Yesterday’s blog post over the Apple TV generated a lot of tweets. Once I was up to my neck in tweets, I realized it really should be a post instead.
Zach Kahn pointed out that I wasn’t considering Mark Gurman’s reporting about the new Apple TV being held up by content deals. I had considered it, that’s why I had lines in the piece about what Apple can do without content providers being onboard.
Mark Gurman, from 9to5 Mac, writes a lot of leaks, rumors, and sourced material about the internal workings of Apple. What he prints very often turns out to be true, but not always, and more often it’s mostly true. Jason Snell has a really good episode of Upgrade where he discusses receiving tips, in general, and ATP also has some speculation about why people would choose to send anonymous tips to them.
We reported last fall that a revamped Apple TV set-top-box is in the works, and then we learned earlier this year that the new box would likely be introduced in the first half of 2014. Sources said at the time that the new model would be redesigned (at least on the inside) and would sport new content (perhaps a true App Store or gaming functionality). Since that time, sources indicated that internal prototypes for the new device include AirPort Express-like functionality, a form of enhanced iOS gaming integration, and a TV tuner component for connecting to existing cable setups.
He goes on to talk about the hardware references included in the iOS builds. That does, of course, mean that there is something that hasn’t shipped, but is referenced in official Apple software that has shipped. It doesn’t mean that whatever is internally known as “AppleTV4,1” will go out the door. Indeed, Mark has more current info which suggests it was redesigned again, last fall.
Mark’s March 5th post from before the March 9th Apple event said that they would not be launching a new TV because of additional delays, and wouldn’t have anything TV related to announce.
As for the Apple TV, the new service will be an app that replaces the existing Beats channel. Sources say that Apple is also finishing up work on a slimmer Apple TV set-top-box with a more capable and tactile remote control and a redesigned operating system bundled with an App Store. As of last fall, Apple had hoped to debut a new set top box as soon as this month, but with reports of the discussions between Apple and content providers being in only “early stages”, it seems that, just like last year, content roadblocks could keep the new Apple TV from debuting until another point in the future. As we learned yesterday regarding the larger iPad Pro, Apple will have another busy fall, so perhaps the new Apple TV will launch later in the year.
The event occurred, and the existing TV was talked about, with a discount, as well as a new service. The information Gurman had for the TV turned out to be imperfect, but that doesn’t mean he’s incorrect about a more substantial change being held up — how can you be wrong about something that isn’t announced? It’s not even his fault if they change their minds. Really, I am not speaking ill of him, or his sources, but they’re really not something that should be used as justification for Apple’s inaction.
This is why I didn’t explicitly discuss the rumors in the previous post. I find it fruitless to discuss Apple’s unreleased prototypes that are changing. I implicitly refer to the rumors of content providers holding everything up, and I refute them by citing things in the platform that can be changed that have absolutely nothing to do with the consent of content providers. I refuse to believe that shipping the Apple TV in basically the same form since 2012 is rational.
Another point Zach Kahn made was that it’s not the Apple Way to ship something that isn’t 100 percent perfect. That’s, like, the Google Way, man. They don’t care like Apple cares. This is demonstrably false. Apple incrementally updates products all the time. They also inconsistently update products. The current MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are getting the Force Touch touchpad from the newly announced MacBook, but they’re not getting the USB-C connector. You know.
I don’t buy into this omniscient Apple that knows the perfect time to announce, ship, and package products. They do, without a doubt, have waaaaaaayyyyy more info about what they’re doing than any of us do. I simply don’t believe that means they shouldn’t be critiqued for a product that has been in stasis for three years.
There is a philosophical case to make that they will finally get the perfect moment to launch the next Apple TV, when all the content providers will align with all the component parts, and the angels will sing in harmony, but I think that’s a weird case to make for a three year-old set-top box.
There was a suggestion made by Josh Centers that the whole reason to announced the HBO NOW plan was to scare the other content providers. I disagree. I don’t think a three month exclusivity window on a service that is an alternative to an existing cable service is significant leverage over other content providers, or cable companies. If anything, HBO NOW data might be a test to try to convince some providers that are on the fence. Even then, I’m deeply skeptical that anyone feels significantly motivated to abandon what they’re currently doing.
Far more likely scenario is that we’ll continue to see other over-the-top services created by cable/satellite providers, with special restrictions, and package deals, and they’ll have apps that stream to a TV. At that point, it’s not significantly different than the current state of affairs. Dish already shipped their Sling TV service, which has plenty of weird restrictions, and it’s not available for the Apple TV, but is available for iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung TVs, etc.
DirecTV (soon to be acquired by AT&T (we’re all fucked!)) has created an over-the-top service for Spanish speaking audiences in the US, Yaveo. It’s also not available for the Apple TV. They’ve also been in the process of securing OTT rights for years so they might be launching something else, or it could be a defensive maneuver to ensure they have the same rights as anyone else that might use those rights (like Dish has with Sling TV). Mutually Assured Over-the-Top.
The largest internet and cable provider, and content provider, Comcast (NBC, Universal) was merged together in a way to defend against OTT. This is, hilariously, the first search result for “comcast over the top”
So, no, I don’t think Apple’s 3 month exclusivity deal with HBO NOW is sending anyone into a tizzy.
That’s also not the point of that previous post, because they have so much latitude to make the device, and viewing experience, better without involving any cable companies, or studios. Tying software and hardware updates to the whims of proven enemies seems irrational.
I have missing rentals from my Apple TV that show up only on my phone because of content providers? No. That’s all on Apple. Comcast also isn’t holding up changes to menus, or icons.
Zach also made the case that the 90 days of exclusivity would coincide with a possible time for Apple’s WWDC event this year. I think that’s pure coincidence though. It’s not like they’re going to announce that they lost exclusivity. He does speculate that Apple could announce a product to ship in the fall at this time. If it was the device with the game controllers, and the app store, then yes, but then the whole argument about them waiting around for content providers doesn’t make any sense. All indications seem to be that the content providers aren’t budging right now. Perhaps Apple will release something then, and perhaps it will, as I’ve argued, not rely on the content providers, but that would basically prove my point that they need to ship a significant update, not refute it.
It’s also kind of silly that they’d discount the existing Apple TV for 90 days, and then release a new platform. Unless the new platform will exist over the current one. $69 Apple TV, and $99 Apple TV Pro (giggle). That still means they’d need to update the software on the existing model in some way to align with with the ATV Pro (giggle). Again, this speculation doesn’t refute, or excuse, the current product, or Apple’s inaction.
The panel rumor also came up in the conversation thread, and I’ve felt it’s too big of a leap to go from the current puck to an integrated panel. Eventually, it makes total sense, so my skepticism is simply my gut feeling and I have nothing to support it.