AUSTIN, TX — At the Austin Convention Center at SXSW this morning, Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue took to the stage to talk about the company's latest acquisition, news curation, corporate responsibility, the Apple TV and more. And he also threw cold water on scooping up Netflix.
Breaking News: Apple Buys Texture
The first topic of the day was Apple acquiring the magazine subscription app Texture. CNN's Dylan Byers, who was on stage with Cook, jokingly asked how news of this didn't break early, considering how the service works with publications from the Conde Nast, Time, Meredith, Hearst and others.
After Cue mentioned how their involvement might have helped the story stay secret, he mentioned Apple's interest in Texture being tied to improving Apple News, as these magazines can increase the amount of longer articles.
Specifically, Cue repeatedly talked about the intent to bring customers news from "trusted sources" a phrase that's picked up a lot of buzz in conjunction with the concept of "fake news."
When asked if Apple News has a chance of becoming a dominant news source, Cue boasted about its still-early progress with Apple News accounting for 60 to 70 percent of the CNN articles read. Also, usage has grown year over year, as last year users followed about 4 publishers on Apple News, and they now follow more than 20.
Not All Free Speech Is Important
The conversation segued from fake news to Apple's role in controlling its platforms, as opposed to Facebook and Google. Talking about Apple's iTunes, Podcasts and App Store, Cue said "when you have a large platform, there's a lot of responsibility, so we came up with rules and guidelines," before stating that sometimes "we got a lot of heat for" those rules.
When Byers asked why the NRA app is still on Apple TV, when pressure is mounting for many to cut ties with the gun lobby, Cue turned to the app review process. After noting that "teams of people, not just one, review each and every app," the Apple exec brought up the series of guidelines that apps must follow, including that apps cannot "allow you to buy or sell guns, or show cruelty to animals, or show violence towards human beings."
While Cue noted that "It's important for Americans to have debates on certain issues" he also made sure to firmly state "we don't think hate speech from white supremacists is important free speech."
Cue also talked about Apple News in a way that suggested the company wants to reduce the echo chamber effect of people listening and hearing the same voices and opinions. After noting that Apple isn't tied to advertising, Cue emphasized that a news experience should feature "some serendipity" so users discover stuff they might not have thought they wanted.
The Apple TV and Not Buying Netflix
When asked why a cash-rich company such as Apple doesn't just buy Netflix or Disney, Cue recalled the famous Wayne Gretzky quote, saying that the company doesn't want to skate to where the puck is now, but to where it's going.
Cue then explained how Apple's focus is on improving the experience of watching TV, and griped about how the setup process for a DVR is "brain-dead and crazy." He even compared using those devices to the frustrating amount of effort it took to record on VHS tapes (ask your parents, kids).
Byers then referred to content deals inked with high-profile names such as Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and then prodded as to why Apple isn't trying to build a series on the scale of Game of Thrones, or — again — just buy Netflix.
Cue spoke to how Apple "doesn't focus on quantity, but rather, on quality," before comparing this to how the company aims to make the best iPhones and not make a giant line of phones. This trepidation is also tied to its core competencies, as Cue state "We don't know anything about making television, we know apps, distribution, and marketing."
That being said, Cue noted that Apple is seeking to fix this deficiency, recently hiring two execs with TV background, who have a team of 40 people.
Live TV, Sports
In response to Byers asking if Apple has any interest in acquiring rights to sports events and other live programming, Cue explained that Apple's more interested in improving the experience. As a self-declared "sports nut," Cue emphasized how much little things, such as notifications about important games, can make a difference.
AR Kit Developments
Cue then brought up more news that broke today (Mar. 12) that the PGA is launching an AR Kit app experience to immerse golf fans in the experience of being on the course. One benefit of this he noted is that fans can get a better understanding of the topography, as The Masters, which is held at the Augusta National Golf Club course always looks flat on TV, but is quite hilly in real life.
Cue also provided an interesting note about how long Apple's been thinking about the work it's launched with AR Kit. "When we were building iPhone 6's," he explained "we built them with the intent to eventually support AR." This foresight, is how Cue credits how Apple had "hundreds of thousands of potential users" ready to convince app developers to use AR Kit.
When asked about other AR technologies, and pushed about if Apple would acquire Magic Leap, Cue said "phones are not going away for a while," to show which hardware Apple is focused on.
HomePod a Miss?
When asked about what happens when a product isn't a hit — Byers called out the HomePod speaker — Cue pushed back, saying "We're very pleased with HomePod sales." Instead, echoing a sentiment he said throughout the day, Cue said "We put our energies behind a few things, not 100 products."