Apple made several important new product announcements at their “Hey Siri” event in September. The most important one affecting home entertainment was the announcement of its latest-generation Apple TV.
Over the last few weeks there have been many columns written about this updated product and the disappointment over some of the features it lacks–such as 4K content, home control systems integration, and very little reference to Apple’s new HomeKit platform. I think those reviews miss the most important feature of the new Apple TV, specifically the announcement of Apple TV OS and the opening of the Apple TV Software Development Kit to allow third-party developers to write content and gaming apps for the Apple TV. We should be focused less on what Apple TV doesn’t do today, and more on what it will be capable of doing in the very near future.
The Apple TV platform may change the way we watch TV as dramatically as the way we now use our phones.
The Rise of the Platform
The most valuable asset that any electronic hardware product can have today is recognition from third-party developers that it is the most significant product platform on which to add software features and enhancements; it’s called leverage.
Apps have become the de facto vehicle to add software functionality to hardware platforms, and Apple enjoys the phenomenal success it has had with its iPhone and iPad lines due in no small part to third-party application developers that have written well over one million applications, which have been downloaded more than 100 billion times, to enhance these product experiences.
If we follow the trend of the iPhone, iPad, and now Apple Watch platforms, it’s not hard to predict the potential impact of the new app-based Apple TV in the home. Today it primarily competes with Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV as a streaming device in the home, and it has lost market share to these competitors over the last few years. Roku boasts that it supports more than 2,000 entertainment channels, and the Amazon Fire Stick has more than 700 games. But this content advantage that these competitors enjoy over the Apple TV is about to change, and change quickly.
Now that third-party developers can write apps for the Apple TV in much the same way that they now write apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch platforms, we expect to see Apple TV rise to offer the richest entertainment and gaming platform on the market by the end of 2016.And I would expect Apple to continue to improve the Apple TV hardware platform over the years with faster processors, increased storage, and enhanced audio and video output–the exact same product development timeline that has been so successful for Apple with iPhones and iPads.
And don’t ignore what Apple will do with the new tvOS over the years. This is tvOS Version 1. Expect new enhancements to tvOS each year, such as split-screen view. iOS 9 allows split-screen view on iPad; imagine two Major League Baseball apps running side by side on your 50-plusinch flat screen TV, so you can watch two games at the same time, turning your home TV or theater into the multiscreen sports experience.
There is no question that entertainment and gaming content will increasingly be a la carte-based, and you will pay for exactly the content you will want by purchasing a specific app, renting a specific movie, or paying a subscription fee for the content you want to enjoy over time. But will all entertainment stream from the internet to the Apple TV, so that you can give up your cable or satellite subscription now?
In the short term (over the next few years) the answer is no, mostly due to live sports. The digital rights to broadcast live sporting events owned by the major networks have been sold to the cable and satellite companies for distribution to your home. While we are seeing a number of limited streaming sports solutions now available for phones, tablets, and media streaming boxes like the Apple TV, there will not be a legal offering that will allow you to watch all live sports (especially football) from all markets on streaming devices for some time to come.
If and when that happens, then we may actually see Apple TV morph from just a set-top box to a full-scale TV, with the Apple TV technology built in. Until that time, we will still need set-top boxes from TiVo, Dish, DirectTV, Comcast, and the other content-service providers to enjoy the greatest breadth and suite of sports and entertainment programming, and to record those offerings so that we can watch them at a later time.
I believe the new Apple TV platform will change the way we watch TV as dramatically as the way we now use our phones. Third-party entertainment and content applications, coupled with the enhanced graphical interface of streaming set-top boxes like the new Apple TV will help us navigate and consume a very rich variety of content on our high-resolution flat screen monitors. This will bring homeowners and families back to the family room entertainment center to enjoy personalized, immersive audiovisual entertainment experiences.