AppleInsider may earn an affiliate commission for purchases made through links on our site.
Apple made the wrong bet when it built the Apple TV around apps and the App Store when it should have focused on streamlining the TV experience instead, like Steve . Jobs promised to do.
The Apple TV was an Apple “hobby” project that went through several hardware upgrades from its inception in 2006 to its reinvention in 2015. It was an exciting time when Apple finally announced that the Apple TV was no longer a hobby in 2014 and then released an updated Apple TV in 2015.
This fourth-generation model introduced the App Store and the Apple TV app, and Apple promised that “apps are the future of TV.” The Apple TV app will be a great content aggregator, and entertainment apps will be easy to set up and sign in at launch.
Over time, users will no longer need to have accounts or logins. Instead, everything will flow through the Apple TV app and its channel system. Applications are needed only to play games or search for real estate, and not to look for what to see.
Instead, the mainstream players largely ignored the Apple TV app. Netflix refused to catalog or add its service to the Up Next system. The launch of new services did not bother with the channel system, choosing individual applications that did a minimum of integration with the platform.
It shouldn't be like that.
The future of TV is not Apple TV+
Until his death in 2011, Steve Jobs seemed to have cracked the secret of simplified television. The third-generation Apple TVs we received in 2012 didn't seem to fit the vision Jobs had, as they emulated other simple set-top boxes of the day.
Whatever magic idea Jobs comes up with, it never pops up. It seemed that Apple was trying to create a one-stop service with deals with cable companies, but those deals never came to fruition as Eddie Cue toured to the point of exhaustion.
Instead, the result is Apple TV+, a premium streaming service with exclusive content. This was not the future of television or the skinny cable bundle that many predicted or hoped for. By 2020, the Apple TV experience was very similar to other platforms.
Apple failed to revolutionize television, although some parts of the platform were still unique or useful compared to the competition.
Things only got worse from that point on as the great entertainment consolidation pushed even more publishers away from Apple TV channels. Users now have to not only struggle with the Apple TV app and its organization, but also log into half a dozen popular streaming services individually, sometimes with frustrating methods.
Having the App Store on Apple TV didn't ultimately make watching TV easier — it was a problem that Apple was trying to solve. Developers could create their own streaming interfaces, ignore Apple's control APIs, and make sure the content view was as confusing as possible when switching between applications.
The future of TV is not in apps< p>The main problem with Apple's approach is that it gives too much power to content distributors. There are several ways to view content on Apple TV in different apps, each with its own interface and set of rules. There is nothing simple about this.
When navigating through the Apple TV app, users are presented with each piece of content , which can be launched from an application, regardless of which service it belongs to. Tapping on content may open another app, launch a program on Apple TV, or offer a purchase window on iTunes.
This experience is even more frustrating because apps like Amazon hide what content is from Amazon Prime and what content is from other streamers on the Amazon app. Users could click on a movie, see that it was available on Amazon Prime, click the Play button, and then see the “Subscribe to HBO on Amazon” screen.
This problem is exacerbated by the lack of filtering or organization in the Apple TV interface. Once a content provider is added, everything in their catalog is integrated with the Watch Now tab.
Even when everything is working correctly and clicking on a piece of content opens the correct app and starts playback, the interface you are faced with is bullshit. It could be an interface that supports the Siri Remote's jog feature, it could have an overlay of who's in that scene when the menu is open, or it could do next to nothing but play and pause. Each application may be different.
Speaking of apps, the differences in interface and navigation can be quite annoying. The Apple TV app was supposed to prevent this, but users end up moving to third-party apps even when choosing content in the Apple TV app. This would be similar to Apple News opening a new Safari tab whenever an article is selected instead of showing it in the News app.
Users setting up a new Apple TV will also encounter some issues. Each application could potentially use a different login interface. One might just ask for a password, another would ask users to open a website on their iPhone, and a third would still ask users to open a specific app on their iPhone.
Apple's interface to sign in using iPhone biometrics is the fastest and most accessible, but developers don't have to use this method.
Finally, there is the most serious problem with Apple TV — Netflix. With its content not appearing on either the Apple TV app's Up Next or its catalog, Netflix has now become a silo. This means that people will watch content on Netflix just because it's in one place, or else they'll forget about it completely until they get to the home screen. Loss for everyone.
The future of television is it's a one-stop experience
Many of Apple's initial Apple TV promises had potential, but there was too much wiggle room for developers. It may be too late to change things now, but one thing is certain — the future of television is not an app.
Streaming entertainment spread across multiple app repositories with different interfaces makes things worse for most users. Instead, Apple should have made the Apple TV app the hub of the Apple TV.
Apple TV is an app on Apple TV hardware when it should be the hub instead interface. People have to choose whether to open the app, not how the platform works, which makes it less attractive as a platform for third party vendors.
To see how Apple can repurpose the Apple TV app to be the main interface, take a look at the Playstation 5 as a simple example. Its entire interface is video games by default, but tabs at the top allow users to switch between gaming and entertainment contexts.
Users should turn on the Apple TV and immediately see the unified Apple interface without the option of signing in to any third-party app. Think of the Apple TV app interface as it exists today, with channels being “apps” in this context.
Like the Apple Watch App Store or the iMessage App Store, there should be an Apple TV App Store specifically built for entertainment apps. Choose which entertainment apps you want to use on your Apple TV, offer a sign-in page using your iCloud Keychain credentials, and then add that content to your Apple TV interface.
Individual apps may still have their content on their own Apple TV app pages, but they all belong to the same unifying interface. Users will never end up in a poorly designed app that doesn't take advantage of the Apple APIs, it just works and is consistent throughout.
Next up should be a main screen with a single timeline of what the user is watching, and then recommendations based solely on that list. The Watch Now section will be a separate tab with human-generated content.
This system will effectively make every app an Apple TV channel without tying users to the Apple payment platform. This will be a win for users, as the interface and video content will remain the same, and content distributors will have access to user data through login.
At the top of the interface there will be separate groups of tabs for different modes. Users will live in the Apple TV app, but other sections will include games, fitness, entertainment, and settings. What is shown here will be based on what users are subscribed to, such as Apple Fitness+ or Apple Arcade.
Other tabs will offer small app stores for the respective categories. Think of it like focus modes, where each section is tailor-made for the type of content it interacts with.
We're not sure what Steve Jobs' vision for Apple TV was, but simplifying the interface and unifying content were probably important goals. Of course, he wanted to do for film and television what he did for music — put it all under one banner like iTunes.
Apple TV hardware, the TV app, and Apple TV+ are not the same. Direct naming should be the first sign that something is wrong.
The future TV is within Apple's reach
Content distributors will no doubt rebel against the loss of access to disparate applications and interfaces, but ultimately Apple controls everything. If Apple were to push for a new unifying interface, it could do so with its weight and influence.
Of course, such a bold undertaking could raise antitrust concerns, which could explain why Apple is hesitant to do so. Done right, it will lower barriers and encourage users to subscribe to more services, not fewer.
Apple TV hardware will continue to deliver value to users through access to other services such as Apple Fitness+ and Apple Arcade. Non-Apple hardware will still have access to the Apple TV app, but it's based on the new unified interface.
At the very least, Apple and Netflix should address this silly issue so that Netflix content can be displayed in the Apple TV app and Up Next interface. This would be a win for Netflix and its users, especially at a time when the platform is experiencing massive churn due to rising prices.
Apple must also establish user interface rules and login procedures. The basic elements should be the same across all streaming apps, and each app should simply allow the user to sign in with their iPhone's biometrics.
With the release of the 2022 Apple TV 4K, it's clear that Apple is committed to the existing app distribution and interface, which he presented in 2015. The operating system hasn't changed much over the years, so it may need a major overhaul soon.
To be clear, we love Apple TV and believe it's the best place to stream content today. Its fast processor and Apple-like interface make it much better to use than a Chromecast or Roku. However, Apple's experience doesn't seem to be unique to its platform, it's just an improved version of its competitors, and we think Apple can do better.