In the process of looking at the tvOS 11 upgrade, the larger picture became clear. The technologies that are being developed and deployed are intrinsic to the Apple family of products, not the AV industry as a whole.
By that I mean there are two markets at play. One is traditional home theater, with its attendant corporate players and technologies and the other is the Apple ecosphere.
Part of Apple wants to become more involved in this gigantic marketplace. That industry is now well on its way to putting all the pieces into place for the 4K/UHD revolution. And part of Apple sees opportunities to leverage (and settle for) its own ecosystem, which it can control.
Consumer Decision Time
When home theater enthusiasts think about what kind of system they want to upgrade to, they’re being made aware of some very specific Apple thinking. tvOS 11 introduces light (day) and dark (night) modes. AirPlay 2 (to work with HomePod) and home screen syncing options to keep all the Apple TVs in a hosehold synced. These are features that are under Apple’s control, and are especially helpful for the brand loyalist.
And it’s true that many AV equipment makers have announced support for AirPlay 2. But the customer is in a position of having to figure out, right now, if AirPlay 2 is a critical feature worth waiting for in other equipment. Often, things like that are not because its takes some skill (and money and time) to integrate everything.
As a result, there are many consumers who might feel that the integration of all these features into equipment they may or may not have is an exercise in frustration. That’s because all they really want to do is watch cool movies on as big a 4K screen as they can afford. Even quality sound in a 5.1 or 7.1 Surround Sound system is an expensive and confusing proposition. Sound bars are an acceptable simplification nowadays.
That mentality extends to set top boxes. Apple hasn’t figured out how to make an integrated system in which the Apple TV is the one and only input. Subscription plans failed to materialize. Apple has had no interest in making displays. As a result, customers have to make a decision between ever-new Apple features and a simple, inexpensive box to deliver Netflix. And that’s assuming they don’t just settle for the Netflix app already included in the smart 4KTV.
I’m not saying that Apple isn’t innovative. The company does a good job of developing new technologies that make our lives better within its entertainment ecosystem.
Perhaps Apple will, someday, desire to become a major player in home theater hardware in a manner that appeals to a broad section of that marketplace. Not yet.
For example, no one doubts that, for a black, technically opaque brick, tvOS is the best possible OS to expose to the internet. Hands down. Apple should tout that.
The Apple TV 4K includes a hardware scaler. That scaler adds a some cost and yet is probably no better than the best 4KTV scalers. But its presence makes for a smoother customer experience. A scaled 4K picture is always delivered to the 4KTV no matter what the source resolution is.
These little things matter to Apple customers, and yet they seem lost on the buying public as a whole. The result is that the Apple TV will likely remain in its low market share niche. And many of us, including Apple executives it seems, remain just fine with that.