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“A monumental change is coming”: Apple’s first 2021 event, and what publishers need to know

Apple wrapped up its ‘Spring Loaded’ event yesterday, and there weren’t too many big surprises… except for “exposing” the mild-mannered Apple CEO as a “kind of daring superspy who can pull off a high-security heist, slicing through plate glass, rappelling down buildings, and dodging lasers, all with a trusty grappling hook at his side”.

In addition to the new iPad Pro with an M1 chip (that also powers the latest Macs) seen in the video above, the company’s other announcements of interest to publishers include subscriptions coming to the Podcasts app, and the dreaded iOS privacy update. 

“Apple is creating the Netflix of podcasts”

Apple announced subscriptions for its Podcasts app, letting users pay creators directly and giving benefits like ad-free listening experiences and bonus content, as well as early access. It will launch next month.

“A monumental change is coming to Apple Podcasts’ business,” says The Verge’s Ashley Carman. “Initial partners include Pushkin Industries, QCODE, and NPR. It appears that content creators will have to pay Apple $19.99 per year in order to offer subscriptions, and Apple will take 30 percent of revenue for the first year of a subscriber’s lifetime and 15 percent for the years following.”

Most interestingly, Apple is allowing podcast publishers to create “channels” that bring together multiple shows under a single banner. For instance, a news site could offer a daily news podcast, a weekly opinion show, and an interview show and group them together under a single paid subscription.

Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab
Channels are curated groups of shows. Listeners can discover new shows from their favourite creators through free channels, and subscribe to paid channels as well as freemium channels, which include free shows with additional benefits.

“Apple is creating the Netflix of podcasts,” said Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research. “They are enabling creators [with] a distribution channel to 1.65 billion devices.”

The company announced that it’s launching its podcast subscription service in 170 regions and countries, pitting itself against Spotify and other competitors in the audio streaming wars. Apple is also redesigning the Podcasts app.

The service joins several other paid digital offerings launched by the Cupertino giant in recent years, including Apple TV+, Apple One services bundles, Apple News+, Apple Arcade and Apple Fitness+.

The new Apple Podcasts for Creators website helps creators learn more about podcasting, stay informed about the latest news and features, and explore in-depth guides with best practices.

This gives podcasters tools they can use to publish, augment, and manage their content, but also offers a relatively stable business proposition. Not only will you know you’ll get paid (after all, the interlocutor is Apple), but you’ll know when and how, and you’ll possess good data to help guide your content decisions. Lots of this isn’t unique, of course, but it creates an opportunity for podcast publishers, one they will likely exploit, given the high engagement levels of Apple users.

Jonny Evans, Computerworld

“Fifteen years ago, Apple took podcasts mainstream, offering creators a premier, open platform to inform, entertain, and inspire hundreds of millions of listeners around the world,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “We are proud to lead the next chapter of podcasting with Apple Podcasts Subscriptions.”

iOS 14.5 will arrive next week

While a lot was said on Apple Podcasts Subscriptions, some announcements were quietly snuck in. The company revealed that iOS 14.5 will officially arrive “starting next week”, slipping in the information, almost as an afterthought, at the end of a press release on Apple AirTags.

Why all the cloak and dagger stuff? Possibly because the update will introduce changes to ad tracking that might upend digital marketing, and is a matter of concern both for publishers and advertisers. 

While iOS 14.5 has a lot of new features, the one that’s being most closely watched is ATT, or App Tracking Transparency. The feature forces developers to ask users for permission to track users with targeted ads, making it an opt-in feature. 

Apple is also warning developers once again that, with the release of iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 next week, apps “must use the AppTrackingTransparency framework to request the user’s permission to track them.”

This privacy change is expected to reduce the effectiveness of targeted ads and possibly roil the online advertising business.

“Meeting point is now the M1”

Apple also launched the next generation of iPad Pro, and the device has an Apple-designed M1 processor—the same chip that powers the latest Macs—delivering a massive leap in performance.

Apple has redefined the tablet, again. The new iPad Pro comes with a new vision of what we’re supposed to be doing with tablets, why we’re supposed to be doing it, and what we’re supposed to be doing it for. As has happened before, Apple’s ahead of the game.

Sascha Segan, PCMag

For the first time ever, the company’s major tablet and desktop offerings are being powered by the same chip, further blurring the line between them. Macs and iPads—two versatile but different platforms—now share the same processor: The M1.

Despite only being released in November, M1 Macs already represent the majority of Mac sales, outperforming Mac computers powered by Intel. Apple CEO Tim Cook announced this during the ‘Spring Loaded’ event yesterday, adding that the ‌M1‌ “isn’t just an upgrade, but a breakthrough.”

With the M1, Apple’s desktop and tablet universes are coming together, with the difference being just of the form factor. This opens up a whole new world for the creator community, giving them the ability to create brilliant new forms of content.

The iPad-reminiscent new iMac, which shares the same processor, feels like a spiritual cousin. Maybe iPads are really ready to be a part of the same computer world as Macs. Or Macs are increasingly bleeding into iPad territory. Somewhere, the two are meeting. And that meeting point is now the M1.

Scott Stein, CNET

You can watch the special Apple Event in its entirety here.