28: Apple TV's killer app

Maybe I'm impatient, but I'm still waiting for the future of TV — apps! — to arrive. Several months in, my new Apple TV isn't doing much more for me than my old one was, apart from being able to actually handle basic live video decoding. Nothing new has emerged as a killer app on tvOS.

There have been high profile releases: the C+ March Madness app that I endured for three weeks, and the latest high-priced over-the-top service from Starz. Games aren't driving the platform either (and how could they with such confusingly limited controls?). The latest crop of featured games is pitiful, including a port of a 22-year-old Sega Genesis title and a more recent iOS port — sorry, universal app — whose icon is pure nightmare fuel.

Choose your dystopian hellscape: fire or robots.

Choose your dystopian hellscape: fire or robots.

Below those in the App Store lurk services like Hulu and Netflix. As great as these services and their ties to universal search are, they still don't satisfy my primary desire for the platform: to simply watch TV, sometimes live, without managing a dozen subscriptions. Even just a few channels, the equivalent of broadcast, would suffice.

On my old Apple TV, I had an app that served this function: Aereo. Technically in residence on my iPad, proper live TV was accessible via AirPlay at a moment's notice — no crappy pre-roll ads, no flaky custom video players. (Then the Supreme Court killed it. I'm still bitter.) Bringing even that basic experience to the Apple TV's powerful hardware would be pretty killer: it would increase my use and almost certainly drive more casual TV viewers to buy into the platform. Think about Phil Schiller's recent dig at old Windows PCs that could be replaced with iPads. How many million "sad" 5-year-old cable boxes are there in America? How many people would love to replace an older relative's clunky cable box with a simple Apple TV? But if it doesn't get NBC, it's a no go.

Content deals with major US networks allegedly held up the 4th generation Apple TV's release. With seemingly no progress on that front, I had assumed that the holy grail of over-the-top services would never arrive. Then out of nowhere came PlayStation Vue, a more comprehensive offering than I'd ever imagined, at a sensible price, garnering rave reviews.

Now Apple is in danger of falling far behind in TV. We may never know why negotiations stalled — could the iTunes Music Store have really made TV networks so gun-shy, while Apple Music deals were being inked at the same time? Perhaps Apple still has a chance to leapfrog, if they can produce an Apple TV service, mirroring the model of Apple Music (everything new plus the back catalog, for a fixed fee). Unless that happens, watching a national sporting event or getting election news on tvOS is going to be at best clunky and at worst impossible. If only other platforms get killer apps (PS Vue runs on the Amazon Fire TV), tvOS apps won't be the future, they'll be the prey.