Blog Post

Apple TV’s missed opportunity

AppleTVI hate writing posts like this, the kind of story that talks about how underwhelming or disappointing a new product is. It makes me think of this one Louis CK bit, about how everything is amazing and nobody’s happy. But really, I just can’t help it.

I had high hopes for the new Apple TV. Really high hopes. So high that chances are Apple (s AAPL) wouldn’t have been able to meet those expectations, no matter what. Because, you know, somehow I feel like Apple owes me something. Like it’s just there to make magical products for me and all the other consumers in the world.

But this Apple TV thing . . . it’s disappointing. It’s disappointing because it’s the most incremental of all incremental updates for a product that hasn’t been moving forward nearly as quickly as it should be. It’s disappointing because I have this amazing vision in my head of what the Apple TV could be, what it should be, and Apple is not doing any of the things I hoped it would.

Last week I laid out a road map for where I thought Apple TV was going. Or at least, where I thought it should go, based on the available hardware and software that Apple has at its disposal.

Basically, I hoped Apple would:

  • Open up the Apple TV SDK and let developers have at it
  • Create more-advanced integration between the TV and the mobile devices
  • Enable navigation control and interactivity on the second screen

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? In part because Apple already owns the ecosystem and in part because competitors like Samsung are already doing this.

On Wednesday on Twitter I took things a step further, breathlessly predicting the Apple TV could upstage the new iPad. I even provided some predictions for which content partners might begin building for the new platform and what sort of capabilities might be enabled by doing so. It’s not just wounded pride or a sense of being completely and utterly wrong that makes me disappointed. It’s that the industry is moving forward, and in this respect, Apple is seriously lagging behind some of the competition.

Take a look at the latest update to Xbox Live or some of Samsung’s dual-screen apps. Even Google TV, for as little traction as it has gotten so far, has created an open app ecosystem that has some interesting interactive features built in. Now compare that to what developers can do on the Apple TV: bubkes.

It could be the improvements Apple made under the hood could eventually get the platform to where it needs to be to offer up the types of experiences I’m hoping for. And it could be the Apple TV’s potential will be fully unlocked once Apple releases iOS 6 during an event in the fall, with the eventual introduction of the next iPhone.

But for now I can’t shake the feeling that this $99 box has so much potential that is still completely untapped.

25 Responses to “Apple TV’s missed opportunity”

  1. The apple TV 2 & 3 are fine, the only disappointment is all the made up hue this site and others tried to sell before the release.

    Plain and simple, you only have yourselves to blame for your own disappointment.

  2. Workity Work

    Maybe their waiting to work out a big deal with content providers, while adding more features for a “big” exciting revamp of Apple TV?

  3. Thomas

    I’d be curious to see if there’s any relationship between the slow evolution of Apple TV, and whether Apple is actually making the venues they expected from their own content served via their Store. The reason I’m curious is due to my own disappointment with the lack of content. Of the two main sources of movies on ATV, I’ve noticed a sharp decline in my use of Netflix, because I can’t find anything new from the studios there. Then there’s the Movies section from Apple… I’ve actually lost count of the number of times that I noticed a new theatrical release showing up on Apple, adding them immediately to my Wish List for purchase and viewing later, only to find the movies no longer available just a few weeks later when I decide to watch them. I’m guessing this has something to do with their licensing? But the point is, for every 1 movie I do pay to watch, I’m guessing there have been 4 or 5 others that I coud not – which basically means both Apple and the studios are only getting about 1/5th of the revenue from me that I was perfectly willing to pay them. What other options do I have? I’m not going to buy the DVD, and I can’t get content from the studios themselves – and even if I could, the future prospect of having to manage multiple devices, accounts, apps, pricing models, and different DRM restrictions for each and every studio is simply ridiculous… I’m OK having Apple act as a middleman, but that requires Apple open Apple TV to other plugable, user selected services – and that the studios just accept the future, using all companies and devices possible as their means of distribution. Even if it means slightly less per unit percentages for them, the overall far greater number of potential buys and renters is significantly greater. Anyway, curiosity and rant now over.

    • Thomas

      Wow. Literally as I was typing this, my Apple TV just loaded a big update. The menu has been replaced with multiple rows of big buttons. Guess what? Apple’s own content occupies the top row of buttons, and all others are mostly below the fold. Also, once you click into one of the Movies offered via Apple, there’s a brand new “Buy” button sitting next to what used to be a lonely “Rent” button. I like the new button, but also note, most of the titles I’ve clicked so far are priced to buy at exactly what I would pay for the physical DVD. I thought this new media channel would see cheaper content prices, given all the costs associated with physical goods, including manufacturing, packaging and shipping. Oh, but those DVDs do also typically have multiple language support and extras these virtual versions do not. Great. They want me to pay more for less. I think I need to figure it how the whole Torrent thing works now.

  4. They really are missing the window of opportunity on this one. I see it as a device not unlike the Mac Mini. A way to get users into the iOS system.
    I don’t have an iPhone (I want one, can’t afford it, wish Apple would just have a pay as you go version). I don’t have an iPad (simply can’t afford it). But I do have an Apple TV.
    There are many apps and games out there for iPhones and iPads that could run on an Apple TV. Apps I would have been buying. Apps that would lead me into an iPhone quicker.
    But, no. The Apple TV is a nothing machine. I use it once in a blue moon to transmit songs from iTunes to my better speakers. But I mostly watch DVD rentals (cheap, fast, and enough from Netflix) or Amazon Prime (rarely, as the selection is so old, boring, or bad – that is another troubled service).
    I use my old Roku XR much more and get much more satisfaction out of it.

  5. Ryan Gentner

    Keep in mind that Apple declared the Apple TV as a “hobby” — so I wouldn’t expect them to dive whole heartedly into putting a lot of innovation into this product.

  6. John Chisum

    Someone has to clue me in as to why a integrated AppleTV would be better than having the box? With the ATV in the current box form, I can then purchase the size and function of the television I want. The ATV could be any form given the way that storage is getting smaller physically but larger in capacity. One HDMI cable connects the whole thing. Give me the option to add an additional storage unit and I am happy.

    • Having seen the new Apple TV interface, it seems like yesterday would have been the perfect opportunity to update the remote app to basically AirPlay the Apple Tv menu to the iPad to give you touch control of your TV in your lap. With the iPad now matching your TV’s1080p, they could say they are bringing the Tv to your lap. But they didn’t.

      I still see the key to the living room being a $99 accessory rather than another $3,000 TV

  7. Oliver Dueck

    I’m guessing that a lot of the functionality you’re looking for is being saved for the so-called iTV.

    I’m a bit disappointed too. I was all set to order a new Apple TV but if the only thing I’m gaining is 1080p capability then I won’t bother, at least not for now.

  8. googletv def is a step up over appletv imo. we can atleast sideload apps that aren’t googletv compatible. now if they work or not, thats hit or miss.

    i personally think appletv needs to add back in a real storage medium, ie a 1TB hard drive and allow us to store media directly on it and then use the itunes remote app to control it from an iphone, ipad or android device. i have a headless pc setup to do this w/itunes but really would love to shrink down the setup. lastly, isn’t an integrated Apple iHDTV coming soon? :)

  9. Matt Eagar

    I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I don’t think this is a missed opportunity. I think Apple is definitely in for this, it just isn’t ready for launch yet.

    As you watch (listen to?) the Apple rumor mill churn, it becomes clear that a lot of the rumors are premature. Apple usually doing the things that suppliers and unnamed insiders point out, but it can take awhile for things to get to market. Sometimes they change along the way, too (a big company like Apple will try a lot of options and abandon many as a matter of course). For example, we haven’t yet seen an AMOLED screen on an iPhone. Is Apple working on one? I think they must be (it’s the future). But there are reasons why they haven’t launched yet (cost, performance, reliability, etc).

    The same is true for Apple TV. What could be holding up the show? I think it’s almost a given that they have to have great content to make it a revolutionary product, and I think it’s also a given that the people who own and distribute the content are hard to deal with and probably scared to death of Apple being a part of their business (more than it is already with iTunes downloads).

    Apple TV is coming. It’s disappointing that it’s not here yet, but I wouldn’t call it a missed opportunity. No one has cracked this thing yet. There were Wintel tablets years before the iPad, but that didn’t matter. Remember when people joking that the iPad would be called the iSlate, as in “isLate”? Turns out, they were right on time.

    • akaTSL

      Matt–I’d wager that the reason we haven’t seen AMOLED on any Apple product is mainly a question of supply+price (via Samsung). Samsung hasn’t put that product into all of its devices (only the high-end models) because they don’t have the capacity to ramp up which of course lowers price. The next couple of years sees more factories coming online to increase AMOLED output, at which point I think we’ll finally see that iPhone w/ AMOLED. My $.02 of course.

  10. Aaron Berlin

    I think control scheme continues to be the big problem. It’s one reason, in my opinion, Apple has simply side-stepped the issue of how to more intuitively control complex interfaces on the tv screen – you don’t. You just do it on your iPad/iPhone and run it through Airplay. But I agree, that $100 box just seems to powerful, so tantalizing and yet so criminally underused.