a hardware buy. Though it started out a little buggy, Beats makes what could be the best-looking streaming music app on the market. Though Apple is hardly hurting as a seller of music, iTunes itself is widely unloved. However nicely the iTunes Radio streaming-music feature of iOS 7 might work, it hasn’t become a part of the conversation the way, say, Spotify has. With Beats, Apple might finally get the media platform it needs to seem relevant again.
Back when Steve Jobs launched the iPod, the way the world listened to music started to change. But the loop didn’t really close until the iTunes store opened in 2003. In the decade since, the culture and business of communication and media have changed radically, a change largely instigated and shepherded by Apple. But now those changes have become the new standards. The markets Apple created and cultivated have helped make it the most valuable company in the world, but those markets are now the norm. In 2014, the company needs something new. By taking Beats under its wing, a grown-up Apple may have finally found the way to bring the next great version of itself to life.