64: WWDC 2016 – The TV

Last and least in the Picomac WWDC roundup is tvOS. The youngest of Apple's OS platforms received the most modest of updates, delivered unconvincingly by Eddy Cue. Much had been preannounced on The Talk Show months ago, including the updated Remote companion app for iOS. Other features, like Dark Mode, are the kind you expect to find after an automatic update on a random Tuesday.

Steve Jobs remarked at WWDC 1997 that he thought it was nearly impossible for a tech company to maintain two platforms well. Fast forward 20 years, and it seems clear that as Apple tries to wrangle four platforms, tvOS is lagging the most. And it can't all be chalked up to youth: tvOS under that name is less than a year old, but the Apple TV as an iOS-based device will turn six this year. The much younger Watch had its false starts, but will securely assume third place in the hierarchy with version 3 and new hardware.

The Apple TV's biggest problem today is that it lives entirely on mantra. It was repeated again onstage: "The future of television is apps." It seems that Cue believes repetition and the power of positive thinking will make this true. To be fair, that's selling him short, as he personally and his team do a lot of legwork to bring partnerships and apps to the platform. But nobody needs to beg Fox Sports to build an app for iOS. The power dynamic is entirely different. As long as Apple has to spend concerted effort on one channel at a time, it's clear that they don't have the bargaining chips to revolutionize television wholesale, especially for cord cutters. (Single Sign-on, a newly introduced feature, certainly won't help them.) And automatic app downloads hope to kickstart the TV experience, but will likely just clutter it with apps better suited to your phone, where you downloaded them in the first place.

These latest announcements have confirmed Apple TV is essentially an iOS device that connects to your television and has some displays and features tailored for the couch experience. That's plenty for some. They're the ones who will enjoy the minor revisions to tvOS (note, not "tvOS 10"). But they should hope for the Apple TV's survival, not a revolution.