Apple TV is Apple’s only officially stated hobby, an strange but interesting product with plenty of promise that has yet to deliver the goods. Television the way it was meant to be. Even Apple co-founder and then CEO Steve Jobs called Apple TV a hobby. A hobby? Despite the technology advancements in television screens, despite dozens of streaming services that provide HD content, despite advances made by cable TV companies and satellite TV, television remains, to quote Jobs, ‘a bag of hurt.”
Allow me a moment to reflect on Jobs’ view of television, what he saw as problems with Apple TV way back when (which are not addressed in Apple TV v.4), and a look at the technology side of the industry.
Jobs criticized the entire streaming industry, then somewhat of an infant, and something of a mess with multiple boxes, each with a remote, each with a different and unique user interface, and each with a different monthly price tag that delivered a different package of television content.
The only way that’s ever going to change is if you can really go back to square one, tear up the set top box, redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI across all these different functions, and get it to consumers in a way that they’re willing to pay for it. And right now there’s no way to do that.
Therein lies the massive problem the industry faces, and why Apple TV v.4, the latest, remains mostly a failure. Sure, you can use it to stream pay-for-TV shows and movies. Yes, there are apps that stream content from various networks. And there are entire packages of content, like Sling TV, Hulu, DirecTV Now that can stream from Apple TV, but the user experience is horrid even when compared to the standard cable TV experience.
The TV is going to lose until there’s a better–until there’s a viable–go to market strategy. Otherwise you’re just making another Tivo. It’s not a problem with technology, not a problem with vision, it’s a fundamental go to market problem.
The latest big name to hit the streaming television content segment of the industry is AT&T’s DirecTV Now which gives you dozens of TV network channels available on demand. But based upon selection and interface, the entire package smacks of cable TV from 20 or 30 years ago. Not much has changed except the need for an extra cost internet connection, and a slower, more clumsy interface.
Apple TV tries, and succeeds to a certain extent, to unify the content problem, but the interface is more difficult and painful to use; more so even than just browsing with a remote to the couple of dozen TV network channels you can remember.
Why hasn’t Apple partnered with a major player as it did with the original iPhone in 2007? Too many players.
Well then you run into another problem. Which is: there isn’t a cable operator that’s national. There’s a bunch of cable operators. And then it not like there’s a GSM standard where you build a phone for the US and it also works in all these other countries. No, every single country has different standards, different government approvals, it’s very… Tower of Bableish. No, balkanized.
Apple TV has some appeal for those who really, truly, madly, deeply hate their local cable TV operator and will do anything to cut the cord. Others may choose a combo of both, but the age old problem of video source remains, and Apple TV’s browsing experience– even with Siri– is just clumsy at best. Even if Apple provided a streaming TV and movie service for a monthly subscription fee through iTunes, how does that move the bar forward? All an Apple TV streaming service does is bring cable TV to an internet connection.
What we ant in television is obvious, but not one technology or media company is cable of bringing it to market. On demand television– every TV show, every movie, every network, fully a la carte– delivered to every device at any time. Until that happens, everything else is a fail.