Last Time On Apple TV…

The previous post on the Apple TV announcements at the October Apple event circulated a little more widely than I had originally anticipated. I’ve received some feedback on what was written, and more details have surfaced in the past week, so it’s worth revisiting.

There’s a section that compared certain features and prices in a very rough way to illustrate that Apple is positioned at a premium price point that isn’t justified. Apple, of course, does not compete on price, but there are typically ways of justifying the price difference against competing products. The streaming hardware is behind the competition, and the software that is run on the Apple TV is mostly just a way to get at media streams, so similar experiences are available on competing devices. Even compelling features like Siri search, which reduces the friction of using a remote to find something, have competition in Amazon’s Alexa or Roku’s Voice Search. Even TV the app will mostly resemble the interface of the Fire TV Home screen. That’s why the premium price lacks justification in either hardware or software. There’s the more abstract notion of a “premium experience” which could be used to justify the price, except I’d argue that I’ve experienced too much frustration with the using the Apple TV to say that it’s superior to anything but older generation hardware and software from competing companies.

Single Sign-On will be a big differentiating factor when it ships, if you are on one of the supported providers. It’s still late, and the list of providers is still very small. In the previous post, I had pointed to a line in Apple’s press release on Single Sign-On after the event to highlight the only two providers that were mentioned were both satellite TV providers.

In addition to the new TV app, customers in the U.S. will have a simplified way of enjoying their pay-TV video apps by using single sign-on. Starting in December, subscribers to DIRECTV, DISH Network and more will just sign in once on Apple TV, iPhone and iPad to enjoy immediate access to apps that are part of their pay-TV subscription.

Last night, Apple turned on Single Sign-On for developers on the tvOS beta, and the list was slightly different. As first reported by MacRumors the networks that are available are:

  • Dish
  • GVTC Communications
  • Hotwire
  • Sling TV

Absent from the current list is DirecTV, but since Apple named them in the press release I fully expect that to be available when Single Sign-On is in it’s final, shipping state. As for the other three providers: two are small, regional operators, and the third, Sling TV, is owned by Dish. It’s good to know that Sling TV is available because that wasn’t guaranteed from the way the press release was originally phrased. Sling TV is entirely provided over the internet, or over-the-top as the kids say, and it’s the most widely available way to access channels that are only available through traditional cable or satellite packages. Another notable one is Sony’s PlayStation Vue service.

There’s been criticism of Sling TV’s apps on all of the platforms that Sling TV is available on (including Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku) so this is pretty good if you don’t want to use the Sling TV app to access on demand content that is available directly from a studio’s own app with authentication. Also, as I learned from listening to Susie Ochs on the Macworld podcast, the content of the official Sling TV app is opaque to Siri, so that’s another reason to authenticate directly with a provider — assuming they participate in Universal Search or Siri Live Tune-In. Apple offers a full list of participating Universal Search apps by region on their site, and a full list of Siri Live Tune-In. Someone with more free time should probably make a spreadsheet of which apps work with which Siri features, and we can all print it out like an old-timey channel guide for our living rooms. Well, in the U.S. anyway.

Serenity Caldwell at iMore has taken the beta version of Single Sign-On for a spin, but there’s not much to report at the moment. I am curious about why they chose to make the provider-selection a list of buttons, as that doesn’t seem like it will scale tremendously well if they continue to add providers. Also it handles Single Sign-On per-device, and needs to be authorized per-app, which is … (pinches bridge of nose) … it’s not great for people with multiple tvOS and iOS devices. It’s better than going to a website to enter a code presented on your TV, of course, but I still don’t understand why these subscription credentials, and authorizations, can’t be stored in iCloud Keychain, or a different iCloud service. Apple stores my credit card information and address in iCloud so let’s not pretend like this is for privacy reasons. It’s in beta, but it seems unlikely that would change before it launches in about a month, month and a half. That just goes back to my criticism of the Apple TV feeling like it was designed for use in a lab, where there aren’t multiple units, or family members.

Just to reinforce the idea of multiple devices, I had mentioned in the previous post skepticism of how well TV the app on the Apple TV will work with TV the app on iOS assuming a single-user experience of me, in my living room. I perhaps should have leaned more heavily on what happens in multi-user households where the Apple TV sits signed in to one account. There are FOUR fields where a person’s Apple ID should be entered on an Apple TV:

  • iCloud
  • iTunes and App Store
  • Game Center
  • Home Sharing

That’s the data stored in the cloud, your purchase history, and the ability to make purchases, the ability to log gameplay, and the ability to stream from your local iTunes library. There’s no single sign-on for all of these things together, which means there’s no easy way to switch who’s using the Apple TV, and what the Apple TV has access to, and tracks.

That means that in a household with two people using an Apple TV, and both of those people have iPhones, that TV the app is going to have recomendations based off of the viewing experience of one person in the house, or worse, one person gets their viewing experience contaminated by the other. This gets even worse if you scale up for children, and the programming children watch, vs. the programming that the parents watch. HBO, which will participate in TV the app has Sesame Street and Westworld, so good luck explaining why the Guests are so mean to the Hosts to little Jimmy.

Also in the news yesterday, is a rumor that Amazon is considering multi-user profiles, possibly for the Fire OS refresh anticipated before the end of the year. Very similar to Netflix’s profile switching, but for the whole TV experience.

Speaking of Netflix, there was some pushback that Apple could add Netflix before it launches, or that everyone loses their minds and Apple buys Netflix (which I would argue against). My criticism stems from what was presented, which is that Netflix is absent, and it is present for competing platforms that surface Netflix’s content. I’m not going to wishcast that Netflix will be there. If it materializes, then that is a great thing, but I wouldn’t change a word of what I wrote about the way TV the app was presented.

There’s no singular acquisition, service launch, app, price slashing, hardware feature, or deal that will tidy up what’s happening with Apple’s entertainment strategy for devices and services. It’s not a matter of a single piece out of place. That’s why I rhetorically asked who the device is for, because it’s not obvious to me, and that’s coming from someone who wants to see them succeed in this area.

2016-11-04 09:00:00

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