I’m well aware that Apple TV 4 costs up to a hundred dollars more than other streaming boxes. For me, it’s worth the premium for one reason; the Apple TV App Store.
Apps mean potential. Apps are the key to unlocking a developer community we’ve already watched transform the cell phone. I’m betting Apps will begin to transform TV too, and I welcome that transformation.
On Saturday evening, my wife is at work and I’m watching the news. On the couch. On a TV screen. This feels very different from my usual news source; the internet. This feels less personal, tailored and compulsive. I mean that in a good way.
I haven’t been able to watch TV news since we ditched cable ten years ago. I’ve never looked back, but I have to admit it’s nice to recline on the couch while a screen I can read across the room brings me up to speed.
The new Apple TV has more than one option for streaming news. One of these, called Newsy, offers a live (!) news stream. Another, Reuters, asks me how much time I have, then feeds me the news in that amount of time. Professional journalism, without commercials, in ten minutes.
I bet $200 on those Apps. I bet we ‘ain’t seen nothin’ yet’.
Most obviously, Apps provide access to more content. My previous Apple TV allowed me to access preset ‘channels’. Netflix was there. iTunes Movies, TV and Music. Shomi, Crave, and Crackle were there, too. But when YouTube disappeared without a word last year I realized just how little control I had over what that box served up. Now I can choose content from a wider range of sources, like Reuters for news. I can watch YouTube videos again. I can watch cooking shows and home renovation shows and fitness videos, all through various Apps. The variety is nice.
If I choose, I ca n even revisit the weird underbelly of TV’s late-night infomercials and evangelistic crusades. If I fall asleep watching I might awake to a screensaver, not unlike those wee-hours holding patterns between network programming days.
Even nicer than more content is the ability to ditch more cords. Most notably, the big bulky gray and white cords attached to the comparative behemoth that is the Nintendo Wii.
The new Apple TV does games, too,
With the same little remote, we can snowboard down a breathtaking alpine hill in Alto’s Adventure, or drift through crazy scenarios in the gorgeous racer Asphalt 8. As someone who hasn’t bought a new video game system in a very long time, I am impressed. Even more impressive is the ingenious idea to transform iDevices into extra controllers. From the get go, my family is set up for four player trivia in Song Pop or group dancing in Just Dance.
But games and content are not what I’m betting on. At least, not the games and content that exist today.
When iPhone came out, it had no app store. Developers were actually told to build little websites users could browse to if they wanted to provide ‘app-like functionality’. That sucked. Then the App Store came out, cell phones got smart and that one-trick pony in your po cket became indispensable to millions. It didn’t take long.
The Apple TV App Store apparently has thousands of Apps already available, after a mere 2 months in existence. I’m putting my $200 Canadian on an Apple TV that will do things in 2016 that I couldn’t dream of in 2015. Because that’s what happened with iPhone.
No one expected a phone to give an augmented window to the night sky, pay for their coffee or take brilliant photos. No one guessed this device would be used to write and record music, scan barcodes for nutritional information, take measurements of a room, hail an Uber or replace an airplane boarding pass. All of these things exist because a developer dreamed them up.
Now developers can dream up apps for our living room.
Sure, this exists on other platforms. Roku, Amazon FireTV, and SmartTV from Samsung are examples, but Apple has a built in developer and app community those platforms only dream of. There are many apps to come, and people will actually download them and know how to use their Apple TV to do more than stream Netflix. Apple TV is not built for geeks.
None of this is life changing. None of this will save your soul or wash your dishes. We are talking about TV after all. But used well, the new Apple TV can transform the way you interact with technology and even the way families interact with each other. Those changes matter.
Apps on Apple TV are totally different from Apps on a touch device. While phones and tablets are inherently personal, TV is inherently communal.
Phones are tablets are perfect for one user. A little awkward when shared. The sound is not great, so headphones are often used. Headphones isolate not only sound but the user. My son is at the age (12) where music can mean everything and walks around the house with massive headphones whenever we let him. He is in his own world, made obvious by two giant earmuffs.
Gaming on a phone or tablet is a personal affair, too. You don’t need to admit you are addicted to SimCity because it is easy to hide your phone screen. Even multiplayer games are often played with people you don’t see or even know. A community of strangers who remain estranged i s not a community.
There is a sense of control built into an iDevice. The direct manipulation of the screen makes for an intensely personal, tactile experience, but not an experience enhanced by other people.
TV began as a little glowing box families gathered around. At it’s best, it is the glowing fire where stories are shared. TV has become more individualized now, to the extent that people have their own TVs in their own rooms. Still, when the TV is centrally located, it carries a sense of central ownership and use.
Our kids cherish family movie night. My wife and I curl up on the couch to share our favourite shows. I invite friends over to watch a documentary only we would enjoy. TV is an experience that is easy to share. It is louder and larger which also makes it more imposing. Harder to ignore. Harder to keep to yourself.
So what happens when you bring apps into that communal space?
So far, we’ve gotten group Daily Burn workouts, ‘Just Dance’ dance parties and wild yelling matches (the good kind of yelling) while playing SpaceTeam. Funny YouTube videos are better shared on the big screen and GifTV provides an endless stream of mindless, senseless fun.
It has become easier to play all of our music, now that Apple Music streaming is built in. I rarely listen to music in private, on headphones. Apple TV’s music offers a great soundtrack to folding laundry, cleaning the house of playing board games together.
Because Siri is included on the new Apple TV, I don’t have to pull out another internet device to find out the weather tomorrow, the time right now or what the name of that actor is. Siri on Apple TV removes distractions and intrusions from what I may be doing with other people.
All of these are small things, but they add up to an experience that is better for our family.
All of these small things exist on Apple TV with the apps available today. New apps will be available next month, and many more in the years to come. New experiences to be shared with others, around the glowing fire of a big screen.
I know the new box has issues. Apps are hard to find and the search is tedious in those places Siri doesn’t work. Which is, so far, most places. ‘Typing’ on the remote is no fun, though not as devastating as other reviewers have noted.
What most reviews are not pointing out is how well this box runs. Downloads of apps are incredibly fast. Gameplay is silky smooth. The box remains tiny and unobtrusive. Even though most (if not all) of the services accessed through Apple TV are already available online, they feel entirely fresh here. As Marshall McLuhan put it, ‘the medium is the message’. I think the message is that it’s time we returned to the living room.
My $200 bet has already paid off. I’ll begin posting some in-depth reviews of the Apple TV apps I’m using later this week. I’d love to hear your thoughts and answer your questions here too.
By the way, I have a Wii for sale if you are interested.