At long last, it appears that Apple is going to unveil the updated version of Apple TV.
This will be an enormous disappointment to some Apple faithful, who have been fantasizing about an entire television set designed by Apple. But that was always a dumb dream. No matter how beautiful an Apple-designed TV might be, selling televisions is a crappy business to be in.
Building something that plugs into just about any TV is definitely the way to go. And while a flood of details have leaked, I still can’t wait to see the real thing Wednesday. Most likely, assuming they keep the price under $150, I will buy it the day it goes on sale.
Most of the thunder this year surrounding Apple has been about the Apple Watch, followed by Apple Music.
I get it. People wanted to see Apple perform its magic and perfect a whole new form factor for computing that would leave us wondering how we ever lived without a smartwatch. And Apple has a long history changing the way we listen to music.
But a smartwatch is something I can never see myself buying. Even though Apple’s watch is quite nice, I just don’t want another gadget in my life that becomes one more thing to manage. And Apple Music feels like pretty much the same as other streaming music services.
By comparison, TV is already part of our lives, and will always be. And yet, many of us are increasingly frustrated by the TV-watching experience.
On the one hand, TV is in a Golden Age thanks to the all the streaming and viewing options that exist. And yet, these choices can be overwhelming, complicated and hard to manage because they’re scattered over so many apps and channels. Most user interfaces on things like cable boxes or smart TVs are awful, at best.
I bought the latest Apple TV a few years ago because our family already had iPhones, an iPad, and Macbook. At $99, buying the Apple TV became a decision along the lines of: “Well, why not?” And indeed, I’m glad I did.
Yet having the Apple TV also has left me with a nagging feeling that it could be so much more than it is. Now it seems like Apple is going to finally take a big leap toward fulfilling the potential of a gadget that has been a sleeper hit for the company.
Reported features like universal search and a new interface will bring some sanity to those of us trying to keep track of what new shows and movies can be found where across the various streaming and rental services. Yes, this not exactly a grave humanitarian crisis. But diving in and out of different apps and scrolling through their menus to find things to watch gets annoying and becomes a big time suck. We need something simpler and more elegant, which should be right in Apple’s wheelhouse.
But the bigger deal, I think, will be opening up Apple TV to developers. To date, Apple has added streaming services in bits and pieces as it negotiates deals. Most of these are less than thrilling options, like the Red Bull Channel.
I’m excited to see what developers can imagine and build for a canvas as big as the TV screen. The Apple Watch is about thinking small, stripping things down to their essence, and working with the tiniest of screens. But I predict that being able to create TV-first apps will unleash a creative torrent among developers, studios, and independents that finally begins to realize the potential of things like transmedia and interactive storytelling.
Of course, there are already apps for multimedia and interactive content for the iPad that I find myself wishing I could just view on the big screen. And yes, I can always mirror it via Apple TV, but I’m still watching something that a creator has optimized for a much smaller screen. And it’s hard to consume some of these things in more than just short bursts.
I also expect the gaming industry is going to rush right into this space. As my colleague, Dean Takashi wrote recently, there is some discussion about whether Apple TV could provide competition for gaming consoles.
Perhaps, although I would expect that developers would mainly focus on creating experiences that leverage whatever system Apple ultimately rolls out. And I think if the prices of these games were more in line with iPad games than console games, we could see a new boom for a new type of games.
Of course, lots of other companies, such as Amazon and Google, have their various TV dongles now, and there is some ability for developers to create for them. But nobody has the developer firepower of Apple. It attracts the best of the best because of the consistency of creating across iOS, and the proven ability to monetize.
In general, putting the App Store on TV feels like an overdue move for Apple. The App Store already is one of the company’s fastest growing businesses, even if it is a small part of the company’s overall revenue compared to iPhones.
Given the role the TV already plays in our everyday lives, it feels like the immediate impact of a new Apple TV could be much broader than that of a smartwatch or a new music streaming service.
It feels like the Apple event Wednesday has the potential to finally launch the TV revolution that we deserve.
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