The fourth generation of the Apple TV device was launched at the end of October 2015. Although there is little on the outside to distinguish the new version from the previous two, the changes to the user interface, functionality, and remote control are significant. Previously, Apple TV had been thought of by some observers as something of an experiment by Apple, a way to test the waters before launching something bigger – perhaps in the form of a smart TV. However, the fourth generation of the device represents a shift of gear and shows that the company is fully committed to Apple TV. Although it is not yet the complete article, the fourth-generation device is more advanced than the previous iterations and, in Ovum’s view, cements Apple’s place among the top four streaming video device players, alongside Google, Amazon, and Roku.
Providing glimpses of the future of TV
The fourth generation of Apple TV has been more than three years in the making and is packed with new features. The remote control remains a relatively simple device, with just seven buttons, but has the added feature of a touch surface that allows the user to swipe and quickly scroll through content, just as they might on their smartphone. The big addition is that of Siri voice control capability. Apple is not the only player to use voice control as part of its user interface – Amazon, Roku, and Google also do so – but it has focused on making the experience as natural as possible. In Ovum’s view, the experience is a good one overall. As Ovum’s 2025 research series suggests, voice control will be a key component of all user interfaces in the future and although Siri does not get things right 100% of the time, it is evident that, with further refinement, voice is certainly part of the future for TV UIs.
One disappointment is that Apple’s voice search functionality is currently limited to certain functions, mainly focused around video. Once users start employing Siri to conduct searches, it is quite natural for them to want to use it for everything. It therefore seems strange to have to go back to the old “click and point” way of doing things when searching for music, for example. However, Apple is already working on developing the feature further and music search for Siri should be available soon.
Like Amazon with Fire TV, Apple has introduced universal search that enables the user to search for content across multiple channels. As with many connected video devices these days, Apple TV provides access to multiple sources of content and although choice is always good, it does present the problem of knowing what content is where. Apple has resolved this issue, at least for the iTunes and Netflix video libraries, by enabling search for content across both channels and providing the results on a single screen. On that screen it shows the cost of the content (where relevant) from each channel so the user can make an informed decision on to which to opt for. The only downside is that the feature is currently limited to iTunes and Netflix, but Ovum expects it to be rolled out across other catalogues over time.
Perhaps the most important new addition to Apple TV is the introduction of the App Store. Previous versions of Apple TV had third-party apps, but these tended to be preinstalled on the main menu and the user had to scroll through them to find what they wanted. The new App Store allows for a greater number and a variety of apps, as well as personalization of the main menu. The Apple TV App Store is not only limited to TV and video content, but includes other genres such as games, travel, online shopping, and fitness, thus enabling the development of new TV experiences. Games are played using the Apple TV remote, but users can also connect their iPhones or third-party controllers if they wish. Today the range of available apps is relatively limited, but it will grow once developers have had time to create apps for the new TV platform. Ovum is already aware of a number of developers – Runtastic, for example – that are producing Apple TV versions of their applications as a way of creating new experiences for their subscribers and broadening their customer bases.
One area that Apple is yet to address is the possibility of having individual profiles under one account. It would, of course, like every individual to have an Apple ID, but in Ovum’s experience this is not always the case, especially among families with younger children. Often shared devices in the home are linked to one account but used by many, and the TV is a good example. This is not such an issue until it comes to recommendations. Both music and video content stores have recommendation engines, but of course in a shared environment these become recommendations for the group rather than the individual. This is not a deal breaker and does not detract from the overall experience too much, but it may be an area for Apple to explore in future generations of the platform.
Another omission is 4K. Apple would probably argue that 4K is not yet important given the lack of content and installed TV sets. However, it is something that consumers are becoming more aware of and are increasingly likely to look for when choosing new video devices. Both Amazon and Roku now support 4K and therefore have the marketing advantage. Although the absence of 4K is unlikely to persuade Apple fans to buy a competing product when they have invested so much in the ecosystem, this is definitely a feature Ovum expects to see included in the next generation of Apple TV.
Michael Philpott, Practice Leader, Consumer Services