My thoughts on the new Apple TV

I finally got a chance to watch the recent Apple keynote where they announced the new iPhones, iPad Pro, a few Apple Watch updates, and more exciting for me, the new Apple TV.

The new iPhone has a few pretty cool features like live photos and 3D Touch. And the iPad Pro looks great, but I have to see and touch it before I can make my mind about it. The watch, well, I’m still not sure where it could fit in my life and I haven’t bought one, so can’t really comment on it yet.

The new Apple TV, on the other hand, looks great and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Way back in 2012 I wrote a short article speculating on what I wanted the next Apple TV to be when there was a lot of talk about Apple building an actual TV set. I wrote:

As cool as an Apple television set could be, I have no need or desire to purchase a new one. I believe the potential is in the experience of watching television, not in the hardware itself.

And then went on to speculate about Apps.

It looks like my wish is coming true with the new Apple TV and it's even better than I thought at the time. The addition of games, the new remote, and Siri have the potential to make watching, and interacting with, TV an extraordinary experience.

The one thing I’m not clear on that I brought up in the article is if independent content producers can create an app to sell their content directly to consumers. For example, shows like TikiBar that were distributed as a video podcast, could now have their own app in Apple TV and sell a subscription (or per show) directly to consumers. They could also add interactive content, links/promos to complementary iOS apps, books, merchandise, even spinoff games.

It seems to me this could be a great way to monetise content by reaching consumers directly and skipping the middle-men. And who knows, if Apple TV grows enough maybe bigger productions could be funded directly by us.

I wonder how many paid subscribers it would take at $20 to $30 a season for a show like Firefly) to be self funded? How awesome would that be?

The new Apple TV interface design is app ready

Apple TV interface design ready for apps Shortly before Apple announced the new Apple TV, I wrote a short article in which I described what I would like the next Apple TV to be. My main point wasn't about new hardware, but about new functionality and a new interface that allowed for apps as channels.

For example, an app for each free-to-air channel is obvious, but what about an app for HBO or Showtime? It could open up to a new interface where customers could choose the shows they wanted to watch, it could include special content like behind the scenes and interviews.

How about an app for a show? If I buy the season of The Walking Dead, it could show up as an app on my Apple TV and inside have all the episodes, interviews, webisodes, info about the comic books, etc. It would be like having all the content a DVD has, but in an app accessible through Apple TV. It would also be great for independent content producers by selling direct to customers. Similar to what the Mac App Store does for software.

This obviously didn't happen with the latest version of the Apple TV.

We did get 1080p and a new interface design though. And it's this new Apple TV interface design that I find interesting. It seems to be heading in the direction I was thinking of. The main screen now has icons for things like Netflix, MLB.tv, NHL, Vimeo, and others as well as Movies, TV Shows, Music (which gives you your iTunes Match Library), and Computers (which lets you see the iTunes Libraries of other Macs in your network).

While I'm not convinced the UI is perfect yet, it does feel like a step in the right direction. The new Apple TV interface is ready for apps.

The next Apple TV and what I want it to be

There's been a lot of talk recently about what Apple might do in the television industry.

Can they disrupt it as they did to music with the iPod, mobile phones with the iPhone, and personal coputers with the iPad? Will they launch an actual television set (some call it iTV) or will it be a new Apple TV device that connects to your current TV?

Rumours have heated up again in anticipation of the event later this week. Everyone expects Apple to reveal a new iPad, but as far as Apple TV goes, nobody really knows. Although we all like to speculate.

I do think the television industry is ripe for disruption and Apple is arguably the company best positioned to do it.

Here's what I, personally, would like Apple to do:

  • A new Apple TV: As cool as an Apple television set could be, I have no need or desire to purchase a new one. I believe the potential is in the experience of watching television, not in the hardware itself.

  • Apps as channels: A new Apple TV with an iOS-like interface would be awesome. Each "app" could be an entry point to specific content. For example:

    1. Free to Air: FTA channels could be their own app. Tap on the CBS app and watch CBS as you do now, free and ad supported.
    2. Syndicated shows: For those of us that would be happy to pay for shows to avoid ads, this could be the solution. You could buy the new season of Boardwalk Empire and have it appear as an app, with all episodes there. If you buy it at the start of the season, a badge could notify you when a new episode is available. All add free and payment directly to the producers.
    3. Independent shows: Similar to video podcasts. This would've been a great way to distribute TikiBar and similar shows. It opens up the doors for small independent producers to reach large audiences.
    4. Short Films: I can imagine an app for The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.
    5. Themed Content: A series of educational videos or kids shows under a common theme.

    Because these are apps, they don't have to be just a video. They can be interactive and feature additional content. For example, the app for a show could feature interviews, behind the scenes videos, promotions for accompanying iPad and iPhone apps, links to books in the iBookstore, merchandise, trailers, etc.

  • Open to everyone: Like podcasts in iTunes and apps in the App Stores, everyone can publish their content. We, as customers, will get the best of both worlds. Content from the big guys alongside content from indie producers.

As with the App Store model, Apple takes care of the infrastructure and provides access to millions of potential customers in exchange for their 30% cut.

The possibilities are endless.

I'm sure the bright minds at Apple will come up with something infinitely better than what I'm imagining here for their Apple TV strategy. What is almost certain is that the TV industry is about to go through a phase of rapid change where some will win and some will loose. In the end, I believe customers will win.