There was no mention of Apple’s rumored move into content production or a Netflix-killer streaming service at its big announcement event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco today. Instead, online video industry watchers got the expected — but not so eagerly anticipated — unveiling of the fourth generation Apple TV.
“Apple TV has always been a hobby for Apple before, and now it’s a headline,” said Peter Csathy, CEO of business accelerator and development firm Manatt Digital Media. “And I continue to believe that it’s inevitable that Apple will launch its own streaming video service, just like it did when it bought Beatz and launched Apple Music.”
“All those guys from TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal have been saying, ‘It’s coming this month’ and ‘No, it’s coming next month,’” Rayburn said. “We’ve been hearing about it for 2 years. Enough already.”
At first blush, the Apple TV portion of the presentation brought to mind Samsung’s long-running ad campaign for its Galaxy phones mocking Apple Kool-Aid drinkers who marvel over new iPhone features already offered by other manufacturers devices.
A remote control with universal voice search function across multiple apps? Amazon Fire TV, Roku 3 and Google’s Nexus Player already offer that. Gaming apps? Same story.
But even if that’s all Apple had to offer, it might’ve been enough to capture the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of consumers.
“What Apple has shown over the years is that it doesn’t have to do something unique to do something compelling. It just has to execute really well, and tie it in with the Apple ecosystem.” said David Mendels, CEO of Brightcove, a leading online video hosting platform. “If they pull this off with as good an overall experience as Apple is known for, then the risk to Amazon is three years from now is that no one will remember they were first and the feature will be associatex with Apple.”
(It’s worthy to note that Amazon lists the Fire TV set-top box as “currently unavailable” with a note that says “We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock”– although its $39 Fire TV Stick is still available — which suggests it might be planning its own product update in the wake of Apple’s announcement.)
But the new Apple TV does feature a powerful 64-bit Apple A8 processor that likely outpaces its competitors, as well as some new features heretofore unseen on set-top boxes.
Its new bluetooth-connected remote has a touch surface for navigation like the ones found on most laptops, allowing users to move across the UI or scan a program with the swipe of a finger. More significantly, it also has a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, giving it Wii-like motion control for Apple TV’s games. (Strangely, the wireless controllers were connected to wires for the gaming portion of Apple’s demonstration, possibly to avoid bluetooth’s notorious time lag issues.) The games — which will include versions of Guitar Hero and CrossyRoad — will feature multiplayer capabilities via iPhones and iPad tablets.
The Siri voice command appears to be more powerful than its competitors’, giving users the ability to search via commands like “Show me funny TV shows” or “I want to watch an action movie” and open apps with voice commands (e.g. “Open music”).
“We knew Siri and voice command was going to be a headline feature with Apple TV,” Csathy said, “but if it works as advertised, it’s very powerful and certainly evolutionary in terms of the TV user experience.”
The new Apple TV will also boast ecommerce apps and high def video screen savers that shift from day to night according to local time changes. More impressive is MLB.com’s new At Bat app, which will feature 60 frames per second video, pull-up schedules and stats, push notifications, and the ability to swipe back and forth to between games or watch two games at once on the same screen.
But according to Mendels the most significant new wrinkle could be Apple TV’s new tvOS operating system, which is open to outside app developers.
“The way Apple TV has worked to date, it’s been what I call a closed garden,” Mendels said. “They have allowed a very small number [of apps], plus or minus 25, to have presence on the device. If you look at Roku, it has over 1000. So there’s going to be a huge rush of publishers — some very big companies, some start-ups and niche publishers — that are going to want to get on that device. I think it will create a much more exciting device for consumers, and a big opportunity for publishers.”
Due for release at the end of October, new Apple TV will be priced a $149 (16 gigs of storage) and $199 (32 gigs). According to Rayburn, that’s a bit too much.
“At $200 a box, that’s now what an Xbox 360 costs,” Rayburn said. “Even if you go with the $149 model, that’s three times the cost of (the cheapest $49) Roku. You really have to like the Apple ecosystem. You really have to want to play games, otherwise why wouldn’t I just buy the cheaper $69 Apple TV?”