Beats me: Everyone posits a theory on Apple's $3B deal

Beats acquisition is a Rorschach inkblot test for anyone who follows Apple, asserts analyst

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Or they touted the cash flow of Beats Electronics, and Apple's stagnating sales in accessories, which could use a shot in the arm that the pricey headphones would provide. If the revenue boost those sales generate get itchy, fickle investors off Apple's back, so much the better.

Others have looked at the deal and seen nothing but negatives, picking each component apart. Beats by Dre headphones are technically crap, they say, even though Beats' account for the majority of the premium-priced over-the-ear market. Beats Music is nothing, they argue, that Apple couldn't have built in its sleep. And Iovine and Dre, well, they'll never fit into the Apple corporate "culture." Dre's woozy, self-congratulatory video that hit YouTube when the story broke earlier in May was all the proof those pundits needed, they said.

The interpretation of the Apple-Beats deal has been incredibly messy, with almost as many interpretations as interpreters.

Not that that's a bad thing. It will likely spawn a much longer media cycle than Apple's usual stories, a boon to Cupertino. With so many available angles, reporters and bloggers have more fodder than the usual -- like the introduction of a new iPhone or iPad or Mac -- and so it will take longer to exhaust the supply.

But it has been confusing. With so many fishing for answers, the water's become incredibly muddy. Why so little agreement on this move?

"I think, ultimately, the issue was that people thought it had to be about just one thing," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw, when asked why the analysis of the acquisition remains so tangled. "Some have been insistent that it's about this and not about that, and trying to explain it with one reason. The reality is, that's not the case. It's not about one thing. It's about all three things."

Those three things, as Dawson and others have categorized them, are headphones (Beats Electronics), streaming music (Beats Music), and new talent and an invigorating brand (Iovine and Dre, Beats' demographics).

In Apple's eyes, the whole of Beats was greater than the sum of its parts. Because all three pieces of Beats fit Apple, not just one or even two, it was, said Dawson, "a good strategic match."

Following the analysis of this deal has been more fun than Apple's provided in a long time. Not because no one's getting it right or everyone's irrational -- ultimately, only Apple knows why it bought Beats and it may not yet know how it will earn back the billions -- but because it's anarchic, muddled and argumentative.

Like a good mystery. But this one has not a room full of suspects, but one crammed with detectives, all squabbling about the motive and bickering about the likeliest culprit.

"The next few years will be interesting to watch to see the fruit that comes from this deal," Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies wrote Wednesday on Techpinions.

No one needs to wait that long. It's interesting to watch now.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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