I excitedly ordered my new Apple TV as soon as it was available for pre-order. I’ve never owned one before, even though I’ve given them as gifts to family members and used the device while visiting them. I anxiously waited for the pay off of Jobs’ exclamation that he’d finally “cracked TV,” as cited in on page 555 of Walter Issacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.
I’m sorry to report, Apple has not, in fact, cracked TV – and it’s not for a lack of trying. I get the distinct feeling that the only thing preventing Apple from making a device that could depreciate the value of a cable or satellite subscription is the mega-content corporations refusing to play ball. Time Warner, Inc., and their ilk are preventing this device from being great. This is, of course, pure speculation and conjecture on my part.
In this post, I’ll review the product from A to Z…and take a look into the advertising options and ramifications. Long story short: Apple has a way to go before this changes the advertising game. But it’s got a lot to build on.
First, a product review
The packaging, as you’ve come to expect from any and all Apple products today, is gorgeous. The shipping box was a brilliant piece of origami that opened up to present the two-tone black box to me, as if on a platter. Celophane removed from the box and the cover opened to reveal the device, tightly packed into its cardboard nest. The tolerances on the packaging are absolutely awesomely tiny. Its really insane, in the best possible way. The actual Apple TV box is larger than the previous generations but equally good looking, dressed all in black and with pretty much an identical shape.
It took me longer to find a Velcro cable wrap to wrangle the excess power, HDMI, and Ethernet cables than it did to set up the device. Unlock your iPhone, turn on Bluetooth, and set it next to the Apple TV to allow the little black monolith to ingest all your settings. Answer a few quick questions about your location and preferences before being presented with a a screen suggesting apps to download.
The remote is larger than previous versions and exponentially more functional. Its got a glass touchpad that feels exactly like the pointing device on your Macbook, dedicated buttons for a few key functions, and a ton of sensors – accelerometer, microphones, gyro, etc. – allowing it to not only be a remote control but also a WII-style game controller.
The interface is really gorgeous: simplistic and elegant. The biggest difference between the new device and the old is the fact that you’re now in a bespoke tvOS environment complete with its own app store. In the old paradigm, you were presented with the options you had. Now, there are myriad apps to install (more on this in a moment). The screen savers, as in previous versions, are worth a look. The new one, of the San Francisco skyline at sunrise as seen from a camera seemingly hovering over the Embarcadero, is quite impressive.
The apps offer a lot of choices, surprisingly many at launch – but, finding things is problematic because there is no categorization in the tvOS app store. Discover-ability must occur through the search box or through the featured apps; thankfully, someone took the time to do a whole bunch of searches and scrolling and recorded that hard work. If any of those apps strike your fancy, you’ll still have to search for them, and Siri won’t help you as she doesn’t work in the app store (apparently it’s beneath her). In fact, I tried to invoke Siri a few times and had no luck – I’m sure it’s me but, the average user will likely experience the same problems. The usual suspects (HBO Now, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc) are on my Apple TV at this moment, along with a couple of ‘true apps’ (TWIT Network app and a weather app) to see how they work on the big screen. They all work brilliantly. I’m eager to investigate some of the ABC/NBC/CBS apps that seem to be there, as I wonder what sort of content will be on offer. I haven’t tried any games yet either but, that will happen soon enough.
Is this a game-changer for advertisers?
Apple’s iAds…where to begin? Some might say Apple’s failed iAds platform but, I won’t get into that. This could make a huge impact — if it were available to use, which it’s not. According to the documentation that I was able to read on the Apple tvOS Developer website and developer forums, the framework was not included in tvOS SDK thus far. There are a few places were developers are specifically talking about it and the implication was that it was being requested as a feature from Apple. Will 3rd-party advertising APIs be inserting ads into video games and apps soon? I suspect that they will, as a means of ad-supporting apps and games. YouTube has a clever implementation of its ads within the YouTube App, preserving the “skip this commercial” functionality that we all know and love, by a “press” gesture on the remote.
Apple’s iAds have not been a financial success for the company thus far, never accounting for over half of one percent of Apple’s revenue, but that could change now. Apple’s stance on user data collection is reputed to be one of protecting your privacy; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Reviewing the terms and conditions of iAds, it becomes clear pretty quickly that advertisers have the ability to target consumers in very granular ways, similar to Facebook’s targeting features or any other programmatic buying – however, given the low adoption and lack of flexibility thus far, few advertisers have seen this channel working for them.
The tools are available to advertisers on other Apple platforms at present and offer some compelling formats. 30-second standard banners, MREC banners, full screen interstitials, and pre-roll are the standard units and would all translate well into the tvOS framework…it’s just a matter of Apple being motivated enough to provide the iAd framework in the tvOS SDK.
The verdict: Apple TV v.4 is a very solid evolution of the product and another step in our inevitable march into a new reality when it comes to large-screen viewing, but it’s not the revolutionary product that Steve Jobs touted before his untimely death.