Not so Fast on that Apple TV SDK

Dan Frommer is sure an AppleTV App Store is on the way:

Apple TV owners just got a bunch more channels: Vevo, the Weather Channel, more from Disney, and Smithsonian. This follows a recent update that added HBO Go and ESPN apps, and represents a continued acceleration of new content being added to Apple TV.

My guess is that the individual companies — not Apple — are making these apps. As The Verge’s Greg Sandoval reported in June, HBO’s app was made completely in-house — “100 percent created by our software and design staff.”

This suggests some sort of Apple TV SDK is in functional shape for outsiders to use, and could eventually be distributed publicly the way it is for iOS and OS X.

I’m on record believing the same:

Imagine a $99 (or $129) “console” with an optional $49 controller and an App Store. That’s a lot of potential escapism, and a lot of user attention. It’s a lot of margin too (presuming the current Apple TV is profitable), especially at high volumes. I think it’s a space where a company that thinks different could have a “a significant contribution” and “crack” TV by not, in fact, being a TV at all.

However, I think I’m off the bandwagon, at least as far as a full-on SDK goes, for a couple reasons:

The hardware isn’t good enough for a full-on SDK

I covered this in Additional Notes on TV:

There are two big limitations with the current Apple TV hardware:

  • There is only 8GB of memory on board, which doesn’t leave much space to store apps
  • The SoC is a single-core A5

I’m pretty convinced at this point that the single-core A5 is here to stay. You don’t set up a dedicated line for a chip that you don’t plan on using for a good long time, and that chip simply isn’t good enough for AppleTV gaming in my opinion.

Moreover, 8GB is too small for games, especially, and seeing as how flash memory is one of the more expensive components, I don’t see it getting much larger.

What is an Apple TV best at, relative to an iOS device?

I found this article by Chris Adamson very compelling:

Assuming that we already have an iPhone in our pocket, what would make us use an app on the Apple TV instead? Think seriously about this, because that means walking into the living room, turning on the TV and waiting for it to warm up, hitting the “source” switch to go to the Apple TV input, finding the Apple TV remote and pressing a button to turn it on, arrowing over to our app, and starting it up…This isn’t a “third party opportunity”, it’s just an idea that sounds good on paper but pans out badly in real life.

Read the whole thing – it’s called The Case Against an Apple TV SDK and I think it may be a winning one.

That said, as Frommer noted, there is some sort of 3rd-party solution floating around. I rather like Adamson’s characterization of what that might be:

This makes total sense, and lines up nicely with Apple’s recent content deals and the HBO factoid Frommer spelled out. Moreover, as Adamson writes:

That answers the question we came in with: What can you do better on an Apple TV than you can do with the iPhone or iPad you’re already using?

The answer is streaming media. Big screen, big speakers… way better viewing and listening experience than on an iPhone or an iPad. That’s the one thing that makes sense for this class of device.

Ultimately, I absolute believe the broader conclusion I drew holds:

Ultimately, what disrupted the PC was not a competitive product; even today Windows still has >90% share of PCs. However, Windows commands an ever dwindling share of the time spent on all devices; phones and tablets have taken away attention because they do many of the jobs we previously hired PCs to do – read, draw, music, video, games – better.

The disruption of TV will follow a similar path: a different category will provide better live sports, better story-telling, or better escapism. Said category will steal attention, and when TV no longer commands enough attention of enough people, the entire edifice will collapse. Suddenly.

Most of the attention drawing, though, will come from iPhones and iPads. In the meantime, I’m now inclined to believe Apple will continue working with the TV powers that be on a superior content-viewing device that doubles as an iOS lockin.

We have seen Apple TV. It’s $99 and for sale now.