Apple TV Offers Yet Another Way to Watch TV on Your TV

Posted on October 29, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos with 30 Comments

Apple TV Offers Yet Another Way to Watch TV on Your TV

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out which streaming devices make the most sense. The new Apple TV, alas, continues to disappoint.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Exactly a year ago, when Apple first launched the latest Apple TV, I openly wondered—and hoped—that its new (for Apple) apps- and app store-based approach would lead to an easy decision, with Google’s, Microsoft’s and Amazon’s media services being made available on the device.

That never happened. Worse, Apple launched a new streaming device without 4K capabilities just as all of its competitors embraced 4K. And the new Apple TV’s new remote is an abomination, and device so terrible that it makes me wish I could use the previous version instead. And that remote was terrible.

Long story short, the only reason I ever use the Apple TV is to access content I’ve purchased from Apple. Which, by the way, is the only reason I ever used the previous generation product. That is, Apple improved nothing.

At this past week’s event, Apple CEO Tim Cook again pulled out the line that “the future of the TV is apps,” as if every one of his competitors hadn’t realized that before Apple. It’s tired because devices like the Roku family of products and the Amazon Fire TV offer far better and more voluminous app stores than Apple’s device, and that’s as true now as it was a year ago. And some of them even support 4K video, if you’ll excuse me harping on that inconvenient truth.

So it was with great amusement that I watched as Mr. Cook and Apple unveiled a new TV app for the Apple TV. You might surmise from the name of this app that it would actually let you watch, you know, TV. That it might even offer TV recording capabilities, or integrate with your home TV provider, or something, again, related to TV.

But that is not what the TV app does. Instead, the TV app works just like Front Row for the Mac worked a decade ago. That is, it’s a front-end for other apps that you have installed on the device, a way to access various video services in a single place. And avoid the “whack a mole” issue that is inherent to any app-based mobile platform.

It is, in other words, a sham.

As Apple describes it, the TV app is “a unified experience for discovering and accessing TV shows and movies from multiple apps,” “one place to access TV shows and movies, as well as a place to discover new content to watch.”

It is not TV. It’s not even live TV, as Apple claims, though of course some apps today offer live experiences for news or sports. So there’s nothing new here beyond the attempt to do what Microsoft tried with Windows phone: Convince content partners to let users ignore their brands so they can access multiple services from a single hub.

That didn’t work out so well for Microsoft, for retroactively obvious reasons. And surprise, surprise, it’s not working out so well for Apple either: The most important and popular services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have rejected the TV app and will not be included.

I know Apple has or did have big plans for TV, that former CEO Steve Jobs claimed to his biographer that Apple had “finally cracked it”. But as this Apple TV and Apple’s failure to sign on content creators, first for a subscription service, and now for a much tamer app, have demonstrated, Apple hasn’t cracked a thing. It has in fact simply failed.

So the quest continues. Someday, maybe, we’ll have that one perfect streamer. But today, we still need to maintain multiple devices if we wish to access all of the available media services.

Oh well.


Tagged with , ,

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (30)

30 responses to “Apple TV Offers Yet Another Way to Watch TV on Your TV”

  1. 5108

    Funny fact? My TV already streams the services i use most. Why do I need Apple?

    • 1959

      In reply to burog25c:

      This is a valid point, and one that is "good enough" for most people. Although I've found dedicated devices frequently do this a bit more elegantly than a Smart TV does. In our household we, more often than not, turn on the Xbox One despite Netflix being available directly on the TV. The Netflix app built in to the TV is just too clunky.

      • 442

        In reply to evox81:

        Newer TVs have much better apps and much better experiences.  Heck, the newest Samsungs include processors as good as any top of the line Android phone these days, and they are not lacking in any way on apps and power.

      • 5108

        In reply to evox81:

        I get that.  Honestly, the ONLY thing my TV needs is for me to be able to use my keyboard for typing. It would make the hunt and peck with the remote be sooooo much easier. But, the Netflix app (and the VUDU/Amazon/YouTube/others) are actually pretty damn good for a cheapo Chinese 4K UHD/HDR smart tv. I don't regret a single $.


  2. 5592

    I have a TiVO Roamio Plus and a Samsung Smart TV (Neither of which are current versions of either company's products) and manage to get access to those services that Apple can't manage on both of them. And the TV itself already has an app store. Yeah, I'd say it's pretty clear that Jobs was just spouting hype and Cook hasn't even managed to catch up to that hype after all these years.

  3. 5663

    I'm still happy with my Roku 3, and 2 x LT's and small Samsung Smart TV. Can even cast from my 930 to the Roku 3 and to the Samsung TV. I have Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime Video on all of them, along with Spotify etc.

  4. 410

    The big problem with much of the "TV" market is wheeler-dealering  between Content Providers & Delivers and the likes of Amazon\Netflix which are both.  These guys obviously want you to do as much business via their App\Service as possible, but as a customer I simply want access, irrespective of the provider.  

    Apple's advertised (if not delivered) solution of a single point of access is attractive, and ultimately something that really delivers it is bound to appear.   Although I buy from a single supplier, I don't care whose Generators or bits of wire are used to provide electricity.    Similarly I'm not interested in who made or delivered my Entertainment\News or Sports content.    Like the Utilities learned to do, these Tech companies need to grow up a bit and stop trying to "own" their customers inside walled gardens.
    Maybe I'm unique, but I don't think so.

  5. 5530

    Here in my country in south-east asia, a new law requires all content providers to "cross-carry" their exclusive content at the same prices, so it really doesn't matter which box you choose anymore. They compete on price and service quality, not content deals. The TV box they give you is pretty good too, and it's IPTV, which is a better solution than streaming. It has Netflix integration too (Netflix launched here at the beginning of the year). I hear that the situation in Korea and China are pretty good too. It seems like it's just you people in the west having such a difficult time with streaming TV boxes.

  6. 5394

    A TV streamer is a tuner with adequate storage, and a media guide. Who hasn't figured this out?

  7. 229

    Yep, I own the newest Apple TV. It is my legacy device - like Paul - for previously purchased iTunes content. Otherwise, its value for TV(?) content is substandard. This "new" feature is quite worthless, for me, without Netflix and Amazon Prime. Apple may have "cracked" TV but all I see is smoke. Just to be fair, I use quite a bit of Apple gear routinely. I'm not anti Apple. I'm anti bad gear. Now, let's see whats really available/on via my Roku. 

  8. 5485

    Its the Apple approach to a problem that XBOX One Guide also tries to solve. I don0t think neither Netflix or Amazon are integrated in One Guide. And this looks like a better approach than the channel approach of One Guide.

    I find it weird that Netflix is not there, on the TV App, neither in One Guide. I'm mean, I understand that a "cable TV" provider that relies on commercials to get paid not want its users to jump out their environment easily, but a service like Netflix? Does Apple or MS charges content providers such as these ones for the integration? That might be an issue, bu if that is not the case it looks like Cable politics all over again, where users come second.

    • 6067

      In reply to nbplopes:

      It's easy... Amazon wants you in their app to discover their content... same with Amazon (although to a lesser extent).  These providers are the leaders in the "web only" original content providers.  I would imagine in time HBO and others will not be keen on Apple trying to steer people towards content that isn't provided by their network.. they would most likely rather content the "up next" message to the viewer. 

      This is a lot like WP trying to put facebook, twitter, etc into the OS.. those companies wanted people using their apps... not just putting their content into the OS/preinstalled apps.  I would be this ends the same way it did for that...

      • 5485

        In reply to jjaegers:

        Putting Amazon aside, because their ambition is to be a one stop shop for absolutely everything while blocking any other shops ...

        I don't understand the position of Netflix. I was under impression that both its business culture and technological culture was grounded more in the principles of the Internet than what they manifest with their current approach, more like cable.

        They approached the market as an alternative to the constrained "Cable" approach to the TV entertainment. Giving viewers more freedom about what and when to watch, no commercials, so on and so forth in the back of the cut the cord ride.

        Yet, like Cable companies they simply refuse any kind of digital collaboration benefiting their users. One Guide and now the TV app does not replace the experience of the something like the Netflix app. It simply allow the user easy access to entertainment across multiple content producers / broadcasters (the internet way). Its more like "Google Search" for TV entertainment rather then what MS did in WP with Facebook and other services. In the case of Netflix people already subscribe their service and have access to all the content anyway, why does it matter so much that they need to be always on their app to land on the video page? People will still jump apps if they don't find anything they would like to see in the app anyway. This happens in my family between BBC iPlayer, Netfiix ... We explicitely move from app to app ... its hardly a user friendly process.

        IMHO, when it comes to this kind of digital collaboration HBO is for me doing the right thing for their users ... unlike Netflix ... the company that started the "revolution".  Unfortunately HBO NOW is not available in the country I am currently living.


  9. 7209

    Apple has a huge advantage in video over competitors like, Amazon, Netflix and Hulu! With ITunes I can download videos to my Windows laptop and watch them off line without an internet connection. That’s the number one use case for me!

    Does Microsoft’s video service support downloading and off line viewing? Amazon recently dropped their off-line capability (Unboxed). Booooo.

    I recently purchased a cheap 11 inch Dell Laptop that happens to have a nice IPS LCD screen and put a big SSD into it. It makes for a great travel and entertainment PC. It only works because of ITunes!

    • 1808

      In reply to gvan:

      I've decided that not having control of what happens down the road to any media I purchase in the "cloud" is a dealbreaker.  I now use Plex religiously and load everything I have (movies, music, etc.) there.  We can download optimized versions to our mobile devices or reach the server remotely in a pinch.  Your mileage may vary but we love our Plex server.

    • 2

      In reply to gvan:

      But Apple doesn't compete directly with those services. Amazon, Google and Microsoft all offer that capability too, and Amazon uses an old-school Win32 app just like Apple. With Microsoft, you get a more modern and efficient (battery life/performance) experience than with iTunes. Which I think we can all agree, is terrible.


      • 7209

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Paul, thank you for the reply. Amazon has shut down its off line downloading and viewing product (unboxed). It was a very quiet shutdown. Here is a link.

        I’m really upset with Amazon over this as I have lots of content stuck there that I can’t watch on the road anymore! Amazon still supports off line playback on IPhone but not Windows. That’s dumb as a rock. Booooo Amazon. ITunes is slow and clunky but it does work, which is more than I can say for Amazon Unboxed. There is no technical reason why Netflix or Hulu can’t do off line playback.

        I'm anti-Google (they are the new evil empire). So, Google is not an option for me. For the record, I’m a Microsoft/IPhone fan boy. HeHeHe… That leaves me with only 2 video options. Apple and whatever Microsoft offers. I’m going to buy an XBox One S and a 4k HDR TV with my tax return so I will take a serious second look at Microsoft’s video service. Hopefully they will have lots of good 4K HDR content!

    • 4841

      In reply to gvan:

      "Does Microsoft’s video service support downloading and off line viewing?"

      Yes, it does. I watched 'TMNT: Out of the Shadows' yesterday that way.

  10. 6988

    Big fail! It's a content war out there and I am glad content owners are standing up to Apple's bullying practices. Big ups for that! 

    Also Netflix, Amazon and Youtube combined represent 95% of online viewers/streamers. It seems that Roku is a much better value from the onset.

  11. 4039

    "The most important and popular services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have rejected the TV app and will not be included."


    Thanks for pointing this out.  Makes the TV app completely and utterly useless for me (and pretty much everyone I know).

  12. 5234

    TV is all going to the Internet.  But with exclusive content deals, it's no better than cable.

  13. 1321

    This app doesn't have Netflix or Amazon video support either does it so I would consider it kind of useless.

  14. 6525

    I continue not to buy any media from Apple as long as Apple replaces iOS file management by Walled Garden, violates various laws with its license agreements by claiming the fake right to supervise the endconsumer's music consumption and offers insufficient TV offerings.

  15. 6750

    Will be even worse outside the US due to lack of regional content to feed the TV app.

    When the new Apple TV was launched, I was concerned Roku would be put out of business, which would be a shame because it's nice to have a company other than the big 4 tech companies as a relevant player in this space. I'm no longer worried. 

  16. 5496

    Amazon doesn't have an Apple TV app. So you can't blame that one on Apple.


    What someone needs to do is to bring all these streaming services into one place. So you don't have seperate app for different content. It wouldn't matter what service their are on, as long as you pay for that service, those vidoes from that app will show up.

  17. 1243

    All Apple needs to do is allow Amazon Instant Video (or whatever they call it this week) and VUDU to work on Apple TV and I think ti would be perfect. As it is now, I use Apple TV for watching cable networks and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, but have to dust off the 360 to use Amazon or Vudu (where all of my Ultraviolet Digital Copy movies live). Why not use the Xbox One? I'd love to, but the apps are terrible and never work correctly and constantly crash.

  18. 5592

    In an unrelated note: Happy Birthday, Paul.


Leave a Reply