On the surface, Apple TV seems increasingly focused on cable subscribers instead of cord cutters.
Since its launch last fall, the fourth-generation Apple TV has added several features that provide more convenient access to "TV Everywhere" apps (such as WatchESPN, FX Now, and HBO Go) that require a cable or satellite login to access. Siri is becoming more effective at finding what you want from these channels; the download process is becoming more streamlined; and with the next version of Apple's tvOS software, logging into these apps will become much less of a hassle.
While these are useful improvements, it's hard to believe cable subservience is Apple's true goal. For a device that's supposedly the "future of television," its best features are becoming awfully dependent on a cable subscription, which in turn requires a cable box. Can Apple really reinvent TV when its hardware is relegated to a secondary input or a spare television?
With tvOS, I believe Apple is laying the groundwork for something bigger. Either Apple is preparing for a future where more cable companies offer streaming-only TV service-sans cable box-or it's hoping to offer its own standalone streaming service that provides access to a bundle of TV Everywhere apps.
Re-imagining an Apple streaming service
Rumors of an Apple streaming-TV service have persisted for years, often with the assumption that Apple would reinvent the TV interface along with it. While Apple has reportedly pressed pause on developing its own service, the interface reinvention is happening anyway through the existing cable app ecosystem.
TV Everywhere apps are available on lots of other streaming boxes, from Roku to Amazon Fire TV, but Apple is trying to make them easier to use. A section of the App Store provides quick access to all of these apps in one place, and with single sign-in coming to the next version of tvOS, you'll only have to enter login credentials once to access every app. (To go a step further, imagine if services were tied to your AppleID, so you'd never have to login after initially setting up the Apple TV.)
Single sign-in will authenticate all TV Everywhere apps through Apple TV settings.
Apple is also extending the usefulness of TV Everywhere apps through Siri. Compared to other streaming devices, Apple's voice assistant is better at searching genres and fine-tuning results, and the number of TV Everywhere apps that support Siri is steadily expanding. As for live TV, tvOS lets you jump into telecasts using Siri voice commands, so you can say "Watch ESPN live" instead of digging through an app.
Apple still has work to do in re-imagining the TV interface. Streaming devices like Apple TV could use some kind of universal watch list, and more ways to browse for recent or favorite programs that don't involve yelling at your remote control or jumping into a dozen different apps. (My hope is that Apple creates a TV-centric version of the "Proactive" features that exist on iPhone and iPad.)
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