How the Apple TV can win the living room

The Apple rumour mill has now reached a conclusion; an updated Apple TV is finally (yes, I’m allowed to use the word finally) coming on September 9th.

It’s been a long time in the making. After years of speculation on the form it would take, whether it would actually be a TV or just another set-top box, whether it would have a cable-busting streaming service along with it, and exactly what Steve Jobs meant when he told Walter Isaacson that he had finally cracked it.

The smoke is billowing in the direction of it being a slightly larger device than the current Apple TV, but still very much a set-top box. No streaming service just yet, that’s more likely to come next year. The selling point is going to be the significantly upgraded hardware, software and remote, but most of all, apps.

I wrote years ago about how Apple could win the living room (a post I seem unable to find) if they would simply offer an Apple TV with an app store. It seems they are finally ready to make that happen. The Roku is a fine little box, the Fire TV is the same, but neither of them have thriving app eco-systems. They both have the same fare, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Plex, MLB… nothing too exciting. On the gaming front, a few badly ported Android games make up the bulk of what the Fire TV has to offer, hardly anything that’s going to send shivers down the spines of those in the corridors of Sony and Microsoft.

But an Apple TV, now that really has the opportunity to shake things up. The shrine of Apple, despite the best attempts of their competitors, are where most of the top app developers now worship. Strong developer tools, regular updates, good documentation and three platforms that share a common core has allowed developers to quickly take advantage of each new product Apple has introduced. The Apple Watch, for all I’ve found the apps to be a total non-starter for me, had hundreds of the things within the first few days. The introduction of a fourth product into that list, backed by tvOS and the same core, will mean a gold rush of apps hitting the platform within the first few months.

Apps are the difference between a successful platform and a failed platform. Once consumers start seeing all the things their TV can now do, and if they can do it with Siri, the same assistant they’re already used to on their phone, then it’ll win out over it’s competitors.

The XBone and PS4 both have app stores, but they’re still much more of a closed eco-system than the Apple one, and their higher price point and image as being “for gamers” put them on a different footing. And when it comes to that market, it’s unlikely the hardcore gamers are going to be switching over to the Apple TV any time soon. But the casual market and family markets? The market where Skylanders is king and their last full game already runs on an iPad just fine – that’s where they should be worried. Nintendo, even more so.

What will be the make or break will be the remote. You’ll get a real sense of what Apple expect people to do with this when that’s revealed. Exactly who they’re targeting. Don’t discount that the aforementioned Skylanders for the iPad actually comes with a perfectly serviceable Bluetooth controller, but if the new Apple TV remote looks just the same as the current one, you know they’re not going for the gaming market directly. If it has some form of motion control, touch pad or a significant number of physical buttons, perhaps with the ability to hold it sideways to make it more gamer friendly – you’ll know they’re firing a clear shot across the gaming parapets. After market third, or even first, party controllers are one thing, but if you really want the device to make a dent, and want developers to care, you need a pack-in remote that satisfies 90% of what casual gamers need. If I can’t play Clash of Clans on this thing, they’re shooting too low.

Games, apps, social media, pack an HDMI pass-through into this thing for iMessage popups over your existing TV signal, sell an external iSight camera for Facetime on the big screen, let me ask Siri to play the Apple music of my choice from sitting on my couch – the opportunities here are endless. They have the eco-system, they have the technology, they’ve spent almost a decade putting all the pieces together, now they just have to take the ball and get it into the end zone.

Next weeks event might be the traditional iPhone event, but the ATV has the potential to be the biggest Apple story of the year.