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Apple introduced the long-awaited next-gen Apple TV. It’s not a big LCD TV. It’s not round. It doesn’t (yet) include an Apple-direct subscription TV service. It is, however, a loaded streaming box that packs universal Siri voice-search across apps, a hybrid touch/push-button remote with gesture control and top of the line internal hardware.
Based on the specs, the box compares favorably to competing $99 devices from Roku and Amazon (currently not available and awaiting a refresh). At $149 or $199 respectively for 32GB and 64GB models, the question is why would one buy a more expensive Apple TV to rent movies and get to Netflix?
Initial reactions from the tech press are generally positive with healthy skepticism. Ars Technica liked the hands-on experience but says it’s “not an obvious slam dunk.” Variety calls the update nice but not necessary. Peter Decherney from Forbes has a nice analysis of the role of Apple TV in the changing, fragmented TV landscape, yet concludes that the device’s novel remote will be one of a few on your coffee table – not the only one.
Two words: choice and control
This was the drumbeat we used in the early days at Brightcove (my former employer) to educate media companies about why TV would look more like the wide open Internet than the traditional, familiar TV business. These are themes that have driven consumer media adoption for decades. Choice and control beat fidelity; they beat first to market.
- It’s why VHS beat Beta.
- It’s why Napster and then iTunes were successful. Not because of free, but because of a lack of friction.
- Why DivX and Ultraviolet were doomed from the start.
- It’s why digital photography killed Kodak
- Why Flash beat Windows Media and Real. Flash helped eliminate pop-up video ghettos and painful loading time. And it’s why HTML5 ultimately killed Flash.
- It’s why Roku has led Google, Apple and Amazon to date. It is a completely open app environment and the company is super-friendly to developers.
The guts of the new Apple TV have not been overwhelming industry watchers, but it’s the choice, control and removal of friction within the whole Apple TV System, not just the device, that will win over publishers, developers and consumers. Here are four big reasons for that:
1. An Open App Store
Consumers will be able to buy an app once that will run across iPad, iPhone and Apple TV. The unparalleled reach, existing billing relationship and engagement within the Apple ecosystem makes Apple TV an instant priority for distribution. The code may not be identical; it will take extra work for a developer to bring a Universal app to market. But for consumers, there will be little friction.
Just as the iPad was widely adopted by major publishers upon its release, we believe that even an Apple TV 3 from 2012, with an open app store, would have been widely adopted. The 4th Gen’s improved hardware, Siri and novel remote control will enable novel new experiences and a great consumer experience. But Apple and open would have been enough.
Very quickly we will see game publishers and video content of all kinds come to the new Apple TV, including video aggregators and virtual MSOs, networks and non-traditional broadcasters. Anyone with an iOS app will be on Apple TV.
2. Platform lock-in for Consumers
Apple is enjoying the sort of circular competitive advantage that Microsoft used to have, and Google and Amazon enjoy today within their systems. There are many reasons to use Apple TV, the benefits of which will show more fruit with the new platform.
- Billing relationship (although it appears there’s no Touch ID authentication on the remote)
- iCloud photo and media sync across all devices
- Familiarity and comfort. Consumers know how to use Apple devices, how to get support for them, where to find their nearest Apple Store.
3. Universal Apps that support iPad, iPhone and Apple TV
This is extremely developer friendly. Firms like ours can build consistent experiences across these platforms with less time, effort and cost to our clients. Anyone with an iOS app that would work on a big screen in a multi-user environment will target Apple TV.
4. Simple TVML apps
But, it’s still all about consumers
In the end, the success of the platform will be tied to consumer adoption. And why would consumers spend $149, when the old Apple TV is available for $69 and the excellent, top of the line Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices for $99 each? Previously, it may have been largely for AirPlay. Apple TV is not an even comparison to Roku or Amazon Fire TV. Plenty of boxes will be sold simply because this product is from Apple and it is new. But it is the Apple System that people are buying into – the developers, the product experience, iCloud, the billing relationship and the trust.
Eric Elia is Managing Director of Cainkade, a software design and development studio based in New York and Oakland. He joined Cainkade in 2012 after over 10 years as a pioneer in the online video space. He was part of the founding team at Brightcove where he first oversaw product design, then founded and ran the in-house consulting business. Previously, he led the design, development and strategy for the Comcast online service. Follow Eric on Twitter @ericelia and Cainkade @cainkade.