New MacBooks may have been the highlight of Apple’s “Hello Again” event on Thursday, but the Cupertino, California company made sure to give its streaming TV platform more than a little love. The company announced two new apps for Apple’s set-top boxes and “TV,” a new portal for the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad that collates content from across your pay-TV subscriptions in a single, unified place.
First on stage were the new apps for Apple TV, the latest to join Apple TV’s burgeoning crop of content – the set-top box’s app store recently surpassed 8,000 titles, company chief Tim Cook said. Microsoft’s blockbuster Minecraft game is coming to the platform by the end of this year, but more significantly, so are what Cook called “a new category of apps […] that combine the power of Apple TV to make watching video more interactive and social.” The first is Twitter: the social network’s product manager, Ryan Troy, demoed NFL live stream integration. During a football broadcast, a rail along the right-hand side of the screen showed tweets, Twitter polls, and Periscope streams “from multiple angles” in real time.
Second up was TV, a new app for the Apple TV and Apple’s mobile devices that delivers what Cook describes as “unified TV experience.” Aesthetically speaking, it looks a lot like a sleek, modern digital TV guide, and that’s sort of the point — it’s partly a “recommendation engine” that surfaces new shows based on content you purchased, rented, downloaded, or otherwise streamed via any Apple TV set-top box. But that’s just the tip of TV’s iceberg.
TV surfaces shows and movies from all of the services to which you subscribe, organized principally by items you’ve purchased, the TV app’s top recommendations, and shows and movies you’ve marked as “favorites.” Up Next presents shows you’ve bought on iTunes in the order you’re most likely to watch them. And a final category, “Watch Now,” changes to reflect which pay-TV services you use on your Apple TV — install a new streaming app on your set-top box and “Watch Now” automatically populates with that provider’s shows and movies. “It will completely change how you watch TV on your Apple TV as well as your iPhone and iPad,” said Cook.
Enhanced search is another way the viewing experience on Apple TV and iOS devices is improving. A beefed-up version of Siri, Apple’s cross-platform voice assistant, can resume shows where you’ve left off and search across streaming providers to find program schedules. Ask “what football games are on right now,” for instance, and it’ll pull up a schedule, a list of games that can be watched live, and related events both ongoing and upcoming.
“With Apple TV, we [wanted] the experience on your television to be as great as the experience across the rest of your Apple devices,” said Cook. “Now with the TV app, there’s really no reason to watch TV anywhere else.”
The new TV app will begin rolling out to Apple TV devices, iPhones, and iPads in December. Improved Siri search launches on Apple TV today.
Apple’s TV builds on the company’s ongoing effort to make combing its platform’s myriad programming less of a chore. In early August, the company debuted a redesigned, Siri-touting Apple TV remote app for iOS that recognizes voice queries — shout “search for movies starring Johnny Depp,” “play music by the Beastie Boys,” or “show me popular sci-fi shows” and the Apple TV responds accordingly.
And it’s a boon for Apple’s partners, besides. “For network programmers, it provides a central hub for promoting new shows,” wrote USA Today. “[It’s] a helpful tool at a time when old programming tricks for launching a new series, such as wedging a freshman show next to a hit program, don’t work in a digital world.”
But not everyone’s joining the party. According to a report from Recode, Netflix won’t be among the list of pay-TV providers available on TV at launch.
Apple’s pivot to curation services amounts to a concession, on its part, to TV content producers. In 2015, Bloomberg reported Apple had “indefinitely” suspended plans to launch a live TV service over pricing disagreements with launch partners. Not much has changed since then — in February, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said the company had not had any recent conversations with Apple about live streaming.