The current, fourth-generation Apple TV was introduced only a year ago, but given the fast pace of progress in the streaming devices category, it has fallen behind the competition. As reported here over the last few weeks, Roku has totally refreshed its product line, including three new 4K models and two with HDR. Similarly, Google will ship the new Chromecast Ultra by mid-November with 4K, HDR-10 and Dolby Vision capability. With an Apple introduction event held yesterday, the time seemed right for a new TV.
AppleTV app in action
Along with the new MacBook Pro models, there was a new TV, but it was an app, not a hardware product. The current Apple TV remains as is, but when a new tvOS update arrives in December, there will be a new app called, well, “TV.” No, not the long rumored Apple TV set, complete with a screen. That project seems to have gone dark, as we haven’t heard any rumors about it for some time.
This TV, however, may well be a look at what a full-on Apple TV might have used as its interface. The new TV app, as stated during the presentation, is “…going to completely change how we watch TV.” Perhaps, perhaps not.
With TV, there will be both access to both Apple TV apps and the ability to pull apps over from iOS. Combined with access to content purchased from iTunes, it will allow search and select across all video the user has, or is subscribed to. A single, unified, sign in means that you only need to login once to have instant access every “TV Everywhere” app, such as ESPN and other cable or satellite channels where subscription and authorization is required. The Unified TV Experience also extends to standalone subscription-based services such as Hulu, CBS, Starz, HBO, and many others.
Twitter is also key part of TV, as it will provide its increased live streaming of sports such as NFL and NBA, as well as election coverage in cooperation with BuzzFeed. The main program will show on the left side of the screen, while the interactive Twitter feed scrolls down on the right.
Siri voice-based search adds another dimension to TV, thanks to deeper ability to search, find, select and play content across all apps, as well as “pick up where you left off.” For sports, you can voice search for a game or team and select the broadcast if it is within the available services. You can even get a “what other games are on” listing, complete with the current scores.
Although Apple TV is key hardware focus for the TV app, it will also be available for iPhones and iPads along with all that runs underneath it.
As is the case for any product, particularly in the world of OTT content, there are some things that are yet to be answered and others that may create a stopping point for some. Most notably, content from Netflix, Vudu, Amazon, Google Play, and Fandango (formerly M-Go) will not be available as TV apps. It remains to be seen if, and how, they will function if pulled in via iOS apps, or if the absence of a tvOS app becomes problematic. Lack of access to those services could be a showstopper for some.
Also to be seen firsthand is if and how search and selection would be handled, if at all, for apps not native to the TV app. Remember, not all iOS apps are available for the current Apple TV. For example, if there is no native TV app for a sports conference such as Pac-12, how will it play a UCLA versus Washington State game, even if it knows that it is available? Non-ESPN games did not appear to be available to watch in the demo of “what games are on.”
Similarly, TV is clearly OTT focused, but what provisions will it have for live broadcast content? For example, what will happen if the search is “Play the local news” or “What’s on channel 4?” Even if services such as Sling and PlayStation Vue are available, how deep will their captive program guides go? Or, for those using an OTA device such as Tablo, will TV communicate with that app? Even outside of local TV, how will TV let the viewer watch CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, or CNBC, whose apps do not carry a live stream, only edited segments?
Finally, with cable companies such as Comcast and Charter’s Spectrum moving toward IP integration in lieu of conventional set tops, how will TV deal with them and access program information? As an example, I often use the TWC/Spectrum app on Roku or iOS devices to watch “cable.” Granted, switching channels isn’t as quick and easy as it is with the numeric keypad on a set top, but it works. Right now, Apple TV doesn’t include live, linear, cable content.
Perhaps we are being too picky. And, it needs to be stated that some of the details are still a bit unclear and issues surfaced here may be worked out by launch. Particularly for an OTT-centric viewer, a “binge watcher,” or a sports fan where their teams are available on a TV-compatible app, TV may be exactly what the viewer wants. The integration and search is seamless, as far as the available underlying apps allow. However, if 4K/UHD, HDR, or heavy use of live broadcast content is the goal, you may not agree with Apple’s statement that “Now there is really no reason to watch TV anywhere else.”
That doesn’t mean that TV and the Apple TV don’t fit a need. We’ll keep our Apple TV and likely use TV, but it will be there in parallel with a Roku, Chomecast, a TiVo, and a Tablo. At this stage of the game, none of these products and associated software is perfect. All, including TV, do much that is right and perhaps all that some need. However, at this point none of them do everything. Whoever does that will have a home run.