Forget the early reviews, the important new feature of the new Apple TV is not its hardware, but its yet to be launched app store
Like the iPhone before it, the new Apple TV won’t realize its potential without the support of the developer community, and those digital publishers who see the new platform as an attractive place for their media brands
The Apple TV goes on sale at Apple Stores on Friday and many of those that pre-ordered the new streaming TV box will receive their packages tomorrow, as well. That means that sometime between now and Friday the Apple TV app store will go live.
Those of us who have lived with the device these past couple of weeks have been impressed with the hardware improvements made in the device: it is faster and smoother to navigate, the remote’s touchpad allows for easier typing of passwords and search terms, the device appears to have faster processing and connectivity.
The earlier reviewers may have been shipped units with somewhat different software version installed so that they were seeing more apps than developers see in their units. Developers, when plugging their units in, see only the Apple Movies and TV Shows apps, along with a few others, as well as TestFlight installed. So the true change to the Apple TV, its new app store, is still missing.
Until it arrives we can only speculate as to what we will see.
Now, for those with Apple TV 3 units, the viewer is presented with a limited number of channels such as Netflix, MLB At Bat, YouTube and the like. Though limited and small in number compared to what is available in the iPhone or iPad app stores, it is still enough choices that the Apple TV’s home screen was getting overcrowded.
BBC iPlayer will be coming to the new Apple TV in the coming months…
— BBC iPlayer (@BBCiPlayer) October 29, 2015
The app store will clean things up considerably, it is assumed, by placing many of those apps inside the app store app folder/app itself. Then it will be up to the owner of the Apple TV to search for and find those apps/channels. Right now, for instance, channels such as for Gilt and PBS Kids are on the device’s home screen by default – a viewer, if they don’t want those channels, need to hide them manually. When the new app store goes like through a software update, will all the previous channels still be on the home screen by default, and only the new apps hidden inside the new app store? (My guess is “Yes” as those were legacy deals with Apple.)
It is good to remember that when the original iPhone was launched it had only some 12 “apps” on the device. There was the original YouTube and Google Maps apps, a rudimentary weather app, a notes apps. The original music app was still called “iPod”.
That original iPhone was a beautifully designed device. The iPhone 3G that was launched on July 11, 2008, by comparison, felt cheaper with its plastic back. But the software update that came along with it made all the difference in the world: it introduced the App Store, and with it an almost unlimited number of features.
Most tech reviewers, when thinking about the new Apple TV app store think first about games, and that is understandable – there are thousands of iOS games that will likely be ported over to the TV. But publishers should be thinking differently. Those will good video libraries may be in a position to exploit that library within the Apple TV environment. There is also, for the first time, the opportunity for international content TV providers to break into the US market (and vice versa). Licensing concerns aside, there may be new channels that bring international festivals to your screen in much the same way Apple brings its own Apple Music Festival to viewers through an Apple TV app.
(The Apple developer forum is filled with stories from game developers about submitting they apps to the App Store review team. Content providers are less likely to be discussing their plans so openly.)
My guess is that right now most publishers don’t see the launch of the new Apple TV as in any way being relevant to them. But there are already a handful of publishers who developed apps (channels) for the Roku app store. There will be a flood of them that eventually will see the Apple TV as a platform worth developing for.
Note: I would have loved to have compared the new Roku 4 with the new Apple TV, but the unit shipped to me by Amazon was dead on arrival and shipped back earlier this week. The Roku 4, unlike the new Apple TV, supports 4K streaming. It also, of course, has an already established app store. But the developer community for Apple products dwarfs that of other platforms, giving the Apple TV a huge advantage.