Company / division: Apple TV
Amazon Begins Selling Apple TV Hardware Again (Sep 26, 2017)
Amazon has quietly begun selling Apple TV hardware again, as part of the thawing in relations between the two companies. Apple has already announced that an Amazon video app is coming to the Apple TV shortly, so this is the first half of that two-part move, suggesting that the other shoe should drop soon. As I said a few months back, though some have suggested there was some tit-for-tat in Apple and Amazon’s frosty relations, the reality is that the barriers to playing nicely were all on Amazon’s side – the company could have built an app for the Apple TV as soon as the platform launched an App Store, but chose not to. I assume that was because of the App Store cut, but that’s been a feature on iOS too, and hasn’t stopped Amazon from launching video apps for that platform. Regardless, it’s likely that Apple has made some concessions on the App Store cut, and that that’s finally got Amazon on board as one of the last holdouts from the Apple TV, which should further increase the appeal of that hardware platform for those willing to pay the Apple premium to get their Transparent or Man in the High Castle fix.
For the third day straight, reviews of one of the new products Apple announced last week are out, this time the Apple TV 4K. This is a far less significant launch than either the iPhone 8 or Apple Watch Series 3 given the relatively small numbers in which the box sells, but it’s still worth noting the tenor of the reviews. Once again I’m linking to Techmeme, which decided to lead with Nilay Patel’s Verge review, which based on my reading seems the most critical of the reviews out there. In general, all the reviewers seemed to like Apple’s familiar but somewhat revamped interface and the snappiness enabled by the new A10X chip (the same one which powers the iPad Pro). Where 4K HDR content was available, it was said to look fantastic, and the iTunes pricing for available 4K movies was also noted as a big plus. The biggest downside is predictable: the lack of content, something that also makes 4K TVs a marginal proposition today while the industry suffers from the same chicken/egg problem that plagued HD in its early years, but worse because of the lack of broadcast 4K content. Disney’s absence from iTunes 4K, the incompatibility between the Apple TV and YouTube’s 4K standards, and so on are the notable gaps. But Nilay Patel’s review is the only one I saw that grumbled in depth about other issues – perhaps because he’s a more discerning judge of these things as a high-end AV guy: he noted that the Apple TV doesn’t support Dolby’s Atmos sound configuration to go with the Dolby HDR picture support it does offer, and also pointed out that watching HDR content on the Apple TV 4K is a sub-par experience for now. Overall, it’s a decent set of reviews but for anyone who either doesn’t have a 4K TV or watch content sources with a lot of 4K content, it’s basically irrelevant for now.
On this topic, you might be interested in the piece I wrote for Techpinions subscribers earlier this week on the current market for smart TV boxes like the Apple TV 4K.
★ Apple Announces Upgraded Watch and TV Devices (Sep 12, 2017)
Amazon Video App May Finally Come to Apple TV in Q3 (May 5, 2017)
There’s not much in this report to suggest that Apple is actually interested in buying a studio, and indeed Imagine strongly refuted reports to that effect recently after those reports surfaced. Reports that Apple wants to acquire TV shows, on the other hand, are a lot more plausible – it’s already bought or commissioned a couple for Apple Music, and I could see it doing more of this, especially if it’s finally getting serious about building its own subscription TV service. The comments in here about the confusion over who’s leading the negotiations are a bit more worrying – if they’re true. Eddy Cue obviously does oversee the overall effort here as head of Apple’s content business, but he might well delegate some of the actual negotiations to other team members, and Jimmy Iovine in particular is known to have good relationships in the content industry. Recent reports about the change of leadership over Apple TV hardware suggested that Pete Distad was going to be taking the lead on these negotiations, and his name isn’t even mentioned, so there do seem to be a lot of people involved here. Hopefully Apple is clearer on this than some of those it’s approached seem to be.
via Business Insider
I think the shorter version of this story is that Apple hasn’t been able to revolutionize TV because the traditional TV industry isn’t willing to let it, at least not yet. More than in any other industry, the traditional players still hold pretty much all the cards when it comes to future services from a licensing and content perspective, and until that starts to break down, no outside player is going to make a meaningful difference. That means we’ll continue to have a mosaic of partial replacements for pay TV, mimicking some of the features and content but not others, and leaving users to pull it all together in custom bundles. Apple is part of that aggregation layer today, but doesn’t really play anywhere else – the Apple TV box and the TV app are partial solutions for the fragmentation problem, but are incomplete – you still can’t watch a full slate of traditional pay TV on your Apple TV, and the TV app excludes Netflix among other content providers. Both the box and the app are still useful, but they’re not revolutionary, and the intransigence of the old guard is the single biggest reason. In music, Apple was able to get the labels on board because they were panicking about Napster and file sharing, but the TV industry isn’t yet at that crisis point. In the next couple of years they’ll get there, but in the meantime Apple either has to continue to tinker around the edges or do something that looks less like a pay TV replacement and more like something different, a la Netflix.
Two things worth noting here: firstly, this is one of a relatively small number of senior hires at Apple in recent months amid what has seemed like a larger number of departures from the upper echelons there (including one earlier today). In and of itself, the numbers don’t mean much – Apple is a massive company and many of those poaching its employees are smaller (notably Tesla) such that the balance will always be lopsided in favor of the smaller companies, where promotion opportunities will also be greater. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this hire itself is into a hardware product role, but it frees up the guy who had been running the Apple TV product to focus on content negotiations, which is arguably where Apple really needs to be putting its investment right now. I continue to maintain that this is the year when Apple finally launches its own subscription video service – the pieces are in place with the Apple TV and the TV app it launched last fall, and the market is getting to a tipping point where an over-the-top pay TV alternative is both more feasible and more needed than ever. This move will hopefully help move Apple along in its pursuit of that goal.