Any TV guide sufficiently usable is indistinguishable from programming.
Apple has been pursuing programming deals for the Apple TV project for years now and without much success. Hollywood is a dinosaur that may require an extinction-level-event before it fully gets on board with the future of on-demand, internet programming. And we don't have that kind of time. That's what makes the idea of an Apple TV guide so intriguing. From recode doesn't sound in the least bit surprising:
Apple has started talking to TV programmers and other video companies about creating a digital TV guide that would work on both Apple TV boxes and other Apple devices, like iPhones.
The idea is to let users see what kind of programming is available in video apps made by the likes of HBO, Netflix and ESPN, without having to open up each app individually, and to play shows and movies with a single click.
That is: Apple's guide would tell you what's on TV. Except now TV is apps.
Under previous strategies, Apple would have licensed either full-on programming or a "skinny bundle" of the best channels and offered them to Apple TV owners for about $30 a month. The video version of Apple Music, so to speak. But Apple and the studios couldn't come to terms, so Apple went with the "future of TV is apps".
Finding the future
Instead of providing programming to Apple, studios and existing networks and cable or satellite providers could create apps, and customers could watch content through those apps. It created a lot of overhead, though, especially for setup and navigation.
Apple's been trying to solve for both. This fall, some providers will allow for single-sign on. Enter your cable or satellite credentials once, see all the apps available to you, download, tell Siri what you want to watch and thanks to universal search, Siri will start it playing for you. Including live TV, if available.
Most of this is U.S. only for now, as a programming deal would no doubt have been, but it's a start. The only problem is, Siri can only show you what you want, it can't let you browse everything that's available. Ask for a specific show, type of movie, or live channel, and you're good to go. Ask what's on now, and Siri has no idea.
The interface is the app
You want to skate to where the puck is going to be, but what do you do when your path is blocked by defense? You skate around them.
An Apple TV Guide would effectively skate around the lack of Hollywood deals. It would keep track of everything that's currently available, with a design and experience that's uniquely Apple, but without the need for Apple to license and stream the content themselves.
And while there would absolutely be differences, especially in terms of ease of use and performance, it would be worth suffering them in the short term.
For customers, the interface is the app. It doesn't really matter what pipes are feeding it behind the scenes. As long as what customers tap and see is what they expect to tap and see, Apple can pretty much do whatever they want behind the scenes.
Apple can start by pulling in all the content available in all the apps — and original programing like Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke — and populate the guide with that. Then, if and when any deals are made with Hollywood, Apple can simply switch out the apps and switch in the direct content feeds, and most customers wouldn't even notice the difference. Except, of course, that set up would become easier and performance better.
Either way, what we'd tap and see is what we'd expect to tap and see.