Oh, how times have changed.
Apple used to stop traffic, figuratively speaking, with a new iPhone announcement. But at Wednesday’s press event in San Francisco, the Apple TV stole the show.
No, it’s not an actual television (never gonna happen). It’s the new version of Apple’s set-top box. And tech-wise, it’s neat. It integrates Siri for voice control, and the remote uses a tiny touchscreen to navigate search results.
Apple CEO Tim Cook laid out the company’s vision: “We believe the future of television is apps.”
And when Cook says apps, he really means apps. The company demonstrated apps that are typically reserved for computers, phones and tablets, like Gilt, the shopping app, and games like “Crossy Road” (which will have multiplayer capabilities).
With something like Gilt, according to the demo, you could browse, view huge high-quality images on your TV and then hit the buy button.
The TV’s voice-enabled surfing offered some real “wow” moments, like when you ask Siri for weather or sports scores, and the info lays over the top of whatever you’re watching. You can also tell Siri to search for shows — or just types of shows, like comedies or movies with Jason Bateman — and the Apple TV will collect results from across apps, like Netflix and Hulu, and display them all on one screen.
So, there was lots of talk about what the new TV can do. But there was no mention of new content, or deals with TV providers that the company has reportedly been working on — unsuccessfully, as it turns out.
Bloomberg and others reported that talks with various content networks had stalled, partly because Apple wants content to cost less and offer a complete streaming TV subscription service for about $40 per month. There were also reportedly concerns about whether Apple has the cloud capacity to deliver a streaming TV product that would rival pay TV.
Whatever the stumbling blocks, the fact is, the subscription service didn’t materialize, and it’s unclear if it ever will.
So can apps fill the void?
The crowd at Wednesday’s event seemed skeptical. In fact, a kind of confused hush came over the room as Apple talked up its apps strategy. It’s possible we just lack the imagination to understand what browsing apps might be like on our TVs. It’s also possible that this approach has been tried before and hasn’t worked, because most of what people want to do on their TVs is … well … watch TV.
Even casual gaming on the TV has been a bit of a nonstarter. The Amazon Fire TV offers streaming video and gaming, but hasn’t exactly been flying off the shelves (that we know of, anyway). Set-top boxes specifically for gaming haven’t been a hit, either, although there are still efforts to kick-start their popularity. Nvidia introduced a $200 box called the Shield Android TV Console (yeah, really) that it hopes will be the right price and offer gaming.
Casual gaming seems to be all about mobile right now, and serious buyers are going with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in droves — even the lifestyle-focused Nintendo Wii U has had trouble keeping up.
So far, no one has nailed the set-top model, even though lots of tech companies — Amazon, Apple and Google, to name the Big Three — want to be in your living room. Maybe Apple is right, and we actually want to shop Gilt and play Crossy Road with our friends, and have Siri update our Facebook status. Maybe the TV can truly become the next-generation interface — one that’s big, centrally located and always on.
An iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard.
Or maybe what Apple really wanted was to present a new kind of TV the way it presented a new kind of digital music way back in the day. But having watched Apple dictate music pricing and control the market for all those years, the TV industry has wised up. Pay TV might be weakening, but it’s hardly beaten. And clearly, it’ll be harder to disrupt than anyone — even Apple — anticipated.
Now, all of that said, if you’re looking for an inexpensive streaming media device, the new Apple TV looks pretty good. It starts at $150, and if the Siri searches work as advertised, it’ll could be a big holiday gift. It’s just not everything we, and even Apple, were hoping.
And, oh yeah, about that new iPhone: The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are more powerful and have better cameras and all the things you thought they might have. And the rumored iPad Pro is no longer a rumor. It’s here. With an an absolutely gigantic screen, a snap-on keyboard accessory and — wonder of wonders — a stylus.
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