Apple TV: Why it could change your world
By James Mc Parlane | CSO at Massive.
Ask Siri “Give me a hint?”
The rumour mill has been grinding full speed for a few years on the idea that Apple will enter the IPTV market, beyond its current “hobby”, the Apple TV.
Here at Massive we like to give our clients the choice to innovate and be first movers with any new IPTV technology or trend, so this is a platform we have been playing very close attention to.
For those of you not following this little set-top-box-that-could, Apple TV was released in 2007. It now sells for a neat $100 and Steve Jobs referred to the device as a ‘hobby’. You attach it to your TV, and you can stream video, play music and ‘cast’ from any Apple device to the screen.
Ever since then we have been waiting for the ‘hobby’ to get serious.
We’ve heard it all, from “Apple is releasing a fully integrated 4K Screen”, to just an “updated Apple TV set-top box”, and come the day, we’ve been disappointed, every single time.
Lately however, these rumours, particularly around the updated Apple TV device have begun to sound plausible.
There was a false start at their last Worldwide Developer’s Conference. Rumour has it Apple pulled the announcement because they were somehow having a hard time licensing launch content for streaming services that would allow them to do to the Television industry what they did to the Music industry.
For Apple, the Apple TV is a storefront for their own streaming video content but they generously let in many other approved VOD storefronts in such as Netflix, HBO, Crunchyroll ,to name a few, to sell content and pay the 30% Apple Tax.
The device is also touted as the central hub for Apple’s “Internet of Things” offering with “HomeKit”.
On September 9th, if the rumours are to be believed. A shiny new super-powered Apple TV will be announced, and possibly immediately released.
This time for sure, maybe.
“The Channel is an App and the App is a Channel”
What Apple has done with the current device is get the public used to treating Apps and Channels as interchangeable.
On the Apple TV you select a content provider’s App and you watch their content.
HbbTV is another technology that achieves this. Each broadcaster channel on an HbbTV enabled Television launches its own literally ‘over-the-top’ web application on the TV itself providing access to catch-up and other services the broadcaster wishes to offer.
The usability issue here is that each app has its own separate catalogue of content. Looking for episodes of the series “Knights of Sidonia” used to entail opening Crunchyroll and searching, then opening Netflix and searching and then swearing that next time you were going to first do some research online.
Apple’s latest device OS, iOS9, allows Apps to publish their own catalogue into a global search index. Users searching for content on an iOS9 device will be told which Apps contain it and be able to navigate directly to that content.
So, I strongly suspect that this usability issue will be resolved in the latest release of the Apple TV.
HbbTV solves this by the way the apps are arranged to create a federated EPG. Freeview Plus in Australia and New Zealand are excellent examples of this.
Android devices and Roku boxes currently allow this to be done, so Apple is a very late with this feature, but they are Apple, they can be.
They didn’t invent the portable MP3 player or the smart phone, they simply perfected them.
“The IPTV Singularity”
Do you remember what smart phones were like before the iPhone?
Apple is a bit like the Roman Empire bringing their culture to an early Europe populated by the barbarians of usability.
What they did for Music and Phones, what if they targeted the TV experience as well?
This is why we get excited by these rumours. We have past evidence of Apple’s impact. I’ve been either building, developing or designing internet enabled set-top boxes now for 19 years. I see enormous potential if Apple TV delivers a game-changing user experience and like the iPhone, it goes ‘mass market’.
The current Apple TV allows users to run VOD storefront “Apps” that are really just templates. All the VOD apps feel very much the same, except for the content.
This could all change if another whisper is true, that Apple will open up the Apple TV SDK to allow App development.
If this happens, every single iPhone developer will be a potential IPTV developer, overnight.
I’m ranking Apple opening up the Apple TV SDK to developers as both ‘plausible’ and ‘world altering’.
Suddenly the Apple TV will be a cheap and decent games console that can also play movies.
If they don’t do this September 9th, they will at some point.
Some fine print on this is the question of Apple giving full access to the APIs, the video player and DRM to allow custom VOD storefronts? The positive side of the template driven VOD apps is that as a customer, once you have mastered one, you have mastered them all. When every VOD storefront is different, how will that affect user experience?
That said, I can’t see a fully open iOS SDK allowing current Developers to compile Apps to the Apple TV without adding ‘touch’ to the Apple TV remote control.
In the meantime, we at Massive have been mastering the latest iOS9 APIs in our iPhone Apps with a view to hit the ground running and create some amazing user experiences on Apple TV.
I love to hate the Apple TV Remote. It’s beguiling Apple simplicity crumbles when you first need to enter a password.
I suspect Apple will have done a lot of work on the remote control as well as integrating Siri and using other devices for authentication and input.
I’m dubious on the usefulness of Siri with its current accuracy, but if constrained to the context of finding and watching content on the device it could be more than the zombie feature it currently is.
“Over The Top”
The feature I am almost certain Apple won’t include, would be a HDMI switch with pass-through.
I have a problem. I have three games consoles and a Windows 8 Media Centre computer. I need to constantly switch between them using my TV remote control and that is all I use that remote control for.
If the Apple TV had four video inputs and the ability to choose which video input was displayed in the background of the Apple TV User Interface, it would be a game changer. The Apple TV could draw alerts and notifications over the top of whatever I was watching on the TV at any time.
The XboxOne does HDMI pass-through but it only has one input and one output. I appreciate being notified that I have been invited to a game while watching TV. If I want to join in, with one click on my Xbox controller I am launched and playing.
With Apple’s “HomeKit” I can see this as a must have enabling feature, your home showing notifications over the top of the TV.
More controversially, with HDMI pass-through there would be the potential for the device to detect what you have been watching on other devices via ACR and recommend you related content.
On September 9th, all will be revealed