Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California.
Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc/Handout via Reuters
For Apple investors, the most exciting product the company could release this fall isn’t a new version of the iPhone or Apple Watch: It’s a bundle that tie some of the company’s subscription services together and give users with a discount for subscribing to more than one at the same time.
Apple hasn’t confirmed “Apple One,” the suggested name for the bundle, but technology blog 9to5Google found code in the Apple Music Android app earlier this week suggesting that the iPhone maker will tie its music service to other subscriptions it offers, like Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and iCloud storage.
If Apple One launches this fall, Wall Street investors and analysts will be happy. An Apple bundle has been on investor wish lists for years.
“We have long argued that bundling services is a unique tool that Apple has at its disposal,” Goldman Sachs analyst Katy Huberty wrote in an August note.
The theory is that an Apple bundle will anchor Apple’s burgeoning services business, increase the number of subscribers, and complete the perspective shift from Apple as a hardware maker dependent on annual iPhone refreshes, to a technology and software company with several lines of recurring revenue and a self-reinforcing ecosystem, potentially driving the stock price up without having to increase product sales or prices dramatically.
Huberty wrote that an Apple bundle could differentiate Apple’s services, boost subscribers for Apple’s less popular services, integrate with Apple Pay and Apple Card, and lock customers into the Apple ecosystem. Apple has set a target for 600 million subscribers by the end of 2020 (including subscribers to App Store apps), Huberty writes, and a bundle would help it hit and exceed that target.
Started in 2015
To some extent, Apple has already started changing its story with investors. They currently give the company a much richer valuation than they did in 2015, when activist investor Carl Ichan wrote an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook raising the idea that Apple’s ecosystem was undervalued.
On Thursday’s close, Apple has a P/E ratio close to 34.5, according to FactSet, compared to 10.9 when Icahn wrote his letter. That’s been largely driven by Apple’s online services, which accounted for 22% of the company’s revenue in the quarter ending in June.
Icahn, who sold his Apple stake in 2016, suggested that Apple could increase its P/E ratio by aggressively expanding into the TV market, and that a core part of that strategy would be a “skinny bundle” of pay-tv shows and movies from media companies alongside a streaming music service.
The “skinny bundle” never came to fruition, nor did the Apple-made physical TV that Icahn predicted. But in recent years, Apple has made some moves toward that vision. Last November, Apple released Apple TV+, a $4.99-per-month subscription that gives users access to Apple-funded TV shows, movies and documentaries. And inside the Apple TV app, users can subscribe to CBS All Access and Showtime, two streaming channels, for $9.99 per month, a savings of $11 per month over buying the two services separately.
But the idea of the Apple bundle and significant recurring revenue had took hold among people who felt at the time that Apple was undervalued. Goldman Sachs analyst Simona Jankowski floated in 2016 that if Apple were to own its own content, it could bundle that with Apple Music and hardware like an Apple TV set-top box and iPhone for $50 per month. Bernstein analysts said around the same time that there was a case for Apple buying Netflix to create a bundle to combat Amazon Prime.
The concept of “Apple Prime” was born among Apple watchers and fans.
It’s unclear what exactly Apple will bundle at what price. It sells a number of subscriptions that give it a good start:
- Apple TV+, streaming video for $4.99 per month
- Apple Music, streaming music for $9.99 per month
- Apple Arcade, a selection of games for $4.99 per month
- Apple News+, an online bundle of magazines and newspapers at $9.99 per month
- iCloud storage, which enables users to sync data between devices, starting at $0.99 per month
Apple hasn’t released subscriber numbers for Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, or Apple News+ since they launched last year. Apple Music has over 60 million subscribers. Apple said earlier this year it has 550 million subscribers, but that counts people who subscribe to an app on the App Store.
The basic bundle could start with Apple Music and Apple TV+, according to a report from Bloomberg. Additional tiers would add Arcade, News+, and iCloud storage for an additional fee — but still less than what the services would cost separately.
One thing that’s unlikely to be included in the bundle: hardware.
Analyst Toni Sacconaghi asked Cook directly about a hardware bundle on a conference call last fall. He didn’t shoot down the idea, but suggested that something like it was already in effect.
″In terms of hardware as a service or as a bundle, if you will, there are customers today that essentially view the hardware like that because they’re on upgrade plans and so forth,” Cook said during an earnings call. “So to some degree that exists today.”
But Cook also said that he expects hardware as a service or bundle will “grow disproportionately” in the future.
Apple has an iPhone upgrade program, introduced in 2015, which charges users on a monthly basis and gives them the option to trade in their old iPhone for the newest model once a year. And last fall, Apple began to offer interest-free financing for Apple products through its Apple Card credit card partnership with Goldman Sachs.
Ultimately, Apple doesn’t look at its business the way Wall Street does. It sees Apple as an entire ecosystem building on itself. If a user has an iPhone, they will have a better experience if they also heavily use Apple software and services, and perhaps be more likely to buy AirPods or an Apple Watch — or an Apple One bundle. The entire ecosystem is the bundle.
If Apple releases the Apple One bundle this fall, it won’t talk about P/E ratios or whether the company is more valuable as a software-plus-services company. It will more likely emphasize how great its services are and why give customers more benefit for being part of the Apple ecosystem.