When it comes to watching television, a quiet revolution is gathering pace
T’S now more than two years since Apple CEO Tim Cook declared to the world that the future of TV was apps. It might seem like he was way off the mark, especially to those who still get their TV via a wire attached to a Freeview aerial, a cable box or a satellite dish.
But quietly, just out of sight of those people, a TV revolution is taking place, and apps are very much at the heart of it. Apps such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
Towards the end of last year Apple quietly flicked the switch on a new app of its own – called the TV App. It is available on the millions of iOS devices in service across the UK. That means all iPhones and iPads.
It replaced the Videos app on those devices, and a lot of people probably didn’t notice.
More than that, it became the centre-piece app on the Apple TV 4K, the new super-powered set-top box from Apple that I’ve been testing for a couple of months.
The bottom line? Cook was right, the future is apps... but frustratingly, we’re not quite there yet.
The Apple TV 4K is a sensational piece of kit, perhaps the finest plug-in set-top box you can buy. But then, it is also the most expensive at £179 for the 32GB base version (the only other version available has 64GB memory and costs £199).
It streams beautiful 4K HDR video from those online services that provide it, allows you to watch any video you’ve bought on iTunes and lets you showcase photos and videos taken on your iPhone or iPad on the big screen via iCloud sync.
There are some fabulous non-TV apps on there too, including some great games and workout apps, many of which you do not have to buy again if you’ve already bought them for iPhone or iPad. But it’s the new TV app that is the star.
It takes a simple idea and executes it beautifully and, in doing so, solves one of the big problems with streaming TV apps. It allows a single search to look across multiple services and gather all your favourite shows from most of the top content providers in one place.
At the heart of this is the Watch Now section – at the top of the screen in a horizontally scrolling list are all the TV programmes and films from connected services you’ve either been watching, or queued up for viewing later.
It’ll even load up new episodes of your favourites here as they are released.
It’s an almost perfect content discovery and viewing environment, an all-in-one location that means you don’t have to search individual apps for the show or film you want, or switch to them when you actually want to watch.
Or it would be... There’s a small issue – not all content providers are on board. The BBC’s iPlayer app is plugged in, as is Amazon Prime Video. My5 is there, as is ITV Hub.
But there are some glaring big-hitters missing. Netflix allows you to search its content via the TV app, but doesn’t allow it’s shows to be saved in Watch Now – if you want to watch something it opens the Netflix app.
Now TV’s app does not plug into the Apple TV app at all.
In fact, at the time of writing, the app hadn’t even been updated for more than two years – a source of major frustration for long-time subscribers like me.
I have no idea why this would be the case – requests for information from Sky, which runs Now TV, have thus far been ignored.
Channel 4 has only managed a dedicated news app so far, so its All 4 service is sadly missing.
It’s an enormous shame, given the care and attention that Apple has lavished upon this system.
With full support from those three providers, the Apple TV and its TV app would be the only set-top box you would ever need, which perhaps goes some way to explaining why some are not so keen to support it.