Apple got behind the curve while the 4K/UHD revolution was taking place. It’s playing catchup, and so what’s up next for Apple and 4K?
Igniting the 4K/UHD Market
By all accounts, the Apple TV is currently in 4th place amongst streaming boxes. Roku leads, followed by Chromecast, Amazon fireTV and, finally, the Apple TV. Those customers who have wanted to jump on the 4K/UHD bandwagon have had good options from Roku and Amazon for a long time. Apple lost considerable opportunity by not shipping a plain-jane 4K Apple TV in 2015 and then upgrading it to HDR later.
In addition, those customers who may have been waiting for a 4K/UHD Apple TV before buying a new 4K/UHD TV set are not great in number. Apple can’t expect to throw its weight around in this market.
Perhaps Apple’s ace in the hole is security. It’s far better to have tvOS accessing the internet and various 4K streaming services than, say, a smart TV with its own dubious OS and apps. The TV makers don’t have Apple’s expertise when it come to system security. For those who want to take advantage of tvOS, connect it to their 4K/UHD TV via HDMI, and disable the smart TV’s internet access on Wi-Fi, Apple’s offering is compelling.
But this new product will still be a small part of the customer base, and Apple must rebuild its momentum.
Pricing and Design
I was hoping that Apple would, in recognition of the Apple TV’s falling market share, think about a new industrial design. The company knows how to get customers really excited about the look and feel of the iPhone X, yet it continues to stuff all kinds of cool hardware into an ugly black Apple TV brick. I wonder if I am alone in my views on this.
On the positive side, Apple could have used the 4K/UHD technology to artificially create perceived value by raising the price dramatically over and above its previous offerings. However, I think it was smart to set a reasonable price. They had to, actually. A 4K/HDR Roku Ultra box with HDR lists for about $100. Customers will tend to wonder where their money is going when they open the box and find a black brick.
Apple has pulled off a miracle here. Previously, I had opined that “Apple Will Have a Tough Time Dictating 4K/UHD Movie Prices.” And yet Eddy Cue pulled it off, and congratulations are in order. UHD movies will cost the same as HD movies. For how long, Apple didn’t say. I sense some serious concessions were made to get this deal, but no matter how it was done, hats off to Mr. Cue.
Plus if you have purchased an HD movie in the past, and there’s a new 4K/UHD version, Apple will upgrade it for free. This is similar to what Apple did with iTunes Match years ago. It’s that kind of thinking by Apple that makes us smile when we find out about it.
Major Inflection Point
In Tim Cook’s introduction to the Apple TV 4K, he stated that we’re at a “major inflection point.” Aside from the dramatic wording at this kind of event, he’s right in a sense. 4K/UHD TV with HDR is a dramatic improvement in picture quality, and we’ve reached the point now where few can safely pooh-pooh the advances in the TV industry. Customers no longer see 4K as a boondoggle. Rather, it’s quickly becoming mainstream as prices for 50-inch and above 4K/UHD TVs are exceptional. (Unless you hold out for OLED.)
What remains to be seen is whether Apple treats this inflection point as its own opportunity to re-ignite the Apple TV and its own celebration of it. Just as the company did with the Mac at WWDC.
It almost seems that Apple was asleep at the wheel in 2016. Perhaps Apple Park was a distraction. Or the autonomous car project. But in 2017, Apple is firing on all cylinders, and now we’ve had two stunning events in a row: WWDC 2017 and the September 12 event.
There is so much Apple can do to wrap its head around the 4K/UHD industry and start to become an important player. It would be a shame if Apple just put those black bricks on the shelves of its retail stores and turned its attention to other things. Like last time.
But in 2017, Apple is smokin’ hot, and with the specter of creating its own TV content, it needs a flagship product to showcase its new offerings. Perhaps that’s the key to keeping Apple focused on the inflection point.