The rumors turn out to be true. Apple is buying Beats for $3 billion, just slightly less money than originally suggested. Now that it's official, I'm confidently reiterating my conviction that Apple cannot be spending this unprecedented sum on Beats for either its headphones or its subscription music business. Because while the company may be worth that much, it's not worth that much to Apple, the world's most innovative consumer electronics and consumer software maker. Because choosing to buy Beats purely for its existing businesses and revenues would represent Apple significantly lowering its sights, aiming to graduate right from innovative leader of life-changing technology to kinda-cool company that makes stuff teenagers like. Not that selling to teenagers isn't a good thing; it can certainly bring in money, but it doesn't typically generate long-lasting brand relationships.
To be clear, if Apple is buying Beats purely for its headphones or music subscription business, then Apple is making a mistake. However, there are those of us who still believe that Apple hasn't thrown in the towel. And why would it? There are still many consumer markets to dominate — entire markets like wearables and home automation tech and even in-car experiences, all of which are in their infancy — and Apple still has the smarts, the brand, and certainly the money to make a run for any of those things, if not all of them. So why would Apple instead sign up to become a holding company for fashionable but not life-changing brands?
A media frenzy arose last night when the Financial Times suggested it had word from the inside that Apple is closing in on buying Beats Electronics for $3.2 billion. The immediate response from all quarters has been puzzlement and on multiple levels. As the sun rose today, so did the doubts about the impending deal. Generally, large strategic acquisitions — like when Google bought Nest for a similar figure — can be justified on the basis of buying something you don’t already have: a promising new technology, a large customer base, or entrée into a desirable industry. None of these things apply to this acquisition by Apple. Acquisitions at a more mature business stage can typically be justified purely on a revenue or margin basis or the desire to snap up a brand with more energy. Those don’t apply here, either. Even those who have tried to stretch the argument a bit have suggested that Apple could be buying Beats purely for a quick road into the music streaming business as a hedge against Spotify — except that Apple owns the music industry and doesn’t need Beats to build the music streaming offering that the company has denied for years that it should even consider getting into.