The news is out that Apple is buying Beats; or at least is in the process of doing so. A piece of information that is at least more unexpected and interesting than Microsoft acquiring Nokia, or Google selling Motorola to Lenovo. Popular opinion is that Beats provides Apple with the expertise to either build a better wearable or a more robust music streaming service. The truth, however, is probably a lot less exciting.
Apple, as a brand, hasn’t had quite the same allure and image that it had under Steve Jobs. Not that the products have lost any of their quality, but rather there is something just isn’t the same without the face to go with it. It might be that the iPhone 5C was a departure from the usual premium image that is associated with Apple.
Speaking of rumours, one popular theory is that Beats has the branding expertise to help Apple build the much awaited iWatch (or whatever it ends up being called). Honestly, if the heads at Cupertino wanted expertise for building a wearable they would have followed their usual modus operandi of buying up smaller firms that won’t be missed, such as its acquisitions of PrimeSense, Broadmap and Catch.
Pebble would have been a better choice as it actually has experience building smartwatches; not to mention a realisation that wearables need to look good to convince people to buy them. It would probably also cost less to acquire as well.
What Beats has going for it is a massive celebrity endorsement campaign. A stable that includes Diddy, Lady Gaga, and LeBron James could potentially be used to reinvigorate Apple’s image. More importantly, Beats has demonstrated a slightly higher awareness of global pop culture by bringing in FC Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas ahead of one of the recent “El Clasico” matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid (despite portraying Real Madrid fans poorly in the advertisement).
That being the case, Beats itself won’t change much at Apple. We will not be seeing the next MacBook Pro sporting a Beats by Dre logo any time soon; in fact, it is difficult to imagine the impact Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine could potentially have at Cupertino (even with the rumours that they will join the company as executives).
At most Apple will use the Beats name to relaunch its music streaming service with some additional audio peripherals. Although how relevant the Beats brand to the exercise is questionable. HTC attempted the same thing, and it didn’t end well with the two companies parting ways last year. Apparently the quality of music coming from a smartphone is not something people are particularly worried about.
If Apple is looking to get one over the competition with celebrity endorsements and (even more) branding it is looking in the wrong direction. Historically, the company has managed to remain ahead of the game with the Macintosh computer, the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad; despite not actually inventing any of that technology. Absorbing another popular company steps away from that tradition of taking a less than exciting device and turning it into a massive consumer hit.
The acquisition of Beats steps away from this tradition and indicates that Apple is attempting to appeal to the mass market from a lifestyle perspective. A move that is distinctly Apple on the surface, but loses the true reason people remain loyal customers of the company. The true appeal of Apple is that it removes that fear of an over complicated future and reassures the public that they are smart enough to enjoy the fruits of technology.
Apple does not need more branding or celebrities to remain relevant. It needs to remember the real reasons that it is successful: the ability to present complex ideas in a manner that is comprehensible by everyone. Moving away from this is will be walking away from the reason people still like the company; and in the end it will simply become just another electronics manufacturer.