Apple TV: The comeback king

Apple’s one-time “hobby” is a bit like the White Walkers in Game of Thrones — it just keeps coming back, So, what's coming up in the next episode?

Apple, Appe TV, AR, television, iOS
Susie Ochs/IDG

While millions of iOS and Mac users own and enjoy them, it’s true to say that Apple TV is not the world’s most successful Apple product.

At least, not yet

Apple’s one-time “hobby” is a bit like the White Walkers in Game of Thrones — it just keeps coming back.

Over the years, we’ve seen Apple try lots of things to make the product an absolute essential, and while I think the current model is a brilliant thing for any Mac, iPhone, or iPad user, it has still barely dented the TV streaming market.

One thing Apple has tried to put together is to organize a "thin content" bundle that lets customers dump their cable subscription to pick up all the content they actually want to watch for one fixed monthly fee. It had a lot of problems getting this idea off the ground, and word is it eventually had to cave in to this reality and work on its TV guide instead.

That was then. But a year is a long time when the media is transforming at a pace it hasn’t done since Gutenberg, and freshly provided to me Walker Sands data shows that the days of traditional TV services are failing. Fast.

Fragmentation in the TV industry

Walker Sands surveyed 1,823 U.S. consumers, asking: “Which of the following paid television subscriptions do you have in your home?” These are the results provided to me by the company:

  • Traditional cable services: 51.18%
  • Streaming cable services: 12.4%
  • Unbundled apps for premium: 11.63%
  • Netflix: 50.25%
  • Hulu Plus: 21.17%
  • Amazon Prime TV: 28.96%
  • Other service: 6.42%
  • None of the above: 13.77%

What’s interesting here is that it is becoming increasingly clear that television is becoming a highly fragmented space — and within that space, Apple (and others) have a good opportunity to carve out new empires.

Television's game of thrones

Walt Disney’s recent move to announce a future parting with Netflix will create yet another competitor in the space, particularly as the Mickey Mouse company also holds a 30% stake in Hulu.

The fact that Walt Disney Chairman and CEO also sits on Apple’s board hints at who that deal could most advantage as Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, pushes forward with plans to create a unique universe of Apple content with which to finesse the overall attractiveness of the company’s media brands (with or without Bollywood).

That apps from Amazon, Hulu and Netflix will all soon available on Apple TV suggests the party is big enough for everybody, at least right now. And the looming presence of the AT&T/Time Warner merger promises to launch another series of ships in the water.

All the same, we still don’t know what’s coming over the wall, and we still don’t really know how all these competing and cooperating new tech media companies will carve out their new-found tech-cum-entertainment industry Westeros in the years to come.

What we do know is that the increasing degrees of industry fragmentation noted by Walker Sands means existing principles in the space will be forced to become more willing to negotiate, making thin content deals more and more possible as winter rolls on.

Patient, Apple has a tendency to stick to its plans. It answers to no one.

What’s next on TV?

Apple didn’t say much about its plans for Apple TV at WWDC 2017, which (once again) piqued my interest, as I saw that as a “Watch This Space” hint.

Apple CEO Tim Cook soon confirmed I was right when he said: “And we’re gonna have more to say about what we’re doing in that area later.”

At WWDC Apple told us Amazon Prime was coming, to expect an automatic Light/Dark mode, syncing for multi-Apple TV users, full AirPods support (including Siri), and AirPlay 2. All nice additions, I guess,

None of those improvements matched the plan I think Apple has for Apple TV – the one I told you about last year:

  • Faster with better graphics
  • 4K support
  • More movies, including the capacity to watch current releases
  • More integration between all your available content —no dashing between apps
  • Better games
  • Immersive entertainment experiences
  • Movie subscriptions and original content

Where are we on those Apple TV features?

iTunes Movies recently showed 4K on purchase receipts; Apple has adopted HEVC, which is really effective for high res television; while HomePod code suggests the company is about to shove 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision inside.

These high-end video codecs will probably demand faster processors inside Apple TV — A10 should do the trick? This will enable better games and more immersive entertainment experiences, potentially including some ARKit solutions.

We also know the company is digging deep to create its own content, including shows like Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps. It is also investing in key staff to help make this happen.

I think Apple’s about to turn its Apple TV channel on.

It’s taken a whole heap of work to get this far.

And I think enterprises thinking about ARKit may need to put a little thought into how that software will eventually be integrated into Apple’s front room receiver. 

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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