The Slow Growth of Apple TV

June 20th, 2013

This week, Apple announced some new apps for the Apple TV “hobby,” or area of interest, or “grand vision.” So you now have HBO Go, from Time Warner, WatchESPN, from Disney, Sky News, Chrunchyroll, an anime subscription service, and Qello, for concerts.

All right, I’m not familiar with some of these services, but that’s just me. The key point here is that, with the forthcoming addition of the CW network, it’s clear that Apple is moving forward to expand the content selections on the Apple TV, albeit slowly. And I should also point out that HBO Go and WatchESPN both require a subscription to a cable or satellite service that supports either app. The way U.S. providers manage contracts with the entertainment companies, that’s never a certainty. Right now, as a DirecTV subscriber, I can’t use either, although the company promises support for the Apple TV version of HBO Go soon.

The point of it all is that all of these additions make the Apple TV more and more indispensable. As it is, Apple TV is in far more homes than any similar product, such as Roku. Some 13 million have been sold so far, with half of those in the past year, according to a recent statement from Tim Cook. But you wonder where Apple is going to take it.

I suppose Apple could keep it essentially as it is, and just flesh it out with more and more apps, while refining the interface more to handle the possible clutter and delivering more powerful hardware as needed. But that doesn’t seem to be anything close to a long-term solution, so where is Apple heading?

Sure, some still suggest Apple is aching to build a big screen TV, and maybe they’re right, although that market is so saturated, it doesn’t seem there’s room for another model, even with an Apple label on it. This isn’t the same situation as the wireless handset market, where smartphones still served more as playthings for business than essential computing devices for hundreds of millions of consumers, which is what the iPhone revolution brought to the table.

After all, aside from the interface, what design choices would Apple consider for a TV set? The latest sets are already thin with narrow bezels. Most of the parts are commodity, so innovation is confined to a few proprietary picture enhancements and app collections. Picture quality ranges from good to excellent, so it’s hard to find something really bad.

3D? Well, that low-cost 55-inch VIZIO E551D-A0 that I’m reviewing now does it well enough, it you stick to the front of the set and don’t try to view at a sharp angle. But it’s not as if there’s a whole lot of 3D fare, except for a handful of summer blockbusters, so it’s hardly worth the bother. Even if Apple, say, delivered a credible 3D solution without the need for glasses, I don’t think it would make a huge difference in the format’s popularity.

I suppose Apple could do something to deal with the generally awful TV sound quality. But solutions of that sort can become expensive. The Bose VideoWave II set, with an embedded tricked out audio system, starts at $4,999 for a 46-inch model, meaning you are paying over $4,000 just for the audio. That’s too high-end.

My theory is still about an enhanced Apple TV, one that could manage all your peripherals, including the cable/satellite connection, Blu-ray player, gaming console, and audio system. Content would be easy to manage, regardless of the source, without having to put up with this nonsense about handling multiple remotes or a flaky universal remote to switch connections. It should just work.

You see, the TV itself seems to work just fine as it is; by itself, that is. But once we got past the basic channels 2 through 13, things got way out of hand. Apple should be the company to simplify things, even if the cable and satellite companies have to be brought kicking and screaming to the table. Besides, many already have iOS and Android apps, so it hardly seems much of a stretch to turn it all over to Apple and let them figure out how to sort things out.

The other question is when Apple’s solution might appear. Will you see that as one of the cutting-edge product innovations expected from Apple this fall, or are those hardware rollouts just going to involve refreshed iPhones and iPads and, of course, the new Mac Pro?

Aside from replacing the remote, can the current Apple TV be updated to support all or most of the new features? Will third parties be allowed to build apps for Apple TV? Will it partly depend on seamless integration with iOS and OS X?

Every time I read those statements from Tim Cook that he feels he’s going back in time when he uses his TV, I have to wonder what changes need to be made, beyond the awkward process of dealing with multiple devices. There are no doubt other answers, and maybe some will be obvious when and if we get closer to the rollout of Apple’s hoped for solution.

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7 Responses to “The Slow Growth of Apple TV”

  1. Ted Schroeder says:

    My guess is that Apple is going to make a 4k Ultra HD monitor. The new Mac Pro screams for one. And if they’re doing that, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to put the Apple TV guts inside the monitor.

    I’d guess that what they’re hoping to spark this market is gaming. There are rumors of a device that fits over an iPhone to make it into a game controller. And rumors that Apple will be making their own controller. And there is a video on Apple’s WWDC site called “Integrating with Game Controllers”.

    Plus, one would think that gamers could hook up whatever system they currently have and play it on 4k.

  2. qmuSOlmU says:


    The Slow Growth of Apple TV | The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary…

  3. Articles you should read (June 20) …. says:

    […] “The Slow Growth of Apple TV: This week, Apple announced some new apps for the Apple TV “hobby,” or area of interest, or “grand vision.” So you now have HBO Go, from Time Warner, WatchESPN, from Disney, Sky News, Chrunchyroll, an anime subscription service, and Qello, for concerts.” — “The Tech Night Owl” ( […]

  4. Kaleberg says:

    We just bought an Apple TV because we buy most of our video on our MacBooks. Since we mainly buy through iTunes, we can just buy it, preview it, then play it using iTunes music sharing. It even works for rentals which can’t be moved from Mac to Mac.

    Now, all we need is for it to support Amazon Prime Video.

  5. degrees_of_truth says:

    I had a recent experience that made me think more highly of the idea of an Apple TV set.

    I bought a premium brand AV receiver, mainly to get the HDMI switching that my older receiver lacks (but my current TV does). The cable box and disc player currently connect to the TV as hub. With the new AV receiver, I hooked the TV, cable box, and disc player to the receiver as hub. HDCP handshaking dysfunction ensued. The receiver tech support claimed that it was necessary to start up the HDMI devices in a specific order, which in the case of my devices also required periodic unplugging to get a complete HDCP reset — big pain in the backside. Something never required when my TV is the hub. The tech support claimed that passthrough handshaking is inherently problematical, compared to direct connect to display device. I returned the receiver and went back to the TV as hub.

    Not sure if this is a basic technology problem, as claimed — I do see online comments about cable boxes needing special babying — or a manufacturer/device-specific problem. But there seems to be an opportunity for Apple to make thing just work. Either a dedicated TV set or box with enough computer smarts to make HDCP not a bag of hurt.

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