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Until Apple TV is just like cable, it's not going to cut any cords on its own

best apple tv accessories
best apple tv accessories (Image credit: iMore)

Apple TV was an interesting product at launch. It was certainly wasn't a game machine. J. Allard, the architect of Xbox once told me Xbox was Microsoft's answer to PlayStation, which was Sony's effort to be the computer of the living room. It scared Bill Gates at the time. In reality, neither PlayStation nor Xbox took over the living room. They were game consoles, bought by gamers. Apple TV was bought by iPod owners. No one owned the living room.

Apple TV was the first product announced by the late Steve Jobs well in advance of its ship date. In theory it would revolutionize TV. In practice, it turned your TV into an iPod for your living room. It had a hard drive and you could sync your content to it. In theory. In most cases, due to home network speeds or lack thereof, it could take days before everything was in order. It wasn't the future of TV. It did give a glimpse of that future when the battle for a new optical disk format raged on.

The current Apple TV is a great product, but I strongly think it doesn't deliver the vision I suspect Apple wanted to ship. The latest model does, however, take Apple's tech one step further with support for 4K and HDR. (By the way, those are terms that are not nearly consumer-friendly enough.)

All that high-quality video is great, but until the content kings get fully onboard, Apple TV will be device number two (at best) on our televisions. And even with improved apps and better games, Apple TV is not a game console replacement either. I'd argue the future of TV isn't apps. It's TV. Many of the apps and games in the current App Store aren't cutting edge and certainly won't appeal to gamers. The content offerings match what's well established elsewhere. There's nothing unique.

Google has it, Sony has it, Sling offers it. It's that "skinny" bundle that could take on the cable folks. There's the rub. I suspect the folks that own all that network content want nothing to do with Apple. I strongly suspect their motivation is easy. They simply look at what Apple did to the music industry, and don't want that to happen to them. Reports of Sr. Apple executives behavior in some of those discussions didn't help.

Sure, I can get PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV on an Apple TV, but those don't drive sales.

I humbly think Apple needs to figure out how to make the future of TV a reality. The current services work, but they are the equivalent of MP3 players before iPod. There's a lot of room for improvement in terms of user experience, DVR performance, and a better experience for content delivery. Content creation deals aren't the answer. Look at Planet of the Apps to see what I mean.

Third-party content bundles meet my needs. Their feature set works. Content is there, except the experience is horrible. I can only dream of what I'd like to see Apple deliver in a whole TV experience. I'm hoping Apple can eventually assuage the fears of the cable folks and get the content deals it needs. Until then, it's unlikely Apple will take the deals currently offered. Cable folks won't deal with Apple the way the music folks did. Here's hoping, eventually, the cable folks can come to terms with Apple and finally get the Apple TV I want and the rest of us deserve.

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.

8 Comments
  • I respectfully disagree. 5 tv's in our house and all 5 have Apple TV's attached as the primary device. I guess we may be the exceptions to the rule. :-)
  • Yea, you may be. I personally don't see the need for all Apple TV's in my situation. We have an Apple TV 4K in our living room and every other room has a FireStick. IMO, the Firestick is capable of doing 99% of what we require/want in our bedrooms. For the 1%, the Apple TV in our living room is perfect. The price difference is drastic, which I'm not able to justify considering AppleTV doesn't offer an extreme advantage over Amazon's devices.
  • I also disagree. 5 tv's and 5 Apple TV's also. Just waiting till fall to get the spectrum app even though we use airplay from our IPADS. Other than that we can ditch TIVO
  • I would love it if Apple offered a TV package, but I currently use Apple TV as the main box on all four TVs in the house. We had DirecTV since 1995, but we finally dropped it in April for Hulu. Hulu on Apple TV is as good or better experience than the DirecTV was (except that they lack our local NBC). It isn't a "gaming machine" like the Xbox One, but I still play Zen Pinball, NBA 2K, Jackbox, and more on it. It has NHL.TV access. What more do I need? I also really like having everything in one place, rather than switching back and forth between DirecTV and Apple TV. I know that seems like the ultimate first world problem, but I like asking Siri for what I want to see, and its just there. Room for improvement, sure. Already enough to cover cord cutting, absolutely!
  • I cut the cord and switched from DirecTV to DirecTVNow. We are constantly bumping up against out 1TB data cap, but we have a teenager home from school. The DTV app is far from perfect, not to mention you have to sign into every single network app (DirecTV's fault, not Apple's). I hope Apple comes out with a basic package when they start their own streaming service. I would also like them to do something with their ridiculous remote. I actually prefer the old one.
  • I'm a late comer to the Apple TV 4k party but I'm loving it so far. I've been used to running an Android box and Firetv stick with apps but have since tried cutting the cord and using Directv Now with my Apple TV. So far I think it's pretty slick, I like being able to access either Directv Now or the TV app to watch content. Would like to see Apple come up with their own package and would definitely give it a try. I must be in the minority as I happen to like the remote.
  • I also had high hopes for Apple TV. I had bought the 64gb and the nice SteelSeries controller at the time. The Apple TV app store (here anyway) is totally unchanged since its first release and hard to find things. Even the app update options are just not good, and nowhere near iPhone level. Really the whole area around apps is severely lacking, from developers and users perspectives. I don't think they have invested a large enough team to constantly work on this product. As the Q3 results show its all about iPhone and subscriptions services. Now the Apple TV to me is just another streaming box, a decent one one though, but it can be so much more than this. Its a missed opportunity that Apple is not putting effort into this product.
  • For me Apple TV is just like cable. I can log into the app my cable service provider makes for Apple TV. Then I can watch the same channels that are playing on cable. Imo, exclusive content deals are what's ruining the TV experience. I want to subscribe to one provider and have access to all the content in the world. Just like Spotify. I don't want several subscriptions across multiple providers because they're making exclusive content. Too bad money talks.