From time to time, I have read articles about Apple’s plight with its TV business. And I’ve written my fair share about that as well. But I’ve never seen as complete a diagnosis as this tour de force essay. It examines the deepest motivations of Apple, it’s clash with the entertainment industry, its successes and failures, and how that has, in turn, affected software design and customer expectations.
Here’s this week’s focus article at The Verge. “Apple’s new TV app shows how painfully behind it is.” That title is deceptively simple for an article that goes into so much detail and casts so much light on the challenges Apple faces. Here’s a particularly good paragraph which ends with a particularly insightful, stinging quote.
Worse yet for Apple, it does not operate a streaming video service of its own and makes a set-top box that does nothing its competitors don’t already do, besides the robust games section of the App Store. It’s not for lack of trying. Apple has notoriously spent years trying to gain relevance in digital media, investing resources and countless failed software and hardware attempts to wrestle control away from content providers so it could offer its own solution. The TV app is just the latest potentially doomed attempt. That’s largely because it takes stellar ideas about how we should consume entertainment and smashes them against the immovable object that is the current video landscape. [Emphasis mine.]
That TV App
The recently released Apple TV app is the platform for this analysis. The article doesn’t even get into the headaches some customers have had, with the migration from the Videos app to the TV app, especially when they used a beta of iOS 10.2. The point made is one that’s a consensus in the community of observers. Without support for Netflix and Amazon Video, Apple’s TV app is confusing and disappointing. But Apple would rather, it seems, go out on a limb and ship the app, hoping they can work a deal with Netflix and Amazon later. Meanwhile, the customers and observers remain puzzled.
What this splendid article doesn’t cover in any detail is the fallout when it comes to hardware design. What I mean is that when Apple works so hard to insinuate itself into and seize control of a segment of the industry, all product design must pass through the lens of Apple’s overall agenda. That wasn’t always so.
That means that instead of “Fitting in and standing out,” Apple creates hardware and—more specifically—software that seeks to promote its own business goals. That’s in contrast to, say Roku, that simply builds delightful hardware that fits into the customer’s existing home entertainment system and adds identifiable value rather than frustration because of incomplete services.
But not all is lost for Apple. Author Nick Statt continues.
There is hope for Apple yet. The company is arguably the only player in a position to offer a democratic, holistic viewing experience that ties everything to a single source. Amazon, the company perhaps closest to that goal, makes both hardware and software. That means it tends to promote its own products over competitors’. Cable companies, too, are self-interested and prone to resisting change that could hurt their businesses. That means the products those companies produce, whether on-demand apps or live TV, are often ugly, hard to use, and rarely if ever play nice with others.
My own perspective over the years has been that Apple should make the coolest hardware money can buy and focus on fitting in with the TV hardware industry, solving real connectivity, video and and audio issues. Once customers and videophiles declare that Apple is the only company we need in addition to a 4K/UHD/HDR TV, they they’ll have a lot more leverage. But that means a fanatic attention to the broad scope of home theater hardware and connectivity issues, so often tackled by other companies without Apple’s resources or UI/UX expertise. So far, Apple doesn’t want to go that route.
Some have said that Apple is playing the long game. That may be true. But if the price to pay is an on-going frustration with Apple’s mostly failed attempts to seize control, as it did with music, then one has to ask why Apple keeps beating its head against that immovable object. As Ken Segall has said, “it’s the [Apple] products that do the talking.” So far, Apple TV has been somewhat muted.
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