Published on June 4th, 2018 | by Sebastian Szwarc0
Opinion: tvOS rants & wishes
With WWDC beginning today, there is a lot of rumors of what new things Apple may present. However, this conference, unlike any other event, is aimed primarily at developers which means the software is important here, not the hardware.
So it is good opportunity to give some love to tvOS, a system that usually sits in the shadow of its older brothers – MacOS and iOS.
While Kirk Hiner wrote some of the basic expectations of the BATV editorial team, I’m writing from the perspective of the only non-English speaking editor owning both 3rd and 4th generation Apple TVs and a history dating back to some of the first iterations of tvOS.
Sound and video codecs
I can’t afford a HomePod, Sonos speakers or home theater sound systems and could care less about the quality of sound. I always relied on built-in speakers into my TV so alleged support for Dolby Atmos is irrelevant for me, especially when 4th and 5th generation Apple TVs lost the optical output socket.
Video codecs support is a different story. There’s been, one could say, an unfair rivalry between Apple and Goole that has resulted in the war of standards. Google wants the rest of the world to use their proprietary VP9 codec, a situation Apple never has or will agree on. So don’t expect 4K videos support in YouTube app anytime soon. Every other video you can easily play without transcoding in Infuse Pro anyway.
Apple TV is somehow unique construction among streaming players because it acts as HomeKit server and center of automation in Apple implementation of “Internet of things.” Despite this fact, there is still no dedicated Home app in tvOS (however Apple left a separate menu in Settings), we can’t look under the hood to see what is going on with our smart home devices. Large TV screens seem the ideal place for monitoring and visualization of several HomeKit scenes and settings.
In 2018, every major tech company is trying to win a fair share of the market with their intelligent assistant and Apple is no exception. In my opinion, Xbox will never be the primary choice for a living room media center, but Amazon and Google will do everything they can to make their solution better than Siri and right now they’re doing a great job of that.
Siri on tvOS was always a bit limited in capabilities compared to its iOS counterparts. But now it is even worse because Siri’s performance is tied to an indexed content database. If Apple decided not to index content by country, you may not get Siri even if the language supported it.
Apple seems to not understand language nuances in the rest of the world. If they did, explain why Siri is only available in English in Canada on Apple TV but available in Canadian French on iOS device. Both languages have equal language status! Oddly, French is available on Siri for Apple TV in France. Can you explain this, Apple?
Europe is a continent, but Apple’s policy is to divide content availability by territory. What do you say to a man who comes from Germany, living in Switzerland and going to work to France?
There are a lot of languages that will never be part of Siri, but give me at least an option to turn on Siri for dictation for my language if they let me do that with Siri on iOS.
iTunes Music Store and Apple Music
Yes, there are people that still love to buy music, but on tvOS this option is noticeably absent. Let me browse the iTunes Music Store and listen to my albums without an Apple Music subscription.
Apple Music should have a separate option in the Settings menu for choosing an account the same way as it is now for Game Center and iCloud. if I’m on a U.S. iTunes account I can’t use my Apple Music subscription and switch accounts and that is simply not convenient.
Seriously, this is a situation I wouldn’t expect from such a large company like Apple. As a movie fan, I love to watch trailers on my ATV3 and can’t stand the Trailers app because it’s only available in a few countries. I don’t need trailers to be subtitled. Just put it there in the original language. How hard can that be?
Bring me TV Shows
If Apple wants to beat Roku in market share it must offer its users a better and more consistent experience. It is time to bring the TV Shows application internationally, especially to Europe. I know this is a matter of licensing deals, but how hard can this be for the largest company in the world?
Another thing is TV apps. It was supposed to be a replacement for the Movies and TV Shows apps and it is, but only on iOS. Apple is also very careful at the moment to provide a TV API to 3rd party developers and I really wish the TV app would allow for syncing with Trakt.tv or TV Guide services. But don’t count on Netflix to become part of this any time soon. The API is constructed in a way that developers must provide data indexed to Apple. Netflix will not agree to share its watching statistics with anyone, especially Apple. After all, deep analysis of watching habits is what brought them their success.
This is perhaps the most awaited addition for me in tvOS, but there really is no need for Picture-in-Picture on Apple TV. PIP on iOS would not allow people to watch two videos simultaneously. It would simply be an additional layer on top of the main view to allow playing video while doing something else, excluding playing another video. And you cannot have PIP if you close the original video source. What we really need is system-wide multicast.
Multicast means the ability to have parallel videos displaying two or more concurrent video streams. It is suitable in fact only for watching sport and there is no coincidence that currently there are only three applications that allow it…MLB.TV, ESPN, and FOX Sports GO.
Even if tvOS SDKs gives that possibility, it doesn’t mean it is easy to implement. neither FoxNow nor DirecTV Now or YoutubeTV offer such possibilities currently in their services.
Extending multicast for inter-app communication could bring one definitive advantage…a TV subscription service built right into the system. There were always rumors this is what Steve Jobs wanted.
While some may say the current TV app is what’s left of the rumored service, I argue Apple is going about it in a different way by creating an infrastructure first and then a service. System-wide multicast and content integration into a TV app would send the message to developers that Apple has the solution to deliver their content without them needing a custom app.
At the moment it is difficult to say if any of my predictions will become a reality, but the fact is tvOS still has a lot of gaps to be filled and there is no better moment to announce it than at WWDC.