I was pretty snarky about this on Twitter when the news hit on the weekend, which I think gave people the impression that I thought Apple was making the wrong moves here. I actually think the opposite. This is great for everyone.
I have been asking for Apple to license video AirPlay to third-parties since it launched on Apple TV in late 2010; in fact, there were reports all the way back in 2011 that Apple was negotiating with TV set manufacturers to do exactly that.
Businesses and schools have been buying Apple TVs in droves just to enable wireless projection of iOS device screens. It’s such a big part of the product’s appeal that Apple added a Conference Room mode to support this usage. I think around 60 million Apple TVs have been sold, and I’d guess 10% of them are only used for AirPlay.
On the mainstream angle, a lot of smart TVs integrate a technology called DLNA to enable wireless video streaming from Windows computers and Android devices. Apple has essentially held back experiences to Apple devices that customers using other manufacturer’s products can already enjoy, and have been enjoying for half a decade. No normal person buys an Apple TV just for AirPlay, it’s simply too pricey.
If Apple had licensed AirPlay video more liberally from the get-go, every TV screen and projector would have it built in already. No need to buy a $100+ peripheral. No need to switch to the Apple TV input. No setup needed.
I am so pleased that Apple has changed their stance here. These partnerships bind Apple customers more closely to the iPhones, iPads and Macs they already own, and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty rates. It will take time for the number of AirPlay 2-enabled TVs sold to be meaningful, but in the course of time, it will be commonplace.
For Samsung TVs, Apple is going further and will release an iTunes Movies and TV Shows app, representing the first time Apple is bringing its video services to non-Apple platforms. It won’t be the last time either.
These rollouts erode some hitherto exclusive features of tvOS and will cannibalise Apple TV sales substantially. I saw people draw comparisons to Apple Music launching on Amazon Echo but I actually feel that this is more ‘severe’; these announcements marginalise the Apple TV way more than the HomePod is impacted by the Amazon deal.
In the absence of Apple making its own television set, Apple’s overall business is bettered by having a universal presence in the living room with these partnerships, rather than not just to protect the appeal of its middlingly successful set-top box. People are going to be amazed when they can ask their iPhone to play a TV show and it just starts playing on the TV. They will buy more iPhones and sign up to the Apple video service because of it. Even discarding the imminent Services onslaught, I would still argue that this is the right thing to do.
The Apple TV hardware proposition needs to change. The Apple TV is not a competitive product in its current form. With Apple giving away the crown jewels to Samsung, LG, Sony and Vizio, it is going to require a radical overhaul. Maybe they start bundling Apple TVs with its video subscription service, maybe they change to a Chromecast-like form factor. I love the tvOS interface — it’s the best Plex client available — but I can also recognise that the idea of a $150+ set-top box is closer to irrelevance than it ever has been before.