Why would Apple buy Beats?

Will Goring, 14 May 2014

The last three or four days have been more or less full of discussion about Apple’s rumoured $3.2bn purchase of Beats; everyone seems desperate to figure out the reason for the proposed purchase. Could it be for the headphones expertise? The recently launched music streaming service? What about the power of the brand?

I hope I’m stating the blindingly obvious here, but the answer is clearly “Yes; all of the above.”

I’m constantly surprised by how much discussion happens that’s focused entirely on getting to the one, core reason for purchases like this. Google got the same scrutiny when they purchased Nest; was it an aqui-hire? Was Google after our personal temperature data? Were they just looking for an entry to the consumer electronics market? People expend both time and effort discussing – even arguing over – which is the real reason. Why? Is a simple narrative so appealing that everything has to boil down to having a single cause?

Sure, sometimes – maybe even often – there really is a single reason for a purchase; when Apple bought AuthenTec in 2012, no-one wondered why. But when it’s not clear, or when there are a selection of competing theories, my first assumption is that, just like us, the purchaser can see a variety of reasons to make the purchase and have determined that between them, as a package, they’re worth the asking price.

It’s not a simple narrative, but then life (like, I have to assume, the decision to spend $3.2bn) is rarely simple.

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