Apple watch, HBO deal may be game changers

Detroit News wire services

San Francisco – — Apple made its new smartwatch the star of its launch event Monday, but the company also showed off a new laptop and an HBO streaming service that will be exclusive on its devices.

By offering the Time Warner Inc.-owned premium channel outside the cable bundle, HBO could prompt more consumers to cut the cord and threaten the TV ecosystem.

The move pits HBO directly against online streaming service Netflix, which has more than 57 million subscribers worldwide.

The watch is the first brand-new device Apple has launched without Steve Jobs. The stakes are high for a company that just dislodged AT&T as one of the 30 stocks comprising the venerable Dow Jones industrial average.

Apple is entering a market in which numerous tech companies are already selling smartwatches, from the Samsung Gear and Motorola's Moto 360 to the Pebble Steel and other models made by smaller startups. Many run on Android Wear, the software platform from Google.

They range in price from $100 to $500 or more, but most don't have as many features as the Apple Watch, and have not been big hits with consumers.

Make calls, read email, control music, manage Instagram photos, keep up with your workout, pay for groceries, open your hotel room door — CEO Tim Cook says you can do it all from your wrist with Apple Watch for 18 hours a day. That's how long the battery will last on an average day.

Pre-orders start April 10. The device costs $349 for a base model, while a luxury gold version will go for $10,000.

Industry watchers are eager to see if Apple's version will be the tipping point for the sluggish smartwatch market. There was similar skepticism when Apple released the iPad in 2010, yet the company has successfully sold millions and its popularity has shaken up the PC market.

The watch will start selling on April 24 in the U.S., Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Apple also cut the price of Apple TV by $30 to $69 and is partnering with HBO to offer its stand-alone streaming service, HBO Now, on Apple devices in time for the fifth season premiere of "Game of Thrones" on April 12.

HBO chief executive Richard Plepler said the HBO Now service will debut for $14.99 a month, with the first month free for customers who sign up early.

Plepler said the streaming service will be available exclusively for a time on apps for Apple devices as well as Apple TV. Cook said 25 million Apple TVs have been sold.

"This is a transformative moment for HBO," Plepler said. "All you need to get HBO Now is a broadband connection and an Apple device."

Plepler has said the new service is aimed at reaching an estimated 10 million consumers who get Internet service but don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV. In October, Time Warner announced it would offer the streaming-video service this year, separate from the cable-TV bundle.

HBO — home to such shows as "Girls" and "True Detective" — has been in talks with at least five companies including Google Inc. to distribute the Web-only service, according to people familiar with the matter.

TiVo Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tom Rogers said in an interview last week that his company, which makes digital video recorders, also is in discussions with HBO about distributing the service.

Cook directed Apple's big event Monday in San Francisco, also unveiling a shiny, skinny and silent MacBook weighing in at just 2 pounds.

Apple marketing executive Phil Schiller said it's the thinnest and lightest laptop the company has produced. It promises all-day battery life, with 9 hours of wireless Web use or 10 hours of video playbook, Schiller said.

Schiller also talked up a redesigned keyboard and trackpad, and disclosed that it will be the first MacBook without a fan and first available in the gold color that has been popular on iPhones and iPads.

The new technology does not come cheap, however: The new MacBooks will start at $1,299, and a faster version with more memory will sell for $1,599; they begin shipping April 10. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines will also receive some slight upgrades, with new versions beginning to ship immediately.