OPINION

Apple TV: From High Hopes to Has-Been

When it comes to TV, Apple is starting to recede into the dark corners of my mind. Its relevance — and even potential relevance — is waning. A fancypants Apple-made big-screen HDTV device that seems to float in the air and function like a delightful work of art… . It not only seems unlikely any time soon, but also unlikely to really matter to anyone but rich Apple enthusiasts.

As the hockey-puck Apple TV gathers dust — the last hardware update was inMarch of 2012 — Apple’s slow march with new app “channels” is more irritating than truly useful. If I already am a cable or satellite-TV subscriber with a DVR, then messing with a slow app with inconsistent Internet streaming quality is downright silly. I can just watch a show with a snappy, high-quality response from my DVR.

Enter Verizon

This is not to say that no one is trying to grab strings and tug on the Gordian Knot of TV. I used to hope that Apple would come to the industry swinging a crystal sword and cut through the tangled mess, but now I think the fear of dominance actually hurts Apple’s chance at meaningful change.

Verizon, though, has a shot. Better yet, Verizon could turn into an industry catalyst. How? Verizon just announced an agreement to buy Intel’s OnCue Cloud TV platform.

The nifty idea behind OnCue was to create a set-top box that could deliver live TVover the Internet, as well as let you stream content from non-network services, like Netflix. Plus, you’d have the ability to rewind in time and stream recently live TV content that you missed during the past three days.

OnCue would let consumers access content in multiple ways — and easily, without manually switching between various remotes and boxes and connections and services.

The trouble is, TV and managing content deals aren’t Intel’s strengths, andeven if the interface was fantastic, OnCue had to start with zero customers. Ever try to negotiate a deal with zero customers standing behind you? Pretty tough.

Verizon, on the other hand, already has its Internet-ready FiOS fiber-optic networks rolled out. Sure, Verizon only reaches a relatively small market of 5 million pay-TV households in the U.S., but that’s a start.

More to the point, Verizon would have the ability to provide over-the-top TV services to its vast mobile customer network, which means Verizon suddenly can start negotiating potential deals where it has about 100 million mobile device screens to back it up.

From a user standpoint, Verizon mobile customers could see a compelling reason to buy into an OnCue: Instead of replicating what they already get in the living room, Verizon could extend it and improve the overall experience.

Unless costs spiked, that would be a win for consumers… and potentially spark more user-friendly competition from other cable TV providers.

At the same time, it could shake loose geographic monopolies on content. Right now, your local cable company probably has a monopoly to pipe cable TV directly into your home. If Verizon can make headway with OnCue, we might finally be able to buy reasonably customized packages of content for Internet delivery — including live TV for things like news or sports — via other Internet serviceproviders.

The point is, Verizon now has the potential to become a catalyst in a way that seems impossible for Apple. While Apple focuses on iOS-ing the world, the Apple TV seems to be moving from hobby to has-been.

Enter Amazon

Love or hate Amazon, the company has proven that it has the ability to create competitive hardware products and connect them to competitive content products.

The Kindle line of e-book readers and Fire tablets is connecting Amazon’s content with a solid (and sometimes sweet) hardware experience. Last year, the company was rumored to be working on its own set-top box, which would, of course, let it stream its Amazon Prime content to the living room HDTV directly. Right now, you need someone else’s set-top box (or even an Xbox) to stream Amazon content via an app.

Just this week, reports from The Wall Street Journal suggested thatAmazon has been talking to entertainment companies about licensing their channels as part of a new online pay-TV service. In this sort of scenario, Amazon might be able to compete against traditional cable and satellite TV services.

More importantly, if Amazon could deliver live TV (and on-demand TV) in a more focused and consumer-friendly way, it could pull a string out of the Gordian TV Knot. An Amazon “Kindle TV” would help it along.

Where’s Apple Again?

Meanwhile, what’s Apple up to? Maybe we’ll get a faster A7-processor based Apple TV replacement unit sometime in 2014. That would be nice — but will we ever get an Amazon TV app available on our Apple TV directly? Or will we be forced to use AirPlay to stream content from the app on our iPhones and iPads to the Apple TV just to fling it to a big screen? Seems silly, doesn’t it? At best, somewhat trite.

Of course, maybe Apple will deliver a gesture-based navigation scheme for the next-generation Apple TV… and maybe open up its Apple TV interface to all iOS developers, letting innovators build apps for use directly from their Apple TVs. That would be cool.

These ideas seem increasingly far away, though. Ironically, that might spell opportunity for Apple. If the company’s invention mojo is still strong, an Apple TV could profit from confusion and consumer pain — even as Verizon and Amazon pave the way by softening up traditional cable monopolies and content distribution deals.

Right now, though, it’s hard to see — and getting harder to imagine — Apple as a TV leader, must less innovator.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com.

5 Comments

  • I can clarify a bit: Apple has a $160 billion in cash, give or take a few dollars. Apple has global reach, and an insane ability to create and build awesome products. It has the talent, money, and reach. The Apple TV, as it stands right now, is pretty sad compared to Apple’s abilities. I think that shows a lack of will.

    Sure, Apple is focused on other, more profitable areas, but how long ago did Steve Jobs tell Walter Isaacson in his biography that he had finally "cracked" the secret to the Apple TV?

    Answer: Sometime before October 2011, when the biography was published.

    Let me count the months in between October 2011 and today . . . ah bummer, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count them all.

    I have an Apple TV. I like it. I use it often. And half the time I do, I think about Apple in Cupertino, and it sure seems like they don’t care about the Apple TV, about this space.

    I hope the next iteration of the Apple TV will be mind blowing. But right now, pretending that Apple is kicking butt and taking names in the TV, media, set-top box space? If Lebron James dropped out of the NBA and started playing basketball every afternoon on the playground with school kids . . . and wins game after game . . . is that admirable? It’s not. It would be a waste of talent and natural resources.

    From the outside looking in, it looks like Apple is wasting talent and time, vaguely pretending to care about the space. And somebody ought to be willing to raise the question of whether Apple really cares about the Apple TV.

    What we’re getting right now is a result of the most talented company in the world tossing us the TV equivalent of a nifty boat idly built from popsicle sticks in between iPhone meetings — a "hobby."

  • This article is one reason I rarely come to this site anymore. It’s a shame that Chris is the main writer here. It was better in the old days when numerous writers gave their opinions.

    Chris doesn’t seem to realize that the aTv is more popular now, than ever, selling in increasing numbers. It is pretty useful. I know people who aren’t Mac, iPhone, or ipad users, buying them.

    If they do what seems to be expected, and introduce gaming, it will acquire an even bigger audience, and with the new controller API’s, we’re seeing controllers coming out. The first generation isn’t great, and too expensive, though steel case has already lowered their price to &79.95, but we’ll see more. I’ve ordered one.

    I don’t always understand where Chris is coming from, but I’m tired of reading his articles.

  • What an irritating article!

    Let me see if I can sum up.

    AppleTV is dead because it has not had a hardware refresh in 2 years (but is getting new channels regularly) and because Amazon and Verizon have the potential of doing TV better.

    No evidence that ether has ever done them better. Amazon has an iTunes want to be and Netflix clone service that is woefully behind with both and Verizon just bought the failed Intel TV attempt.

    Ok, so this summary just makes it clear that your article was stupid, but I said irritating. Because just as I was going to point out the flaws and the potential that AppleTV still has you list them as if it was some foregone conclusion that although Apple has a ton of potential with AppleTV it will ultimately fail to execute? huh?

    Apple has the #1 App store, #1 music store, #1 TV and MOVIE store (non subscription). AppleTV is the best selling non gaming Set Top Box and they have stated that this is an area of substantial interest. Apple has a habit of disrupting industries, not going with the flow. Sometimes it takes time to make the deals necessary, but to dismiss them would be insane.

    IMHO

  • Just so you know Mr Maxcer, Apple TVs are used very widely in education because they can connect lots of Apple stuff to any ‘big-screen HDTV device’. The iPad owns a massive share of the education market.

    And there are a huge number of big-screen HDTV devices available. If you like fancypants try Bang & Olufsen. Why would Apple bother with that market?

    I’m not sure we need to hear about the ‘dark corners’ of your mind either. Are you trying to get a gig with Rob Enderle?

  • Lets not get into the bad habit of comparing an existing product to non-existing products, and then explain how the owner of the existing product is doomed without even knowing their grand plans. I mean come on, the title of your article or rant is not true today, so why choose it? Oh yea, click bait.

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