Apple TV and Its Future App Ecosystem

Now that I have had some serious time with the Apple TV, it is clear Tim Cook’s comments about apps being the future of TV is quite important to the vision Steve Jobs suggested to his biographer. In fact, I am pretty certain Jobs meant apps when he told Walter Isaacson he “finally cracked it.”

Although the apps available are scarce now, once you start playing with them, you begin to see the potential. Apple treats the TV as a serious platform for developers and needs them to create a rich ecosystem of innovative apps designed just for the Apple TV to reach its full potential.

Now word is coming out Apple is about to send a lot of what I would call Apple TV evangelists to start talking to software developers to get them to be creative on Apple’s new TV platform.

According to a story on Appleinsider:

“The Apple TV Tech Talks will kick off in Toronto on Dec. 7, Apple announced on its developer site on Tuesday. From there, stops will span across the U.S. and Europe, before concluding with lectures in Tokyo and Sydney.

“Get in-depth technical information on building and designing for tvOS, learn refined coding techniques, and obtain valuable development instruction from Apple experts,” the company said.

This evangelistic move comes directly out of Apple’s Desktop Publishing playbook. Back in 1985, when I got to work on Apple’s DTP marketing focus, Apple realized that, in order for the Mac to become the gold standard in desktop publishing, they would need serious support from developers and the people who published documents at small publishing houses, advertising agencies and even people who did newsletters.

They sent out software evangelists all over the US and Europe and even did special DTP seminars in various cities showing off how the Mac and Pagemaker could be used to create documents on a desktop PC. At the same time, they worked the development community to create things like new fonts, new templates and all sort of applications that would enhance the types of things publishers could do with their Mac/Pagemaker solution.

This type of software evangelism is actually guerrilla evangelism. It is designed to jump start the developers and get them moving faster to create apps for the Apple TV and help Apple establish this product as the game changing device Jobs promised.

I see Apple doing this to insure top notch developers really understand Apple’s vision and how best to create apps that will be viewed on 40–65 inch screens. These screens are a challenge to most developers since they are used to creating apps for much smaller screens. But they also present a new canvas for them to work with and Apple wants the most innovative and unique apps to drive greater demand for the Apple TV. If they do, it means strong sales, especially by the later part of 2016, when I believe Apple does a much larger marketing campaign around the new Apple TV.

I know from personal use of the Apple TV that, once you have apps to choose from, you want more. This is Apple’s way of making sure the developer community moves faster to create TV apps and bring new, innovative apps to the Apple TV sooner rather than later.

Although this approach is not new to Apple given its desktop publishing roots, Apple is one of the best at exciting their developer community and giving them tools and, in this case, special handling to help them be creative. In the process, they earn more money by creating apps people will buy that make the Apple TV experience much richer. If they are successful, by this time next year, there should be thousands of Apple TV apps available and we will begin to get a better picture of Steve Jobs’ vision for re-energizing the interactive TV experience.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

22 thoughts on “Apple TV and Its Future App Ecosystem”

  1. to think that just by making App everyone will stop paying for cable box and jump in with Apple TV or any other set top Box is laughable and show a lack of critical thinking,

    a grid of streaming App doesn’t provide a better user experience than the existing grid a channel, what matter in TV is the content and the technology such as new form of video codecs and reduce bandwidth that enabled user to stream these High Quality content over the internet without receiving a huge Bill for internet Bandwidth and over consumption.

    a grid of App in a set top box is not the future of television, on demand instant access to content everywhere is.

    1. your last point doesn’t solve the user interface though. Neither does a guide list of channels which may be the worst UI known to man. How you discover, search, etc., is the frontier here. Voice seems to me to be one of the most interesting ways to search but it is not great on both Android TV and Apple TV. Both are still in their infancy toward where they are going. The discoverability is the part that is the most interesting. This could be done by social recommendations from friends and family where shows they recommend show up or by related shows to ones I watch regularly, etc. Both Android TV and Apple TV shows a much better way to navigate but this whole industry is still in transition.

      1. the interface is the least important part of the TV experience, voice search, social recommendation or any current form of discoverability may sound good but in essence they do not provide a better experience nor reliability than pressing a channel number and get instant access to the content.

        a Set top box will not make any real difference over the internet without new form a video coding technology, that reduce lag, latency and internet bandwidth

        1. That will all get worked out over time. I’m thinking long term here, as I do, not just today. Given the nature of my work with the industry we plan today for what the world will look like in several years. So this is key to this part of the analysis. What is good, what has potential, what is not good, etc.

          Channels lists is a legacy approach. This will not be the main UI in an on demand world.

          1. which is the reason why i keep saying that the current class of set top are just glorified box on top of your existing cable box build only to help make more money than solving any real problem with TV. everything you pointed about those set top box can be add to our current cable box with just a software and interface Update hence what’s the point.

            a cheap chromecast make more sens in helping building the future that you’re talking about.

            in term of functionality a grid of App are nothing different than a grid of channel in fact it is even more complicated for the consumer to get they head around it.

          2. Your first point is not true because those who give the hardware away are choosing very low-end components and not investing in software because it isn’t a core competency. A company that subsidizes your cable set top box will do so with the cheapest solution possible.

            The FCC would love to break this up and I’ve talked to them about this a number of times but there is too much control by MSOs. This will eventually get broken I’m certain and consumers will be able to chose whatever hardware they want to connect to bundled services and choose those services providers as they please. This is absolutely inevitable I just have no idea when.

          3. But, but, but… It’s a vertically integrated business model…
            Isn’t that supposed to be ‘good’? (I mean for the customer, it’s great for the supplier). 😉

          4. FTC cannot force the media or cable company to give access to their content to other company, like forcing Apple to give access to IOS, if the Future is App what will prevent these cable company from turning their channel package into App that can provide a better experience than third party app on any set top box.

            without content set top box wont go anywhere

          5. The FCC did this exact thing with Bell Labs in the day. They broke the model where you had to get the dedicated hardware from the phone company and then innovation in hardware took place.

            The FCC may not need to do this, it may very well break on its own, but I’m certain consumers will choose their hardware for STB or otehr and then pick their bundle.

          6. IF you studied what happened here in the states at the time then you know that is incorrect. They were deemed a monopoly and you can argue the same is true today in Cable land. Again I don’t’ think it’s necessary as this is going to happen anyway.

  2. What I find weird is Apple’s odd insistence on fragmenting their own ecosystem, while at the same time designing their products for very specific situations enjoyed by few customers.

    I understand iPhone was successful in large part because iOS was truly phone-targeted and embodied specific Touch ergonomics and modern user-friendly OS concepts. Thing is, TV OS embodies the same concepts, but with a different UI. Do we really need a fully different OS and ecosystem to implement a different UI ? iOS apps already have Phone and Tablet UIs, I don’t see why they couldn’t have a TV UI too, especially since Android TV boxes have no issue supporting the exact same use cases with a custom launcher, an air mouse, and “TV aware” regular apps.

    At the same time Apple are splitting hairs OS-wise, their one user habitat is a very normative one: reliable, unlimited, unmetered, fast Internet and quiet rooms. Woe to you if your Internet is glitchy, slow, or metered, or your room full of kids: apps and content will download at their own whim. Then delete themselves, re-download themselves, re-delete… In the age of $50 128GB SD cards, artificially putting such strong pressure on connectivity to save a few cents on a connector or a few dollars on flash RAM is weird.

    1. “TV OS embodies the same concepts, but with a different UI. Do we really
      need a fully different OS and ecosystem to implement a different UI ?”

      It isn’t. TVOS runs on the same hardware as IOS, and it’s IOS under the hood.

      Unless I am very misinformed, You develop for it using the same development toolkit as you do for IOS. Basically only the name (TV OS) and the APIs that are specific to the hardware are different. Apple specifically made the development environment for Apple TV the
      same as the development environment for IOS, because that’s the biggest pool of developers they have (10-100x the size of the OS X developer community).

      It’s a tried and true formula — kickstart your new software ecosystem by leveraging an existing software ecosystem. Google specifically made Android apps be Java apps that run inside a special VM (yes I know you can make native Android apps now, but back in Android’s infancy, it was Java for 3rd party apps)

      As to the type of internet access: Apple is a California company, HQed in Silicon valley. They have trouble grokking the concept of poor internet connectivity. This isn’t an issue specific to them — all the big US tech companies tend to forget that not everyone has reliable high speed internet like they do at their workplaces and in their homes.

    2. I agree to a certain extent, but then, I also think it is important to revisit why the original iPhone was much more successful than the Windows CE approach, for example. One could make a similar argument that Windows CE “worked” with a Windows 95-style Start menu with no issues.

      What we have seen with Apple TV, Google TV and Android TV is that none have really succeeded in the market place. When you don’t know what’s going to work, it’s really much better to remove any legacy constraints and to do what you think is the absolute best for the new product. That I think is Apple’s approach, and I see it as the approach that a true pioneer needs to take. Afterwards, when you understand what works and you discover commonalities that could be merged with previous devices, then you can merge one by one. That has been what Apple has been doing to with universal iPad/iPhone app development for a few years now.

      If you know what works beforehand, then the unified approach that Android took with Honeycomb and Microsoft took with Window 8 becomes much easier. If you are a pioneer in uncharted territory where many others have failed before you, I don’t think that approach will work.

      1. For having endured Windows Phone 6.something on my HTC HD2, the ergonomics was horrendous: they kept the general flow of desktop apps, with modal dialog boxes everywhere, scroll bars.. and kept the same general look and feel, with tiny little red Xes to close dialogs/apps, overflowing dialogs and menus that sometimes ran off-screen, lots of screen-wasting decorations (OS menu, app tittle, app menu…). That’s when OEMs got into customizing UIs, because that was utterly indispensible and added lots of value. They just got addicted to it and can’t stop now ^^

        I understand how a blank slate avoids contamination through oversight or laziness. I don’t quite believe in the “we’ll fold it in later” scenario though, API and OS conflict+divergence can only grow worse, and I don’t see Apple ever making a dual-UI OS like MS is doing and Google apparently planning to. I think it goes a bit deeper than the UI too: Android TV boxes do make passable desktops, with a keyboard, mouse, webcam… I think it’s not innocent that Apple is making utterly sure the aTV cannot be used that way.

        1. At least for the iPad and iPhone, Apple has done quite a bit to make supporting both on a universal app as simple as possible. On the other hand, you’re right that I they have done much less for Mac OS X, and they seem reluctant to do so fully. So you’re probably right that the “we’ll do it later” approach is unlikely to be done to the same extent as Android or Windows.

          Having said that though, with an ever shrinking home PC market, does it really make sense at this point to ensure Android TV works as a desktop replacement? Maybe they’ll do it if such a requirement becomes mainstream.

          1. the additional cost is negligible for the OEM (a handful of connectors) and for Google (BT/USB peripherals support is already in Linux, they just need to add a sane framework to handle mouse/trackpad/airmouse/trackpoint instead of touch), only devs have to take the scenario specifically into account (landscape, low dpi high resolution, missing sensors), which they have to in any case for a bifurcated OS à la aTV.
            And it’s mostly chicken and egg: the requirement won’t become mainstream until Google do smooth the way (there’s not even a “desktop” category for apps in the PlayStore right now.
            I think the reasons to make that small effort are that
            1- it’s cheap then, and doesn’t have to impact/compromise the other use scenarios
            2- there’s millions of units to sell right now. Even the Raspberry Pis around me are mostly used not to tinker, but as quasi-PCs. Android sticks are not only a bit cheaper (with storage, wifi, case, PSU), but more capable and a lot easier to set up & use.

            3- in the long run lock-in and network effects probably make having as wide an ecosystem as possible important. Whether for Consumer or Entreprise, writing/running/maintaining the same app for tablet, laptop, and desktop is a strong draw. I’m doing it right now, even though I had to install a VM for that.

            PS: English is funny, “smooth”, “smoothen” and “smoothe” work as a verb, I checked. My original “smoothe” is rather obsolete though.

          2. I agree with you that for the Android and Windows platforms, adding desktop support to a TV would be trivial from the technical side.

            However, the challenge tends to lie in the education of consumers. That is where marketing and sales play vital roles. My opinion is that more than design or more than user experience, what sets Apple apart is marketing. The Apple Watch being a typical example. Phil Schiller is hugely underrated.

            Marketing is where the costs become non-negligible. Unless Apple positions the potential desktop functionality of their TV device as a “hobby”, I don’t see Apple doing it.

          3. Apple even has a trackpad that’s a straight equivalent for a touchscreen, with force touch I think even. There’s 0 learning curve with that, as opposed to the very slight learning curve with a mouse.

            I’m fairly sure the main issue is they’d rather sell some kind of Mac for 3-10x the price of an Apple TV. If an iPad Pro is a good enough computer for “80% of users” (their assertion, not mine), an iBox Pro would be too. Apple is just not ready for that kind of cannibalization.

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