Color me hopeful but it looks more and more as though Apple won’t do anything more with Apple TV. Why not? Everyone else in the business is eating Apple’s TV lunch and, with one saving grace, the company is way behind the competition.
What’s going on? Apple TV, despite thousands of apps and channels, is boring and behind the times. What is missing on Apple TV is exactly what Apple should own. An easy to navigate interface. Meanwhile, competitors are coming out of the bushes with streaming live television services that help cut the cable TV cord, but more like cable TV in 1989 but with HD video.
Apple sits where it sits because the content industry– local TV stations, television networks, cable TV networks– is, well, complicated. Apple’s big move since Apple TV was introduced years ago has been to not make much of a move. The latest incarnation is overly expensive compared to rivals, and while content abounds, Apple seems to have taken a simple remote interface and made it complicated– like the cable TV remote control– but on the TV screen instead.
First, the remote itself is a navigation nightmare. The device is slippery, prone to button pushing mistakes, and the trackpad surface isn’t even easy to use. That’s a perfect example of form over function except even the form isn’t all that great. Apple just hates a me-too experience so decided to build Apple TV’s remote in left field.
Second, navigating the screen is familiar but more complicated than ever. Add games and app channels and a few apps, and the screen is more cluttered than any cable TV guide. Worse, once you’re into an app channel, navigating becomes even more cumbersome, and switching from one app to another is fraught with accidental button-push syndrome. And too many clicks of a clumsy device. Is it any wonder Apple TV isn’t selling as well as competitors.
In Apple’s leadership absence, competitors abound. Amazon’s Prime is a big hit. Google arrived with YouTube TV which features live network streaming and what everyone wants– a built in DVR (digital video recorder). Unlimited, no less. Competitors also offer a few dozen channels, some DVR options, and streaming to most mobile devices (as well as Mac and PC), but they have a few things in common, including mostly the same network channels, and a dearth of local television stations.
What we have among Apple’s cable TV cutter competitors is more similarity, including a high definition throwback to the cable TV industry in 1989. That brought viewers a few dozen channels at prices ranging from $25 to $75. Today’s streaming TV is similar, but lacks most of the local TV stations though it adds much higher definition– all for about the same price.
Finally, to remain competitive here, Apple will need to do something different; besides being the most expensive platform. Yet, solving this content problem is, as noted earlier, complicated. Apple could match Google and competitors with a so-called skinny bundle of streaming TV stations and a network-based DVR. And Apple could go the route of Amazon and Netflix and start building in exclusive content. One feature that would get me to consider using an Apple streaming television service is the inclusion of Apple Music, even as a tiered extra, but at a discount.
Otherwise, the writing is on the wall. Apple is late to another shift in an industry where it once dominated by selling music, TV shows, and movies. Netflix killed that. Google, Sony, Sling, Hulu and others are helping with the kill.
For Apple, television has become a kill or be killed operation. And Apple isn’t killing it.