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Apple's an exceptional brand — and I really hope it doesn't turn into a TV company

Anita Balakrishnan
There's nothing special about providing consumers more to consume.

It doesn't make sense for Apple to make TV shows. Reverse-engineering content to fill up space on someone's screen is not an inspired strategy.

But that's apparently what the company plans to do: It will deploy a $1 billion collection of original video content, outlets like The Wall Street Journal reported recently.

There are tools on the iPhone that have been successful in promoting high-quality, mainstream content in creative ways — they're called Snapchat and Instagram. In short, there's nothing special about providing consumers more to consume, especially when companies like Amazon have built their entire businesses on it.

I hope Apple takes this opportunity do more. At the wizened age of 25, I'm just old enough to remember when computers were primarily used for making things, instead of just passively consuming content.

There are many areas of content today that are clunky, geeky fledglings — the kind of products that Apple is famous for democratizing. And with a world-class team of Hollywood producers and technologists at its disposal, Apple could usher in a new era of media where every iPhone user is not just reacting to content in a feed, but actively engaged in creating high-quality works of art.

Virtual reality is an obvious choice, although the technology might be a little too new to be simplified into a platform that fits on an iPhone. But better 360-degree video would be an easy place to start.

As Snapchat has shown, there are many ambient experiences that can be built into messaging through augmented reality. Those could be amplified into multi-sensory experiences by connecting to Apple's headphones, watches or smart home devices. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has suggested, one day people might be able to see a private graffiti or art installation created entirely through mixed reality technology.

There are also new immersive storytelling mediums that engage users, rather than pacify them. Apps like Hooked deliver narratives through messages, letting users become part of the story . And Apple has a very robust set of flashy interactive messaging tools .

Episodic video games like Life is Strange are another interesting and underutilized format, where the player helps determine the twists and turns of a drama in an organic way. So many other art forms, like 3-D printing and crowdsourced journalism, have fizzled because they weren't delivered in a consumer-friendly way or at scale — at least, not yet.

This may read like a sci-fi wish list. But in many ways, it's existential. Apple may be at risk of losing the creativity that buoyed its brand if it doesn't act soon.


Apple really used to be different

There was a time when buying Apple products had a very specific meaning.

For instance: The wildly popular tween drama "Dawson's Creek," which aired from 1998 to 2003, just happened to coincide with Steve Jobs' revival of Apple , capped by the runaway hit of the iPod. In the show, Dawson heads off to film school, and desperately tries to convince his dad that he must have a Mac laptop, not a PC, despite the price tag.

It was a pop culture moment that codified Apple's resurgence as a status symbol and identity for a new generation of consumers. But there were also really good reasons for a film student to be on the Apple ecosystem in the early 2000s.

The "iLife" suite, first released in 2004 and including GarageBand and iMovie, filled a gap for people that were interested in using computers to create content beyond the realm of ClipArt, PowerPoint and Microsoft Paint, but perhaps not yet sophisticated enough for tools like Adobe PhotoShop.

People made real things that they shared with friends and family, and many graduated to more sophisticated tools like Final Cut Pro. As of 2010, Steve Jobs said that Apple users bought over half of Adobe's Creative Suite products.

Even iTunes, which focused on connecting users to an unprecedented library of music, was about more than consuming tracks — for many people, it was about creating and sharing the playlists. Your iPod was like your outfit or your bookshelf — the contents reflected your taste.

Then, as now, Apple products were priced at a premium and incrementally prettier and more secure. Apple's "Think Different" slogan, and "Crazy Ones" advertisements featuring visionaries, positioned Apple as a creative brand.

But the products actually worked. They allowed creative people to do things that no other products could do.

Why an Apple Movie is not enough

Today the world is a different place — one where consumption (Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, Netflix) is king for consumer electronics.

Apple's suite of software and services, in turn, looks much different — and it's probably better for business. The iTunes store still has an impressive collection of content, and Apple devices are increasingly popular among powerful business professionals. And devices like the Apple Watch have helped some people reach ambitious health goals.

But building an app, managing a business or running a marathon — admirable as these tasks may be — do not lend themselves to the average creative consumer the same way as iMovie did.

While finely tuned algorithms may be able to pick high-quality music and TV shows, it's certainly not the same as a mixtape made especially for you. And associating the Apple brand with "busy and middle class" just doesn't have the sex appeal of "the crazy ones."

Movies allow you to escape, and work allows you to survive. Apple's supposed to help you reimagine your reality — that's its magic.

Apple seems aware that it needs to remarry its brand with the human element creativity. Apple's original shows, "Carpool Karaoke" and "Planet of the Apps," focus on the creative process and artistic taste. Apple Music also has the rights to "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives." The documentary film profiles Davis, who helped launch the careers of musical icons like Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston and Santana, joins a line-up of music-and-tech themed documentaries like Taylor Swift's "1989 World Tour."

Then there's Today at Apple, a new initiative at Apple Stores that connects shoppers to performances and classes and studios for photography and music. The iPhone 7 Plus' sophisticated camera is another sign that Apple is still trying to align itself with creators.

But if Apple truly, seriously invests in content, it has the opportunity to bring these efforts full circle, and elevate user-created content above the slog of the Facebook feed. Even if you're as rich as Apple, a billion dollars is a lot of money. Apple would be wise to remember some of its most impactful products did more than entertain — they inspired action.

So my message to Apple is to do more than make a movie. Think different.