Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thoughts on the New Apple TV

Are “apps” the future of TV?

Early this month Apple announced new products, software, and operating systems. Among the announcements were new iPhones (the 6s and 6s Plus, as expected), improvements to the Apple Watch line, a new and larger member of the iPad family, and an update to the Apple TV. It’s this last announcement, the Apple TV (http://www.apple.com/apple-events/september-2015/  - timepoint 51:50), that I want to write about today.
Photo Credit: Apple.com

Apple talked about the television experience as not having changed in decades, and Apple is betting that we’ll want the experience to evolve in ways that are consistent with the ways in which we use smartphone and tablet technology today. “The future of television is apps,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, noting that we already access television shows through Netflix, Hulu, HBO and other apps on smartphones and tablets as well as on the current Apple TV. Apple has decided to double down on this idea, introducing significantly upgraded Apple TV hardware and emphasizing apps by creating an App Store for the Apple TV. Apple will be opening up app development for the Apple TV to 3rd party developers, a move long anticipated.

Beyond new hardware and the promise of a new app economy, Apple introduced an advanced remote with a touch interface and the ability to interact through voice using Siri. Saying “Skip ahead seven minutes” to the remote while watching content does the obvious. Saying “Who stars in this?” gives the answer in the lower third, and saying “what did she say?” causes the show being watched to be skipped back by 15 seconds and then re-played with closed-captioning turned on. I can certainly see myself using that feature!

Saying “Show me action movies” allows a user to search simultaneously across multiple content apps (currently iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, and more expected to be added), and then saying “just James Bond movies” refines the search. What Apple seems to have done is to bring advanced search to the multiple-app television experience.  Using the new AppleTV and its Siri-enabled remote, we can now do advanced, cross-app searching, which is a big improvement over cumbersome searches done separately in each of the content apps.

In addition to higher-end hardware and a Siri-savvy remote, the Apple TV will have a clean new on-screen user interface. It’s support for apps will include games, allowing the Apple TV to also serve as a family gaming device in the living room, though the selection of games is not expected to compete with the major consoles. 

What we didn’t hear about Apple TV 

Two widely expected developments did not seem to come along with this version of the product. First, many had expected the new Apple TV to have an additional role as a central hub for home automation tools and products, allowing users to control elements of their home such as next-gen network-enabled lighting, thermostats and security cameras from the Apple TV. This capability did not seem to materialize in this release of the product. Second, many had speculated that Apple had been working hard to establish content deals with television and movie studios to make a broader range of content available in an a la carte, subscription-based way. This would have positioned the Apple TV as an attractive option for "cord cutters" (see my blog post TV a la Carte from October 2014), but the deals still seem to elude Apple, with many speculating that the television and movie content creators are reluctant to give up too much to Apple.

Getting a closer look

The 9to5mac unboxing video appears on YouTube and is provided here. [Credit http://9to5mac.com/].

9to5Mac's time with the device reveals some welcome details, such as support for Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth speakers. Bluetooth could be a handy way for one family member to enjoy Apple TV vieweing or gaming without disturbing others in the house who are otherwise occupied and prefer not to hear the audio.

Final thoughts

One thing I continue to wonder about is the bet Apple is placing on apps. I don't deny the value of apps, and in fact I'm a big user of the content apps they named in the announcement. But in a day and age in which we may often watch shows on iPhone and iPad apps by ourselves, the time we choose to spend in front of the big living room TV is often still a very different watching experience. It's communal. And in that setting I'm not sure how playing around with apps will work out. Family members seem to already get annoyed when one person dominates the standard television remote, and that’s only to change channels. Are people really going to be patient while one person in the collected watching group is fooling around with apps while the rest sit by and wait? Time will tell.

Nevertheless, I'll certainly be getting a new Apple TV. The current generation works well for me and the new generation seems to bring many good new features. I'm placing my order as soon as I can. What about you? Will you be buying an Apple TV? Leave a comment and let us know why or why not.


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