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.