The Apple TV is the most exciting product from Apple in years. Forget the Apple Watch and iPad Pro – the Apple TV is where it’s at. Sure, it’s still horribly flawed with a lack of Ultra HD and HDR support, but in terms of software – it’s almost the ideal set-top box.
Despite a love for all things Apple TV, at an event in Cupertino on October 27, Apple claimed that it is “going to completely change the way you watch television,” and well, that’s a little misleading.
The statement came after unveiling a new app exclusively for the Apple TV. Aptly dubbed ‘TV’, the application is essentially a central hub for tracking all the TV shows and movies you happen to be watching from across a plethora of apps. It’s also a place to discover new content that you may be interested in. Sure, it’s cool – but change the way you watch TV? Not likely.
Those using a media server don’t appear to be included in this new push from Apple, meaning there’s still a slight disjoint between content you have streaming locally and streaming media apps. Of course those using Plex already have the functionality to keep track of what they’re watching using their media server – but it just means utilising two separate apps.
The benefit of Plex is also the fact that it doesn’t necessarily need to rely on content being streamed from a million different services either, as it all works on a server. Sure it’s not the most elegant solution, as extra hardware is required – but for people who like to permanently store their content and not worry about it being removed from streaming services, it’s a good option.
Putting that aside however, what exactly are the benefits of Apple’s new ‘TV’ app? Well, it links with all the video apps installed on a user’s iPhone, iPad and Apple TV and tracks what’s being watched in those apps. That means if a user launches HBO Now and begins watching Game of Thrones, the Apple TV app will be able to track that and list it in a central location. Not only will it list in the TV app however, it will also show users what episode they’re watching, how many minutes they’re into the show and all the other shows and movies they’re viewing from the countless other apps they have installed.
It is an elegant solution to a problem that many have. With so many video apps available on the Apple TV, over 1,600 according to Apple, keeping track of all the shows and movies that you happen to be watching can be a nightmare. The only problem with Apple’s launch is that it’s not got everyone on-board.
The biggest movie and TV streaming service in the world right now is Netflix. There’s no arguments surrounding its dominance in the space, but if there was anything that could compete with it, then that streaming service would be Amazon Video. Unfortunately, Apple has left both streaming services out in the cold on this occasion.
Of course it’s hardly Apple’s fault that both Amazon and Netflix opted out of participating in its unified TV experience – but it’s a massive blow to users. TV shows such as Transparent, The Man in the High Castle, Luke Cage, Stranger Things, Making A Murderer and more are all out of reach from the Apple TV app. It’s not all bad though, Netflix is still available on Apple TV, meaning it’s still entirely possible to watch its content, it’s just not possible to launch it straight from the new TV app. Amazon Video is an entirely different story, there’s not even an app on Apple TV.
Apple has been completely unable to woo these popular streaming apps and it has done so to the detriment of streaming fans everywhere.
All is not lost however, the TV app still works with many streaming services in the US, including HBO Now, Hulu, Showtime, iTunes, CBS and ABC, and it’s effortless to operate. Much of that ease of operation is down to Apple’s unified login, which allows users to login to their favourite apps once and have it synced to all of their devices, whether it be an iPad, iPhone or Apple TV. Unfortunately, there’s no UK launch in sight, with US users gaining access in December.
Outside of the TV app, things are pretty rosy too. Users can use Siri to launch live streaming video, whether it be sporting events or specific channels, Twitter’s new app allows free premium sports coverage from NFL and NBA, news from Bloomberg and election night coverage from BuzzFeed, and over 2,000 games are available on the service – including one of the world’s most popular, MineCraft.
Competition is fierce in the set-top box arena however. Apple TV may offer a refined experience, but Amazon is revamping its Fire TV with a content-focused user interface, and Roku’s universal search has always been one of the best in the business – and it works with Amazon Video and Netflix. Android TV is also seeing better adoption, with manufacturers such as Sony and Philips integrating the software in their TV sets.