Roku Beats Up on Apple TV 4K and Loves it. Here’s How

4 minute read
| Particle Debris

Roku is consciously working to remain one step ahead of the Apple TV 4K. On October 2nd, Roku unveiled five new streaming boxes, with the lowest cost one at US$29.99. They’re available at Walmart starting October 8th. You can read about them here: “Roku Bows New Devices, Upgraded Operating System.

That’s the news that got me thinking about how Roku competes in this market.

The Roku Ultra. Image credit: Roku.

The Roku Ultra. Image credit: Roku.

First of all, Roku keeps its prices down. The Roku Ultra with 4K/UHD at 60 fps and HDR10 sells for US$99.99. Reviews of the new Apple TV 4K consistently point out how expensive Apple’s product is in comparison ($179-$199). Of course, the Apple TV 4K includes a scaler and support for Dolby Vision, but all modern TVs have their own scaler. For some reason, Apple declines to tell the consumer, in this market, why they ought to pay more. That leads to the next item.

Roku has six products to chose from (seven if you include the Roku TV) and presents a very useful product comparison chart on its website. Customers can match their needs to their budget. Apple has one choice.

Roku sells its products online and at Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart. Apple has a lot of retail stores, but not that many.

Roku has a keen sense of timing. The company comes out with its latest and greatest products about the time Apple does, both leveraging from customer awareness of Apple’s new products yet always one-upping Apple.

Roku devices are fine looking devices and have extraordinarily well designed remotes. When customers find that two competing products have almost the same features, the one that costs less and looks and feels better is going to win.

The car makers figured this out years ago. All cars operate the same, are subject to the same federal regulations, and typically have similar features. The cars that win on the low end win on price. On the higher end, they win, at equal performance, on the design language. Yet Apple charges more for a plain black brick and a problematic remote without a convincing rationale.

Apple TV 4K

Not a winning product born of a winning strategy. Image credit: Apple.

Apple’s strategy doesn’t seem designed to compete and win. Instead, Apple seems happy to go its own way and remain comfortable with its declining market share of Apple TV brand loyalists. That’s an odd stance to take in the home entertainment market where the company has always shown a strong interest.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week Of October 2nd. The automotive pros assess the future of autonomous cars.

12 Comments Add a comment

  1. John Kheit

    Roku is the android of tv boxes. The $50 delta is meaningless to most consumers. If you hate your own time and energy enough to skimp $50, then, you’ve self selected appropriately.

    Not to say Apple TV is all that great, but on a relative scale, yea, it’s a zillion times better. As always, YMMV

  2. SkylerK

    Roku is not profitable, with a net loss of $15.5 million in Q2 2017. Their business plan isn’t sustainable. $30 products don’t create customer loyalty. The ecosystem is not sticky. Apple does not sell products at a loss just to gain marketshare; they are in it for the long haul.

  3. Michael33rs

    Having been an owner of every Apple TV (no ATV 4K yet, but soon) and never having used a Roku, all I can say in Apple’s defense is that I love the fact that I can instantly access my huge iTunes music and video libraries through my computer or my i Phone and iPad. Yes, the cost is a bit more, but it is so worth it for me. Apple created a very sticky eco system that is hard to resist.

  4. Bartholomew J. Woodcocke

    As others have noted, the real selling point for the Apple products is the Apple ecosystem. I agree the competing boxes are cheaper and “better” in many ways and I always keep a keen eye on them – but for now I can’t replace my ATV 1 for 1 so I stick with Apple. For me the deal-breaker is Airplay – streaming music, video or pics from any iDevice, embedded at the OS level. Yes, I’m aware there’s ways to use apps to simulate the experience with Android boxes but I’m not interested in that amount of fiddling to save 50 bucks or whatever. The ATV remote DOES suck, but I use a Logitech universal remote anyway.

    For years I had two boxes, an Apple TV that I really only used for as an Airplay receiver and a WD product that could play any media type for all my media library viewing. I really, really liked the WD box: it was rock solid, cheap, and freed me from being tied to Apples codecs. I just disliked having two boxes. With the app-based OS now and apps like Plex and VLC to take care of any transcoding issues, I actually got RID of my second box.

    So I can’t quite agree with the lack of value of the ATV, even if Apple doesn’t do an adequate job of justifying it in their marketing.

  5. wab95

    John:

    Interesting analysis about Roku’s marketing strategy in the face of the hobby of AppleTV. I like John Kheit’s description of Roku being the Android of tv boxes, although never having owned a Roku, I’m in no position to provide an independent opinion. I do disagree with one opinion in your piece, namely the photo in which you seem to suggest, I presume as part of Apple’s overall TV strategy, that the ‘plain black brick’ is less aesthetically compelling than the multi-coloured handset and rounded rectangle offered by Roku. Frankly, I prefer the clean lines and simplicity of the ATV; after all, I’m not watching the box, I’m watching what delivers and don’t need the clutter in front of my set. On to more important topics.

    The Car and Driver series is a great read, and disaggregates many of the important elements necessary for a thorough and intelligent discussion around autonomous cars. In particular, I enjoyed the philosophical and ethical discussion around safety in Tom Vanderbilt’s treatment of Baruch Fischoff’s 1978 paper titled, ‘How safe is safe enough?’, in which he persuasively argues that ‘the benefits of technology must be paid for not only with money, but with lives’, and in proffering the question, ‘How much were people willing to pay in convenience, efficiency, and money to lessen that risk?’, points out that answer does not depend so much on the amount of benefit, but on our perception of the risk, and that not all risks are perceived equally. Indeed, the ZDNET piece on technologies feared by Americans illustrates not only this, but that different demographics will perceive risks differently.

    As one who conducts clinical trials, particularly in settings of high disease burden and amongst some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, this issue has particular resonance; and it extends well beyond autonomous cars to scientific, technological and medical advances writ large and our willingness to accept to them. Specifically, one sees this when consenting someone to participate in a clinical trial of even no more than minimal risk (most will carry more risk); even the most vulnerable population will be less persuaded to participate in a novel or experimental exercise based on the potential benefits, in nearly all but the most extreme circumstances, than on their perceptions of the risks involved, not only of the thing the experiment is trying to prevent, but the risks of the experiment itself. Anyone familiar with hazard communication knows that this is because a primary driver (no pun about autonomous cars intended) of our perception of risk is the unknown and the fear surrounding what we do not know. Our willingness to accept the unknown, including new technologies, is for many of us a fundamentally irrational proposition; which is why many will simply wait and gather observational data before adopting that new technology. And this doesn’t even get into the thornier issue of how poor we as a species are at assessing and estimating risk.

    Other stand out articles in the series included Tingwall’s ‘lawmakers’ and regulations, Beard’s article on Level 5 technology, and Gall’s piece on ‘Can a connected car ever be safe from hacking’.

    That said, the narrow focus on simply the autonomous vehicle takes the risk proposition out of context to the point of misrepresenting the nature, let alone, the level of risk about autonomous transport. I don’t think this limited analysis was simply due to this being done by ‘Car and Driver’, but because imagining new paradigms is hard. The autonomous car, its algorithms and systems hardening protocols, are simply one, if not the lesser, component of a much larger paradigm shift; a smart transportation system regulated by AI, in which the grid, including the roads, traffic control, human/device interface, security systems, energy systems, and new materials are major features beyond the car itself. Perhaps too large a canvas for an automobile-focussed production.

    As for the iPhone X, while I intend to compete for mine in that first 60s of release like many others, I’m resigned to getting it whenever it’s available. Meanwhile, my 6s Plus is working just fine. I do think that the update to iOS 11 reclaimed some of the battery life lost with the 11.0 release.

  6. FCompton

    Years ago I installed an Apple TV on my (now) 77-year-old father’s TV. It is still working flawlessly. It does a better job of streaming Netflix than the other devices on his TV, and…I just showed him how easy it was to stream photos from his phone to the big screen, so that my mother with severe glaucoma can see them without squinting at a tiny phone screen. That alone is worth every penny. Mis-steps not withstanding, sometimes there is a greater, undefined element to technology beyond what its price is or whether it checks all of the popular technologist’s boxes.

  7. jhorvatic

    Yea Roku is not getting my business no matter how cheap it is. Apple TV integrates with everything I use and I know I am getting the latest software to use it with. Android devices are unstable, operating systems are out of date and malware is present in 99% of them. No thanks!

  8. dhp

    “Not to say Apple TV is all that great, but on a relative scale, yea, it’s a zillion times better. ”

    Care to back up that preposterous statement in any way? I can’t imagine what kind of extra “time and energy” is needed for a Roku versus Apple TV. There sure are a lot of “I’ve never used a Roku, but I know Apple TV is better” comments here.

    I’ve been using Roku since before Apple was even in the TV market. Overall it’s been a pleasure, with a well-designed, responsive interface and remote, plus regular software updates. My current main Roku device is a Roku TV, which I love for its one-remote simplicity; the only added button is for power.

    The one thing that has made me desire an Apple TV is iTunes access (well, easier iTunes access — there are ways to access your iTunes library on Roku, but I’ve found them clunky), but the lack of Amazon Prime video would take away more than iTunes would add. I understand that limitation may end soon, so I may seriously consider Apple TV next time.

  9. John Kheit

    @dhp

    Ok, for one, you have to get your tv to correctly deal with the soap opera effect etc on Roku and manually adjust that like some kind of animal on Roku. Apple automatically deals with that while up,ping out at maximum fidelity output to your tv. One of the nicest features ever and Apple is too brain dead to figure out how to market it.

  10. SeanDeminski

    I’ll always be a Roku fan because they lack the politics the other TV boxes/sticks fall prey to. Amazon doesn’t sell Apple TVs on it site and Apple TV doesn’t allow an Amazon app? Maybe its Amazons fault, maybe its Apple’s, I don’t really care but it would be foolish to think this isn’t going to happen again. i.e. What if Netflix comes out with its own box and you can’t use it on the Firestick? Google just ganked YouTube from Alexa and on it goes…

    However, its going to depend on how well integrated to the Homepod the Apple TV is. Likewise with the Echo, Show, and Fire stick. If I can tell my Homepod to bring up my Nest cam onto my TV while watching Netflix that might be pretty cool.

    If Roku was really everything the author says it is there are some small things they can do- like make the shortcut buttons reassignable. Right now I have a Rdio button on my Roku 3 remote that does nothing but bring up a window that says Rdio no longer exists.

    • dhp

      Unfortunately, Roku’s neutrality doesn’t help when it comes to interacting with iTunes. I completely agree with the preset button criticism. I almost never think to use those shortcuts anyway; at least it no longer immediately takes you out of whatever you’re watching when you accidentally press one of them.

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