Unlike the iPhone and the iPad, the Apple TV is deeply bound to its content
Yet being bound to content is both a blessing and a curse: It makes the hardware dependent not just on engineering and design, but also on the capriciousness and myopia of Hollywood. It's likely why we have Apple A8(X)-powered iPhones and iPads, but an Apple TV that is still stuck on a single core Apple A5 from 2012.
There are all sorts of arguments to be made about why the Apple TV needs content to be a truly compelling product, top among them: to be "input one" on people's television sets. But there's no getting around the fact that, year after year, update after update, the iPhone and iPad have shipped — and done exceedingly well — without the need for special content deals.
Yes, the pocket and lap are different than the living room, but those differences are getting smaller with time, not greater.
It's no secret that Apple has been working on a new Apple TV for years, and that there's both incredible passion for, and incredible talent working on, the product within the company. There have been false starts and changes in direction along the way, but from 2012 to 2015? It's impossible to believe some progress hasn't been made.
Apple won't be announcing its much-anticipated subscription TV service next week at its Worldwide Developer Conference, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.
The Cupertino technology company has told network executives the planned unveiling will be postponed because Apple has yet to finalize the licensing deals. Industry executives predict Apple's Web TV offering may not launch until later this year, or in 2016. Technology and money issues remain sticking points.
Now, the New York Times has just reported that new Apple TV hardware won't make an appearance at WWDC, though said content deals seem to only be part of the issue.
Yet one much ballyhooed device will be absent from the conference: a new Apple TV, Apple's set-top box for televisions. The company planned as recently as mid-May to use the event to spotlight new Apple TV hardware, along with an improved remote control and a tool kit for developers to make apps for the entertainment device. But those plans were postponed partly because the product was not ready for prime time, according to two people briefed on the product.
I don't know if that report is accurate or not, or what "not ready for prime time" is supposed to mean. I'm not really concerned about the content deals: As a Canadian, I almost certainly wouldn't benefit from them anyway. (At least not any time soon.) As an earthling, I long ago realized it will take nothing short of a generational change (read: extinction level event) in Hollywood for any sort of reasonable shift in thinking when it comes to online content.
But the lack of new Apple TV hardware, an SDK, and an interface to go with it? That possibility breaks my heart.
I love the Apple TV. I use it all day, every day. I cut the cable cord long ago and iTunes, Netflix, and various iOS apps that I stream over AirPlay account for almost everything I consume. I love it, deeply and truly.
That the 2012 Apple TV continues to do that acceptably is testament to the strength of the streaming-only model. I can't help but believe, however, that a modern Apple A-series powered box — with an SDK that allowed for games and entertainment apps — would do it so much better. And for most of the world, the benefits would be so great that it wouldn't matter if there were content deals or not.
The content deals would become a bonus, not a constraint.
Apple hasn't announced a new Apple TV, but they did hint at that something was coming back March when they price dropped the existing model to $69 and said it was only the beginning. I dislike the term "delayed", but it's impossible to argue, as far as the general public is concerned, that the Apple TV hasn't been left to fallow.
Unlike the iPhone and iPad, the Apple TV is part of the iTunes organization. That changes the go-to-market dynamics considerably. It makes for complex equations, and Apple has to do what it believes will make for the most compelling product at a price the market will bear. (Modern iOS devices cost more than $69.) That transcends all issues of atoms and bits.
"1000 nos for every yes" is more than a mantra, it's core to Apple's culture. And Apple is the only one with all the information here.
All that being said, Apple's hardware and software teams have proven that they can ship iPhones and iPads every single year. I can't help but think that if the Apple TV was released from its content burden — if it was allowed to exist with but an SDK and a dream — it could do the same.