Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared that the “future of television is apps,” a refrain that has been repeated by Apple execs over and over since then.
But navigating separate apps is a horrible way to watch TV, and it seems that Apple has finally seen the light.
Apple’s big TV plan now revolves around building an advanced TV guide that will tie content services like Netflix, HBO, and ESPN together, industry sources tell Recode’s Peter Kafka.
Last year, Apple was working on actually selling a TV package of its own, a take on the “skinny bundle” that everyone from Hulu to YouTube to AT&T is rumoured to be launching.
But now it’s just focused on building the interface.
Apple “is letting programmers, distributors and customers work out the money part among themselves,” Kafka writes.
Good-bye Apple TV package, hello Apple TV guide.
The writing on the wall
While a universal guide interface presents a pretty stark departure from what Apple has been saying publicly, it’s right in line with recent Apple TV updates, which emphasise things like Siri’s ability to circumvent the app system.
And you can bet that Siri will be a big part of this new endeavour.
Beyond deeper Siri integration, in June Apple also unveiled an Apple TV feature called “single sign-on.” While Apple didn’t go into the details of exactly how it would work, the idea is that a content service like Netflix or HBO would connect to Apple’s system in a way that lets you use a single log-in for all services on your Apple TV.
Recode points to this as the first part of Apple’s plan.
The right choice
It’s easy to see why Apple is going this way.
Most people don’t want to navigate 100 different app menus and designs, each ostensibly tailored to the type of TV content that lives within them. It’s annoying to deal with an ESPN app, and a Netflix app, and a Showtime app, and a Sling TV app.
So most people, in their hearts, don’t really want an Apple TV as it was initially conceived.
But they also don’t want the type of awkward channel guide that you get with most cable packages, according to Apple exec Eddy Cue.
Here’s what Cue told The Hollywood Reporter last month: “The fact that I have to set things to record seems idiotic. And channel guides — I get home and I want to watch a Duke basketball game; why do I have to go hunting to find out what channel it’s on? Why can’t I just say, ‘I want to watch Duke basketball.’ Or, even better, why doesn’t the system know that? ‘Here’s the Duke basketball game.’ Those technical capabilities exist today. They just don’t exist for television.”
So navigating Apple TV and cable is a pain.
What’s much better is a universal search and suggestion mechanism that fetches you the right content — as fast as possible. That is what Apple seems to be building, which is something that will put it in direct conflict with some cable companies like Comcast, which is trying to build its own version of this with X1. It could also face competition from the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana.
And what’s in it for Apple?
The company is likely hoping that it will get the same sort of leverage over TV programmers that it did over music labels with the iTunes store, before the rise of streaming, Kafka points out. If you own part of the distribution platform, then, hopefully, you can take a cut or at least extract some sort of favourable terms.
That could be Apple’s master plan.
Apple declined to comment.