Does the Apple TV have a future?
Apple’s set-top box is stuck in between two worlds. Dan Moren reports
The Apple TV: perhaps the most unloved of Apple’s major platforms? Even though the Apple TV has been around about as long as the iPhone – it was actually shown off by Steve Jobs before the iPhone’s announcement, though it was then called the ‘iTV’ – the set-top box has long seemed an afterthought for the company.
That’s only increased more recently as Apple has embarked upon partnerships with third-party makers of televisions and set-top competitors
to expand the footprint of its Apple TV+ service, bringing those devices features such as the Apple TV app and AirPlay 2.
Still, recent rumours suggest that an updated Apple TV may be waiting in the wings, though what enhancements it might feature are largely anybody’s guess. But with all of the changes in the streaming world and Apple’s position in it, is there still room for the Apple TV as a distinct product?
Streaming hardware is omnipresent these days. Almost every TV on the market has its own built-in suite of apps for streaming popular services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and many boast extensive catalogues of apps. Likewise, Apple faces stiff competition from other popular vendors of set-top boxes, including Amazon and Roku, almost all of whom offer devices significantly cheaper than the Apple TV.
Streaming boxes have, for better or worse, become commoditized. When you can watch Netflix on half a dozen different devices in your house, it’s hard to make an argument for buying the one that starts at £149 (and that’s not even for the pricier models that support 4K video).
Yes, Apple has positioned the Apple TV as a premium device, and it does offer features that other streaming boxes only put in their own high-end units, if at all, such as support for the Dolby Vision standard. But many consumers aren’t even aware of those high-end standards – many have just got to the point of upgrading to 4K.
Which leaves Apple TV’s main selling point as its overall integration with the Apple ecosystem. And since Apple is now offering its streaming service on other manufacturers’ devices, that narrows the exclusivity of that synergy to fewer categories, chief among them the App Store.
While the App Store on the Apple TV is surprisingly robust compared to many of its competitors in the set-top
space, it pales in comparison
to what’s offered on Apple’s other major platforms. Apps for the Apple TV mainly fall into two categories: watching video content and games.
Games is one place where Apple would seem to have a legup on competition, thanks to the commonalities between tvOS and the games powerhouse that is iOS/iPadOS. And yet games on the Apple TV have never really taken off. Even recent additions like support for wireless game controllers from Microsoft and Sony haven’t done much to turn the Apple TV into a major player in the game console market.
In large part that’s because Apple’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whereas consoles from Microsoft, Sony and even Nintendo may be pricier propositions, they’re gameplaying devices first and streaming devices second. The Apple TV is just the reverse, potentially positioning it as the worst of both worlds: too expensive when stacked against most streaming boxes, and not game-focused enough to compete with the Xbox and PlayStation.
The other big weakness in the Apple TV’s line-up is its remote. Much of Apple’s innovative engineering on the Apple TV has gone into designing the Siri Remote, which features a trackpad as well as a microphone for using the eponymous virtual assistant.
While those features are clever, the focus on them has made the remote contentious, largely because they’ve made it less functional for its primary purpose of being a remote. For
Roku (pictured), Amazon, and others provide stiff competition in the set-top box market.
Did you know that with Apple Arcade, the Apple TV has access to over 100 games? Do you even care?