Can iOS Finally Change The Set-Top Box Market?


I don’t remember if I caught this when the rumors first came out a few weeks ago, but the thing we were all afraid Apple would make finally seems to be about to appear at WWDC this June.

I’m pretty sure more than once on this blog, the last time two years ago, I talked about the possible effects of Apple eventually bringing the totality of iOS and its app store to the living room. Since then others have tried essentially the same thing with other operating systems but I still think Apple’s play could be different, and significantly change things.

Devices like Amazon’s Fire TV, the Roku, the Ouya, and even the Xbox are trying to expand the still-nascent market for app-driven devices in the living room. A lot of people might look at efforts like the Fire TV and all the other Android consoles and say the idea is fundamentally weak. Putting mobile games on your TV doesn’t seem to have driven audiences in a dramatic way, certainly not in a way that’s threatening to traditional game consoles.

I think the number one difference with Apple here is, if it does release a souped-up Apple TV with internal storage and the full iOS app store, it’ll have a lot more developer support than any of these other set-top boxes. Sure most of these competing boxes are basically Android machines, but Android by nature isn’t focused on individual machines, and the developer community still focuses more on the mobile machines than the TV boxes. The iOS app store on the Apple TV would give a lot of developers a singular beacon to adapt to.

Just running existing iOS apps won’t work (though you’ll probably be able to). With the iPad there was an adjustment period where developers had to adapt all their software, and that adjustment is already occurring for the Apple Watch. They’ll have to do the same thing for Apple TV versions of their apps. I also think it’s a possibility a lot of game developers might make games specifically for the living room setting. We already see quite a few games that are iPad-only, and a few Apple Watch games have already been announced. I’m sure we’ll see at least a few Apple TV games — essentially iOS console games, this year. Apple probably won’t heavily promote the Apple TV as a “console,” but there’s a good chance app store developers will try to turn it into one anyway.

I still have no idea what Apple is going to do for the new box’s control interface though. I really hope it doesn’t stick with that little remote. Sure you’ll be able to use other Apple devices as remotes but there has to be a fall-back standard. You won’t see a traditional game controller straight from Apple either, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Apple TV used Apple’s controller standard for third party models. Siri will definitely help, but it can’t be the end-all-be-all.

The only operating system with infrastructure advantages similar to iOS going into the set-top-box market is probably going to be Windows 10, and developer support for Windows apps has been nowhere near that for iOS and Android. Having Windows apps on the Xbox One is going to be really cool, but in and of itself I din’t think it will be a huge draw. Intel’s Compute Stick is still pretty impressive though.

I personally won’t need much of this stuff because I’ve hooked up a computer to my TV and no longer need to worry about what devices have what apps. This whole set-top-box market probably means little for power users. I think the best-case scenario though is this new Apple TV becomes to the Mac Mini what the iPad is to the MacBook.


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