Thoughts on Apple TV

The last couple of years have seen a strange transition in my home. We’re watching more TV than ever thanks largely to Netflix. I also own a ton of iTunes content — mostly BBC and Pixar stuff — but I don’t watch those as much simply because we don’t currently own an Apple TV. And connecting my iPhone to the TV is never the best experience. I’ve thought about getting one before, but I keep holding back primarly because Apple TV feels so stuck in the past.

I’m apparently not alone. The Verge recently reported that Apple TV has dropped to 15% of all streaming devices sold while Roku has been gaining marketshare. Some possible reasons include:

  • Price
  • Lack of 4K HDR content
  • Lack of Amazon Video

It sounds more and more like we will be hearing about how Apple will address these shortcomings in their September 12 media event. I will be genuinely surpised if Apple touches the price, but I do expect support for first and third-party 4K HDR video as well as the possible launch of Amazon Video on Apple TV. (We already know that Amazon Video should be coming this “summer.”)

These might be enough to sway me at last, but we’re also in the market for a new television. Our current display is a 40″ Samsung we got in 2007.  That gets me wishing for another possibility.

My Pipe Dream

I think Apple’s best way into the living room is not through a box, but through a TV. If your TV has a smart platform built in, chances are that’s already how you get to Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and the like. However, I’m not advocating Apple build their own TV. I’m advocating that they, like Roku, find a partner or two.

Immediately, I would cross Samsung from the list for obvious reasons, not the least of which being they already build their own TV platform. I would knock TCL and Hisense off for having too much of a low-end reputation that would not fit Apple’s image. LG seems a great fit at first glance, but they already have a solid home-baked smart platform built on the resurrected WebOS.

That really leaves two major players I see as possible contenders: Vizio and Sony.

The Case for Vizio

Vizio is the harder of the two to sell because they largely compete on the budget end of things. However, they do sell a more premium line of TVs called their P-series. They have a design philosophy of minimalist sophistication. Their internally-developed smart platform has been problematic, and they also have the advantage of being headquarted in the same general part of the world as Apple.

In this scenario, I see Apple and VIzio developing a variation of the P-Series displays. Let’s call it the A-series, where, instead of SmartCast, the TV would be built around tvOS and built around an A8 or better chip. Apple handles the form factor and software while Vizio handles the display technology and actual manufacturing.

This could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Apple gets to be in a position where they have a good amount of control, but they don’t have to worry about building out a new manufacturing process. Vizio finally gets a solid smart platform and some much-needed name recognition attached to their products.

The Case for Sony

Potential partnerships between Apple and Sony have been floated for years, going all the way back to reports that there were prototype versions of macOS (née Mac OS) running on Sony hardware at one point. It makes sense. Sony has solid indistrial design. They have a reputation for high-end products, and they have good reliability. All of these fit Apple’s established brand well.

Right now, Sony uses Android TV as their built-in platform, software in which they have no investment or stake. It’s also a system criticized for being complicated and slow. Almost every review I’ve read of Sony TVs will criticize Android TV. It could be easily replaced. Here I see Sony potentially licensing tvOS for varients of their higher-end existing lines, say x900 and up, and moving those varients to Apple’s A-series architecture.

This partnership may not give Apple as much control, but it does give them a partner with a large, already loyal, base. Where they would have to build a customer base through Vizio, that legwork will aready be done with Sony.

The Reality

Do I really think any of this will happen? No, I don’t. Apple is not one for partnerships like this. The last one I can even think of is the abysmal Motorola Rockr, an experience that I’m sure left Apple executives with a bad tase. I do believe licensing tvOS — a platform that already embraces the unique needs and limitations of televisions — would be far more successful than shoehorning some iTunes functionality into a flip phone.

The likliest case is that Apple will just update the box called Apple TV. If they ever move into the market for actual sets, they’ll almost certainly go it alone. If they do, I’m sure they’ll be fine. After all, they have a habit of successfully moving into established spaces. They just need to feel they have a game changer. In the case of the iPod, it was iTunes and ease-of-use. The iPhone put a multi-touch computer in your pocket. Apple Watch made wellness tracking mainstream. If Apple is going to “walk in” to the TV market, they will have something to set themselves apart from the pack. 

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