I did not get a lot of stuff off of my wish list this year. Like last year. I had said that I wasn’t expecting hardware - unless there was a real developer story there for the hardware - but that certainly wasn’t what I wished for. After all, the 4th generation Apple TV was previewed at WWDC 2015 because there was a developer story. Tim Cook made a big deal about how he felt “the future of TV is apps” and that never materialized for developers.
I would really like to highlight, again, how the future of TV is not apps, but services, as it was, and always has been. Nothing drives that home more than Amazon Prime Video being the only thing unveiled in the tvOS section of the keynote presentation. That is a service.
Also, while I had figured on Amazon Prime news, I certainly didn’t anticipate it would be the only thing. I was gobsmacked, to say the least. There’s so much about the Apple TV, and tvOS, that should be addressed, but it won’t be addressed this summer. Tim Cook mentioned that more would be coming in the fall, but no specifics were offered. I only mention that to draw a distinction with several other things that were displayed but won’t be available until fall or December.
I am assuming that there will be new hardware, and possibly some headline software features, that will arrive at that time. Since they seem long overdue.
Just a reminder that Apple is selling the 4th generation Apple TV box in two configurations: 32 GB for $150 and 64 GB for $200, and they still haven’t articulated any difference between them other than a change to the storage caps for apps (which has had no material effect), nor has the price come down since it was introduced.
I had expected that there might be a price drop on the existing model, just to make the price seem less ludicrous, but they seem determined to hold on to these price points until whatever might come next arrives. I’m not sure if that means the next model will be in the $150-$200 range, or it will be even more costly and they don’t want people to blanche at at something drastically higher than $200 if the old model is still there to make it seem reasonable. They didn’t have a problem discounting Apple TVs in the past.
When the 3rd generation model lingered on for years, Apple cut the price of the ancient 3rd generation model from $99 to $69 at a March 2015 event because they still didn’t have the 4th generation ready for even a preview.
To put the considerable premium Apple is charging in perspective I’ll reproduce a list I made last fall with the prices of various competing products. The Roku products have even dropped by $10-$15 because they’re not spring chickens either.
- $30: Roku Express
- $35: Chromecast
- $40: Amazon Fire TV Stick 2nd Gen. (Alexa, universal search)
- $40: Roku Express+
- $40: Roku Streaming Stick
- $70: Chromecast Ultra (UHD)
- $70: Roku Premiere (UHD)
- $90: Amazon Fire TV 2nd Gen. (Alexa, universal search, UHD)
- $90: Roku Premiere+ (UHD, HDR)
- $115: Roku Ultra (UHD, HDR, Voice Search)
- $150: Apple TV 32 GB (Siri, universal search)
- $200: Apple TV 64 GB (Siri, universal search)
Apple is still selling a non-premium device at a premium price this summer, going into at least this fall, which will mean 2 years of this product at this price with relatively minor software changes. Even for things like voice search, which Apple prides itself on, it only outperforms the Roku devices, not the Alexa-enabled Fire TV models.
The Apple TV used to miss out on Amazon Prime Video so at least they’ll remedy that, but it won’t make it any more distinct against the other devices. All of those above have Amazon Video except for the Chromecasts. They all offer a very similar array of apps that access video services. None of them are appealing game platforms.
There was a mention later on in the presentation about AirPlay 2. An Apple TV could be used to play audio as if it was an AirPlay 2 speaker. The Apple TV can also control playback throughout the home. Curiously, this was part of the iOS feature presentation. No indication about whether or not it improves the reliability of AirPlay (1), or offers any other enhancements other than multi-room audio control. I had put a new version of AirPlay on my wishlist for WWDC 2016, but I took it off this year because it seemed like Apple had shown no interest in addressing any of the bugs or issues with AirPlay in the last two years. Should have left it on.
Curiously, the Mac, and iOS devices, are getting h.265 video support in software, and hardware, as well as HDR support. These are features that are definitely required for the Apple TV, but would need new hardware. Hopefully, this is just a sign that Apple is doing the work. (But they still haven’t brought picture in picture to tvOS so maybe they’re just doing this to frustrate me (just me, specifically)).
While not discussed on stage, there is a minor tvOS update coming. Dark mode will go on and off automatically + home screen sync.
I know many people will appreciate automatic switching between eye-searing-wrongness and correctness, but it really should just be correct all the time. Hopefully it will allow me to retain that setting. [UPDATE: You can select Dark Mode only.]
Home screen sync is interesting because I’ve been asking for it since I got my Apple TV 4th generation and realized it wasn’t backed up anywhere, and there was no way to restore it to the state I had it in if something were to happen to it, or if I were to upgrade to a new device. Mark’s tweet has absolutely no detail so I’ll have to wait and see what the scope of this winds up being. Maybe they’ve secretly removed one last thing from my wish list? [UPDATE: Home screen syncing is there, and it does obviate my complaints about the lack of a backup/restore mechanism. This also lends credence to a new hardware model coming because this will let you pass your home screen and apps to whatever new device you set up. While this is not an iOS-style backup/restore, this is in many ways a better solution to the problem. Kudos to the tvOS team.]
There’s likely to be more info that will come out in the weeks ahead, and I look forward to seeing, and hearing, more about what wasn’t mentioned directly on stage, but that’s all for TV.