Saturday, March 21, 2015

Apple still hasn't 'fixed' TV, but maybe I'm OK with that

Apple TVIf you're the sort of person that watches Apple keynotes, you will probably recognise the little tingle of anticipation I felt when Tim Cook started talking about the Apple TV in the company's most recent presentation. Here we go, you think, it's time for The Apple TV Segment, and since we all know the current generation is well overdue an update, this is going to be exciting!
As it turned out, of course, it wasn't. The Apple TV box remains the same as it's been for three years (five, if you're just looking at the industrial design and basic intention). While it's had a welcome price cut to £59 (US$69, AU$109), this was probably more to do with staving off competition from Roku and Chromecast, and moving it into the 'why not?' price bracket for folks who'd been on the fence, than about any genuine innovation.
We also got HBO Now, a 'cable cutting' alternative that will give you access to US TV channel HBO's catalogue of programmes. Well, I say 'we' got and gives 'you' access to, but of course it's US only, so if you're not based in the States (or prepared to fiddle with DNS and proxy settings), 'you' get diddly squat.
Apple TV
None of this was compelling for most Apple fans. We want Apple to 'fix' TV. We want to be wowed and we want to be excited, we want to be presented with solutions to problems we didn't even know we had. People who love Apple more or less trust that it's the company that can actually pull this off.
Thing is, though, the Apple TV is done – complete. The reason it's received no major hardware upgrade for half a decade is that the basic black puck easily did everything Apple set out to do with it. It's a really simple device: it has a network connection and AV-out. It's used for playing video and audio. You want it to get newer processors? It doesn't need them; the single-core A5 processor is easily good enough for playing back 1080p movies.
Which is to say, we need to get out of the habit of demanding companies update things just for the sake of it. It's an understandable compulsion – I love novelty as much as the next person standing in line at the Apple Store – but in the case of the Apple TV, it has for a long time been as capable a platform as Apple needs it to be to fulfil its vision for it. If what you want is a movie-playing box, it doesn't need very much grunt.
To directly address the few of you who are screaming '3D!' and '4K!' at me through your screens: yeah, sure. If you want these things, you'll need a bit more poke, but until there's a ton of content for these ready to roll on the iTunes Store, Apple won't care about either technology, and there are no signs that this is imminent. (Also, would you like a hug?)
There is, however, a looming 'but' and it's that while the Apple TV as it stands easily fulfils Apple's current vision for the platform, there's nothing stopping you being dissatisfied with that vision. Just why hasn't Apple 'fixed' TV? Is it because it doesn't know how?
Is it because the TV and movie industries, aware of the fate that befell the music industry at Apple's hands – ceding its control, for better or worse – are being particularly cautious? Is it because everyone's more primed to see Apple as a threat now and that there are many more potential players in the market now, hindering its ability to innovate behind the scenes? I don't know.

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