August 24, 2017 Last Updated 11:46 am

Apple TV loses ground to its rivals, especially Roku, will likely continue to do so

The device Steve Jobs called a ‘hobby’ has lagged behind its rivals in capabilities and ease of use, while failing to develop a new vision for what ‘channel apps’ are meant to do

The Apple TV is due for an update in order for it to be able to stream 4K content and display it. It is why TNM mentioned on Tuesday in this post of media app updates. Also late on Tuesday, Parks Associates released research showing that things are not going so well for Apple when it comes to its streaming TV device, losing more ground to Roku.

“Roku emerged early as a U.S. market leader for streaming media players, and the company has held firmly to that position,” said Glenn Hower, Senior Analyst at Parks Associates. “Higher-priced devices, such as the Apple TV, have not been able to keep up with low-priced and readily available Roku devices, which can be found at Walmart for as low as $29.99.”

It should come as a surprise: while Apple’s competitors embraced 4K streaming early on, Apple, in its infinite (insert describer for what is the opposite of wisdom) decided that it would update its device without this feature, even as it was touting the fact that its other devices could capture in 4K resolution. You would, in other words, need to buy a competitor to the Apple TV to appreciate your new, high resolution images and video.

This has led to the continued meme being spread throughout the tech news community that Apple is really struggling to understand what consumers want. It has a runaway winner in the iPhone, locked customers into the platform, but now is having a tough time figuring out where to go from here. It appears to want to transform itself into a luxury brand, but many analysts warn that since price is the easiest way to compete, it will leave itself vulnerable to just about everyone who makes a consumer electronics device.

But let’s concentrate on the Apple TV.

Apple may not have been the first into the market — it rarely is — but when it jumped in early. It has always called its device a “hobby” but rumors continued to be heard that Steve Jobs was serious about cracking the TV market in some way. But each Apple TV device had some glaring omission or problem, whether it be the remote or its streaming capabilities. For digital publishers, the obvious problem was that while Roku and others were going in the direction of what I would call channel apps, Apple had no app store. It solved this problem in October of 2015 and a number of people were pretty excited about it.

TNM had called on Apple to go in this direction — but, of course, communication with Apple is always one way.

Still, there was excitement when the app store went live, and at least one digital publishing platform (MAZ Digital) has enthusiastically embrace the idea of helping their clients launch TV apps.


MAX Digital has embraced serving publishers interested in streaming TV apps

But that was almost two years ago and, frankly, we have gotten nowhere. The problem is that exactly what is a channel app is barely defined. Mostly, it is a collection of deal videos that just as easily could be viewed via YouTube or the publisher’s own website. Surfing from video to video is, I suppose, a pretty natural thing, but it is not really that pleasurable when most of the video content is pretty poor.

Apple has helped because it never really embraced the world it was creating. Apple didn’t learn from its own history when it launched the personal computer. Back then, for those not old enough to remember, the company made sure that you could actually do something with the expensive device (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.). When there wasn’t a ready made software package it created one itself. When the iPhone was launched, most of the apps, as bad as they were, were Apple apps.

On the Apple TV, its app are not good examples for other developers, simply ways to buy something from iTunes (movies, TV shows, music). Apple, which says now it wants to go into content (God help us) did not launch its own channel app at the time the app store was launched, merely the app store (which was itself poorly designed).

Apple has similarly been criticized for not embracing its other publishing solutions such as iBooks Author, or coming up with its own digital publishing solution for digital magazines and newspapers. It launched Apple News without a well thought out publishing solution, leaving it up to others (such as Alley Interactive) to help other publishers more easily publish to the platform.

One senses that, like iBooks Author, the team working on the platform is not solely dedicated to the product and its software, only being assigned to it when the need arises. This might not be true, but we’ll never know because Apple’s press team doesn’t like to let their software teams speak publicly.

But should a new 4K streaming Apple TV be launched this fall, one hopes that more than just a new device arrives. Publisher and consumers need more than this, they need a new vision for what the device can do, and how it can be used beyond for content purchases. Everyone it seems is pivoting to video, though all this seems to mean is more awful video content, nothing that really anyone, including advertisers and viewers, can get excited about.

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