Siri and third party apps: New Apple TV plays catch up
James R | On 09, Sep 2015
Siri and third party apps are the biggest features of the new Apple TV, which was unveiled this evening at the latest Apple Event.
Apple once dismissed its little black box as a hobby, but the streaming media device market has raced away from them in recent years, as everyone from NOW and Roku to Google and Amazon enter the living room, each offering new ways to hook your telly up to the Internet.
What would Apple’s answer be? Rumours have surrounded the new Apple TV for some time, ranging from the ambitious launch of a new subscription VOD service to the less ambitious introduction of an App Store.
Indeed, with its locked-down interface and inability to customise apps, the old Apple TV has languished far behind in what is now a heated competition. But Apple has worked “really hard and long” on its new offering, Tim Cook promised his live audience tonight.
Here’s what you need to know about the new Apple TV:
The App Store
“We believe the future of TV is apps,” Cook declared, before unveiling the long-awaited support for third party apps. Developers will now be able to create their own content for the box, with confirmed launch apps ranging from Airbnb to – in one bizarre demonstration – online clothes shopping with Gilt.
The box is powered by tvOS, an operating system based on iOS, so apps that are universal across iOS devices can be purchased once and added to all of them. Apple Music will be available, as well as fitness apps, Zillow and a reader for comic books called Madefire. NOW will continue to be on the box, alongside Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo, YouTube, Vevo, Sky News, Bloomberg TV and kids’ VOD service Hopster.
Live sports will be available too, with a focus on the MLB (Major League Baseball) app, with streaming in HD in 60fps, live stats and the ability to watch multiple live games at the same time by swiping between them. Red Bull TV, WWE Network, NHL and NBA will also be included.
As many anticipated, Apple is placing an emphasis on the new Apple TV’s ability to play games, thanks to its powerful 64-bit A8 chip.
Confirmed games range from Guitar Hero, sci-fi actioner Transistor and Disney Infinity to Rayman Adventures, puzzle game Shadowmatic and a 3-D space shooter, Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising, plus an updated version of Frogger-style game, Crossy Bird, which was demonstrated on stage. Users playing games on their iPad will be able to switch to their Apple TV to continue gameplay.
The title to get the biggest attention was Beat Sports, a musical baseball hybrid that involves hitting balls in time with beats: for Apple, the future of TV is, essentially, Wii Sports 2.
That Wii-like functionality is thanks to Apple TV’s new Siri Remote, which has a glass touch screen to allow for swipes as well as clicks to control both menus and games. An in-built motion sensor will allow users to swing it around, Nintendo-style, to play games such as Beat Sports. (A “Remote Loop” will be sold separately to tie the remote to your wrist, in case things get a little too – ahem – out of hand.) MFi-based third party controllers will also be supported.
The Siri Remote will use Bluetooth 4.0 as well as IR, so it does not need to be pointed at the screen and features a rechargeable battery, with a Lightning connector for charging.
Crucially, multiplayer support for games will allow other family members and friends to join in with their iPhones as controllers, saving customers the cost of buying additional Apple TV remotes. As before, users with iOS devices will also be able to cast content to the big screen through AirPlay.
The biggest new feature, though, is Siri, which, again, was already anticipated. Siri will allow for voice search on Apple TV, much like Amazon Fire TV.
Where Amazon’s voice search is only limited to Amazon’s Instant Video store and Prime Instant Video catalogue, though, Apple has trumped its rival by allowing Siri to search other platforms too, including Netflix and (for US users) Hulu and Showtime. Apple promised more will be added in the future.
Siri will also support detailed voice search, with users able to ask, for example, to “find the episode of Modern Family with Edward Norton”. Siri can also filter search results by cast, date and age ratings. For example, you might say: “Show me a Bond film,” followed by, “just the ones with Sean Connery.”
Siri can also work during playback, allowing users to ask what else a particular actor has appeared in – much like Amazon’s IMDb-powered X-Ray service. Unlike Amazon, Siri can also use Apple’s weather app to tell you what the weather is like in the middle of watching a TV show. (Why you would do that is not explained.)
In event of missing something or not hearing a crucial line of dialogue, users can also Siri to prompt the TV to rewind by 15 seconds and automatically display subtitles.
Apple TV price and release date
The new Apple TV has a release date of November 2015, with the US price set at $149 for a device with 32GB storage space and $199 for 64GB. This places the box at a higher level than both Amazon’s Fire TV box and Roku’s box, and an even higher level than the rivals’ cheaper stick options.
Apple TV: A Roku or Fire TV killer?
Apple has waited a long time to unveil its Roku and Fire TV killer. The new Apple TV immediately beats both through its use of Siri to allow for not only voice search, but also cross-platform voice search and in-depth filtering of results. With a snazzy new remote to boot, the interface puts Apple firmly in front.
But content is king – and Apple will need inspiring content (including must-play games) to compete with Roku’s comprehensive app store and Fire TV’s cheaper price tag.
Will All 4, Demand 5, ITV Player and BBC iPlayer all feature on the new Apple TV? The Apple Event today is as US-centric as its device, so it will not be until nearer November that we’ll know for sure. Indeed, live baseball streaming may help to sell more boxes in America, but in the UK, where BT and Sky hold the rights to football and baseball and basketball have a very tiny audience, it will take a lot more than just Siri to convince customers to stump up the more expensive fee.
The new Apple TV is a big step forward – and third party app developers have proven their ability in their past to turn Apple’s devices into indispensable gadgets – but while it now plays video games, Apple TV still looks like it’s mostly playing catch-up. It may not be until the rumoured launch of its own streaming service that Apple’s promise to reinvent TV really comes into fruition.