Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 September 2019

Apple's new streaming and gaming services are coming to the UAE

The UAE will be part of the first rollout of AppleTV+, which will come to more than 100 countries

It doesn't get much bigger than Oprah Winfrey.

The media behemoth was the guest of honour at the much-anticipated Apple keynote address at its Cupertino, California, headquarters on Monday, following the announcement of the tech giant wading into the TV streaming market.

The new service, called AppleTV+, will feature a veritable who's who of Hollywood elite across a line-up of new original TV shows.

It came among a medley of announcements from Apple, which also launched a range of services across different sectors at the same time including a credit card, a gaming subscription service and a revamped news offering. However, only the streaming and gaming services would be coming to the UAE.

Here's a run-down of everything that was announced on Monday:

AppleTV+

Apple not only responded to mounting speculation it would enter the streaming market, but did so with aplomb.

The service was the last announcement at the keynote address, and involved wheeling out its new signings, otherwise known as some of Hollywood's biggest guns, to extol the virtues of their new employer.

An epic five-minute promo video preceded the announcement, featuring the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Sofia Coppola, M Night Shyamalan, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

As the lights came up, Spielberg had taken the stage to talk about how Apple was helping him remake the science fiction anthology show Amazing Stories. Some might consider it an interesting move for the director, coming just weeks after he caused a stir in saying Netflix shouldn't be eligible for the Academy Awards.

Witherspoon and Aniston were next on the bill, later joined by Steve Carell, to talk about their new series, The Morning Show. Aniston said she was "so excited" to return to television, to which the crowd responded with rapturous applause.

A raft of stars followed, including Jason Momoa and Oscar-winner Alfre Woodard, singer Sara Bareilles and JJ Abrams (who are producing a new show called Little Voice together; Bareilles also performed music from the upcoming show), Kumail Nanjiani (the star of HBO's Silicon Valley, who is producing a new show focusing on US immigrants entitled Little America) and Big Bird, who took to the stage to announce a new Muppets-inspired show called Helpsters, which helps children learn computer coding.

But this was all a warm-up act for the guest of honour. It soon became apparent – and when your warm-up acts are a Friends alum, one of the biggest directors in the world and Sesame Street's biggest star, you know you're in for a treat.

Winfrey was preceded by a short promo video which ended with the line that she was "a voice we have all been missing", and received a standing ovation as she graced the stage.

Not content with simply talking up her new projects with the tech giant – a documentary on sexual harassment called Toxic Labour and an untitled one about mental health – Winfrey got political, saying she was proud to "join forces" with Apple, as it was a poignant time to “build a greater awareness through greater conversations”.

“I want to reach that sweet spot where insight and perspective, truth and tolerance actually intersect," Winfrey said, adding that Apple was the obvious choice to partner with.

“They’re in a billion pockets, y’all. A billion pockets."

She also announced the “the most stimulating book club on the planet”, which would also launch on the platform.

AppleTV+ was announced alongside a number of other developments for the company's television ventures. The new AppleTV app and AppleTV channels will launch in May and will bring together movies, TV and cable shows, sports, news and more in one app. HBO, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Showtime and Starz will all feature on the app, though Netflix was notably absent. A pertinent feature of the app was the ability to watch content on or offline. Another was the fact that AppleTV would soon be available to stream direct from iPhones or iPads via Airplay.

The AppleTV app will be the new home for each of the thousands of movies available in Apple's catalogue on the iTunes store.

However, pricing and availability of the service has not yet been announced. Although the company said the service would come to 100 countries this May, and to Mac in the later half of the year, it's not yet clear which countries will get the service. However, the UAE will definitely be part of the first rollout.

Apple Arcade

Alongside its streaming venture, Apple announced a new gaming service, which is set to feature more than 100 exclusive games, including original releases, from big-name creators such as Hironobu Sakaguchi, Ken Wong, Will Wright and plenty more. In announcing the service, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the most popular aspect of the App store, which now welcomes 500 million people per week, was games. The App store now services more than 1 billion gaming customers, across both free and paid games.

The service will feature games from the likes of Sega, Lego, Annapurna Interactive, Bossa Studios, Cartoon Network, Finji, and Giant Squid.

Rather than paying upfront per game, Apple Arcade will rely on a subscription model. Games will be accessible offline, and playable across iPhones, iPads, Macs and AppleTV. New games will be constantly added.

Mr Cook said Apple Arcade would launch in autumn of this year (around September) in more than 150 countries, and the UAE is one of them.

AppleNews+

Mr Cook kicked off proceedings while extolling the virtues of journalism, saying "it's critical that it be trusted". The Apple News app is now the No 1 news app in the world, he said, and the revamped offering is intended to take that even further.

AppleNews+ will bring magazines on to the news app, and feature 300 magazines across all sorts of topics, bringing the “best magazine reading experience on an app”, said Roger Rosner, Apple's vice president of applications.

It will feature "live covers" (dynamic, animated magazine covers) and "a beautiful design".

Some notable inclusions to the service are the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Skimm and The New Yorker. It costs $9.99 a month for a full subscription.

"It's great for customers and great for publishers," Mr Cook said, while paying tribute to the challenges facing the mainstream media.

Apple Card

It's not yet available in the UAE, but a game-changing announcement for the credit card world comes in the form of the new AppleCard. The credit card is to be built into the Apple Wallet app, offering a similar experience to Apple Pay. However, it looks set to shake up the banking industry with a comprehensive service that will eliminate fees (transfer, international, overdraft, late), offer lower interest rates and provide a one-stop shop for transaction history and other information. In fact, it even goes a step further, offering information as detailed as the whereabouts of each transaction, shown on a map. Perhaps most interesting is the cash back aspect, in which at least 2 per cent of daily transactions are given back to customers for every purchase.

"It's the most significant change to credit cards in 50 years," Mr Cook said.

The announcement came on the back of Mr Cook telling the audience that Apple Pay had already hit 10 billion transactions in 2019. The physical Apple Card is designed to be aesthetically pleasing: it's titanium, there's no card number, no CVV, no expiration, and your name is etched into it. The specifics (card number etc) are all available in the Wallet app. You can apply for one on your iPhone, and it can be used instantly.

So far, the Apple Card is only coming to the US.

Updated: March 26, 2019 08:55 AM

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