Yesterday, Apple put on one heck of a show. We got a snazzy new version of iOS 7, one big wave of an OS X update, and even a preview of the next Mac Pros. But where was all the news about Apple TV? Apple is seemingly ignoring the enormous potential of its set-top box.
The path forward for Apple TV seems obvious. Open it up to developers. Launch an SDK. Let the millions of coders and developers out there build a mammoth world of apps for it. Find a way to convert those 900 million iOS apps seamlessly to a flatscreen TV. As a platform, it would be undoubtedly popular, and more importantly, it could be really incredible. Right now, Apple TV feels like the company’s biggest missed opportunity.
Indeed, for three years in a row, we’ve prepared a post in anticipation of WWDC announcement of Apple TV apps. And for the third year in a row, we’re left it drafted, and ourselves disappointed.
Here are a few possible explanations for why Apple didn’t give us any news — and why they shouldn’t stop Apple TV from being all that it should be.
Apple’s trying to profit from its user-base a bit longer
The simplest explanation is that Apple has more money to make by keeping competitive products walled out of Apple TV. Which makes sense! Why would I rent from iTunes when Amazon Instant Video is often cheaper?
It’s not an unreasonable assumption, and there’s some precedent for Apple dragging its feet on content expansion. It’s got some 500 million active iTunes users, and the spend plenty of money in Apple’s ecosystem. Why show them greener grass? The company was certainly in no rush to get its streaming radio service off the ground, and even when it did it amounted to not much more than a Pandora ripoff.
Could Apple be similarly dragging its feet on streaming video in hopes that by keeping the Apple TV closed, iTunes customers will keep buying video and renting movies, rather than subscribing to competing services? Possible, except Apple ready rendered its advantage in this area null bull letting Hulu, Netflix, ESPN and others on to the Apple TV.
And let’s not forget all the iOS video apps and web-based services like Amazon Instant Video that you can already beam to your Apple TV by using Apple’s AirPlay Streaming protocol. What’s more, just yesterday, the company announced it was making it even easier to mirror your display with your Apple TV using improved support for multiple displays in OS X Mavericks. If you want to look outside of Apple for your video fix on Apple TV, you’ve already got options. So why not streamline them?
Games pose a unique user experience problem
It’s possible that Apple is concerned that about the user experience for gaming through the Apple TV. And make no mistake: opening Apple TV to apps is really all about games. A television isn’t the best way to experience most of the apps you’d use on a phone, tablet, or even a computer. But besides video apps — which are already on the Apple TV — most people would likely be excited about gaming through Cupertino’s box. Like who cares about my Calendar? I want to play Plants Vs. Zombies!
Playing games on a TV, though, generally requires some kind of specially designed controller, which would be an entirely new area of hardware development for Apple. Knowing the perfectionists at Apple, a Jony Ive controller could be years away. Unless, of course, you turn the iPad or iPhone into a touchscreen remote.
Apple has bigger plans for a more fully-featured set-top-box
Of all the possibilities to consider, the most plausible seems to be that Apple’s plans are bigger than its current palm-sized “hobby”. WWDC is the perfect place to announce a new developer program — and this year’s conference would’ve been more timely than any other WWDC. The market for STBs has exploded recently with upstarts cropping up left and right, which says nothing of Microsoft’s huge play for ownership of the living room with the Xbox One’s loaded TV features.
If Apple’s delayin, and allowing its competitors to get a foothold while simultaneously disappointing the developers hoping for some news on this front — you have to sort of believe there’s a good reason for it. Especially given that those Apple HDTV rumours have given way to a more-likely Apple set-top box rumour. Even then, though, why not use Apple TV to test the waters for a more expansive effort?
We’ll just going to have to wait.
Any of the above reasons could be what’s holding Apple TV back, or it could be something totally unrelated. Still, though, we can’t help but hope that there’s a brighter future for Apple TV out there. Especially since we can see it so clearly right now.