With the launch of its first wearable gadget out of the way, Apple is now shifting its focus back to bigger screens. Specifically, your television. No, the long-rumored Apple-branded TV set isn’t around the corner. But what Cupertino is planning for this summer sounds pretty significant.
In June, the Apple TV set-top box will reportedly get a substantial refresh, according to BuzzFeed. The updated device, which will be unveiled at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, is expected to sport the usual boost in specs: a faster chip, more storage, and presumably a different external design.
But what’s most significant about Apple’s TV upgrade isn’t the hardware. It’s what’s under the hood: The new Apple TV will reportedly run a new operating system with support for Siri voice control and, at long last, a third-party App Store complete with a software development kit (SDK) for programmers.
To date, the slow trickle of square icons onto the Apple TV home screen has happened via direct partnerships between Apple and content providers. For years, devs and Apple enthusiasts have anxiously awaited the ability to develop TV-specific apps just like they can for the iPhone, iPad, Mac platform, and even the brand new Apple Watch. Considering how central the app ecosystem has become to Apple’s most lucrative products, it’s a bit strange that the Apple TV has gone this long without letting developers in.
In the meantime, developers eager to craft TV-based experiences for Apple’s platform have had one option to hold them over: AirPlay. Using the Wi-Fi-based screen-sharing technology, users can port video content from their iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers to the television screen via Apple TV. Like Google’s Chromecast, AirPlay vastly expands the breadth of content that can be streaming from an Apple TV, but it does so with a user experience that’s less polished than what native apps can offer. That’s about to change.
But apps are still apps. And although services like YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix have begun to chip away at the traditional concept of “television,” the medium is still broadcast-heavy and most users still expect an immediate, continuous stream of content when they hit the “power” button, rather than always being faced with a screenful of apps and the tyranny of having to make a choice. That’s why Apple has long been rumored to be toying with the possibility of partnering with networks to launch some kind of live TV service, something that it’s now reportedly very close to achieving, according to Re/code.
Such a move would contribute to the unbundling of the cable TV model, which is already well underway, thanks in at least small part to Apple’s efforts. Next month, Apple TV users will be able to stream the Game of Thrones season premiere–as well as the rest of HBO’s extensive back catalog–in real time without a cable subscription, thanks to a new exclusive partnership between HBO and Apple. The new HBO Now subscription streaming service will be available only to Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad users for the first three months of its existence, a fact that can only serve to boost consumer interest in the hockey puck-shaped (and recently discounted) device that Steve Jobs once described as Apple’s “hobby.”
For Jobs, who once swore that “Apple will never make another TV again,” the television industry was nonetheless an area of great interest. And while the five-year-old rumors of Apple’s quest to build its own television set have yet to come to fruition, the company clearly has its sights set on the living room and the overall user experience of TV.
The details of Apple’s broader television strategy may be slow to unfold, but it looks like we’ll get a clearer picture than ever this summer.