My family owns two Apple TVs. The Apple TV is a $99 set top streaming box that connects to your TV. It can display content from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and so forth. There’s also a great feature called AirPlay, which allows you to stream from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac directly to the TV (this is basically the only feature my family uses). All things considered, it’s a great piece of hardware. But it could be so much more. Steve Jobs once famously said that the Apple TV was just a hobby for Apple (since the market wasn’t quite ready for it). Times have changed, however, and Tim Cook has said that the Apple TV isn’t just a hobby anymore. There are lots of people hoping for big improvements to the Apple TV this fall, so here’s my list of features I’m hoping for.
1. Third-Party Channels
Right now the Apple TV has different “channels,” which are very similar to apps. For example, there’s a Music channel, a Movies channel, a Netflix channel, and the list goes on. However, the only way for a company (such as Netflix) to get an channel is to work directly with Apple. There is no SDK (software development kit) for developers to make channels on their own, and no store to download channels from. In order for the Apple TV to really hit it big, this SDK and store need to happen. For example, there is no Amazon Prime Instant Video channel on the Apple TV. Therefore, we have to AirPlay from the Instant Video iPad app in order to use the service. This works well enough, but it’s hardly ideal. Opening up an SDK would also open up a whole new world of innovation. Allowing developers to think outside the set top box could result in some really cool things, such as Apple TV games that use your iPhone as the controller (to be fair, some iPhone apps can already do this, but I’m sure it would work better if the Apple TV was more heavily involved). Unfortunately, I don’t think this feature is going to happen this year. If Apple intended to release an Apple TV SDK, they would almost certainly have to do so before the hardware was launched, so that there would be good channels available on the store the day it hit the market. The perfect time to do this would have been at WWDC. Since we didn’t see an SDK at WWDC, I don’t think we will actually see third-party channels this fall.
2. A Real Cable Deal
My family has Dish Network. Generally speaking, we’re happy with it, but there are a ton of channels we never watch. As the Macworld Podcast’s Chris Breen noted, it would be awesome if Apple could partner with, say, Comcast, and have an Apple TV exclusive cable package. This package would be relatively small, having only the most popular 30 or 40 channels (Discovery, History, AMC, etc.), but it would also be relatively inexpensive. The key feature that really sets this apart from Netflix, however, is that it would also include locals channels – which of course includes local sports. Live sports are arguably the biggest thing holding many people back from ditching cable entirely in lieu of Netflix. I think my family would seriously consider switching to this Apple TV package.
3. Supersized Today View
In iOS 7, there’s this really cool feature of notification center called the Today View. Basically, it shows you your calendar, reminders, stocks, and the weather. Even better, in iOS 8, third-party app developers will be able to create Today View widgets, to give you even more info (like sports scores). Since the Apple TV is connected to a large screen, I think it has huge potential for this kind of glanceable information. What I’m thinking of is a huge dashboard that you can look at first thing in the morning. Instead of waking up and having to check four different apps to see how your day is going to pan out, you could just see one big screen on your Apple TV. This would be similar to what morning shows do on The Weather Channel. They have their main show playing in the majority of the screen, but there’s other stuff on there as well. At the bottom is a news ticker; on the sidebar, a brief weather summary and flight delay information. I would love to wake up and turn on the TV to see this dashboard. I want a breaking news ticker on the bottom, and weather and traffic on the sides. In the middle could be lots of boxes scrolling my texts, emails, Twitter feed, and so on.
And finally, I hope as much of this as possible will happen through software updates, and not hardware updates. As cool as these features would be, I find it hard to believe my family would spend $200 to replace the two Apple TVs we already have. Especially when most of us would probably benefit from watching less TV in the first place. ••