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Apple TV will be a No Show at Monday’s WWDC keynote …or will it ?

With content deals not quite complete and rumors of hardware delays, many people are now betting against Apple TV making an appearance during Tim Cook’s keynote address Monday. Here at Rerun though, we’re not so sure.

While we do expect there to be a dedicated event later in the year with a more complete set of announcements — including a subscription service with an almost full house of network content (it will likely still exclude NBC due to an ongoing conflict with NBC’s parent, Comcast) — we think there are enough compelling reasons for Apple’s “hobby” device to get at least some limelight on Monday morning.

The updated Adobe Digital Index for Q1 2015 has shown that, as a result of the price drop from $99 to $69 and the relentless addition of well known premium content, Apple TV has doubled its share of premium video viewing in Q1 2015. Even more significantly, this growth has seen Apple TV overtake the previous quarter’s connected device leader, Roku, in the process.

This would be a lovely stat indeed for Tim to boast about in his keynote — along with the trademark anvil effect.

By announcing an SDK and a simulator for a device to be launched later in the year, developers will have a lead time to a) get used to the new form factor and control system, and learn something about its advantages and its limitations and b) actually spend time writing some software that can be ready for launch later in the year.

This will be an entirely new category of device for designers and developers alike to come to terms with. A variable sized display that will typically be anything from 8 to 20 feet from the user and controlled by what’s expected to be a very minimal remote input device is not something that most WWDC-bound app developers will be used to.

It would add a lot of weight to a dedicated fall launch event if Tim could present an Apple TV App Store with a great range of third party apps and games from day one.

Not to be outdone by the launch of HBO Now, CBS has this week announced a standalone OTT service for Showtime, which will launch in early July. Like HBO Now, the Apple ecosystem will enjoy a post-launch exclusivity period, but the service will be a few bucks cheaper at $11.

Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, speaking with Kara Swisher at the Code Conference last week, when asked if he would do a deal with Apple to carry the CBS network as part of a new subscription service, answered with one word: “probably”; when asked what it would take, he answered “money”; but he also went on to elaborate and say how excited he was about the possibilities and that he had met with Apple’s Eddy Cue the previous week to progress the plans.

This is of course sweeping, non-committal and certainly not time specific, but it is at least the first time Moonves has talked openly about the potential deal leading us to believe it’s getting close and is now more a matter of when than if.

It’s also been reported that Apple wants to include as much local TV as possible in its subscription service. While this could be another cause for delays and may even seem counterintuitive, it could also be a masterstroke of genius, since bringing local TV into the Internet age is a hard technical problem and an even harder legal (rights) problem to solve.

It’s a problem that most local TV stations don’t have the resources nor even the beginnings of a desire to solve. Gracefully solving this problem for them could give Apple an advantage that would be difficult to compete with.
While it will take (a lot of) time to bring all of local TV onto the new platform, a starting point of a dozen could be announced next week, even if the service isn’t going live right away.

While working on these lynchpins of a full subscription service to rival the offerings of the cable companies, Apple has been slowly building up a large catalog of high quality content producers as ad hoc apps on the platform, with Nat Geo the most recent addition earlier this week.

This is perhaps tenuous, but Apple quietly released documentation for HomeKit earlier this week that lists, among its previously unconfirmed features, the ability for users to control devices in their homes using an Apple TV as a control hub.

Control your accessories away from home
If you have an Apple TV (3rd generation or later) with software version 7.0 or later, you can control your HomeKit-enabled accessories when you’re away from home using your iOS device.

A list of compatible devices and accessories was also released.

While it’s true that HomeKit will be supported by existing Apple TV hardware, it’s likely that the full realisation of the feature will see some kind of home hub having a more prominent role in a redesigned UI.

Why not announce that new UI at WWDC and again give third parties a head start on building the interfaces to these connected things ?

At Axonista, one of our favorite aphorisms is “Hope Is Not A Strategy”. It’s written atop our wall-sized whiteboard and our Slackbot even chirps it out when anyone mentions the word “hope” in a Slack channel. Our engineering team puts a lot of effort into ruling out the need for hope. And that’s great for things we do have control over.

But we’ve been waiting for Apple to announce an Apple TV SDK for so long that we’re beginning to break our own rule and latch onto glimmers of hope when we see them. And we’re seeing some glimmers !

Here’s what we’re hoping:

  • Full SDK and simulator. Available immediately.
  • Third Party App Store. Available at launch.
  • If not hardware, at least some specs.

For those that dare to hope a little more than others:

  • A preview of the hardware device and updated remote control.
  • A preview of the revamped UI.

And for the crazy ones:

  • New hardware and revamped UI available immediately.

The bottom line is that there is actually plenty of content already available on Apple TV and enough momentum and newly added partners (not to mention pent-up demand), to make it much less of a clear cut decision to put everything on hold until the fall.

Especially so if the teams responsible for building an updated product have already been working towards a planned announcement at WWDC. We’re sure they would appreciate a few extra months to make things more solid, but if they’ve been working towards an early June date, they will be able to do a great demo on Monday and still keep working on polish until the actual launch.

One of our favorite reactions to the rumors of no Apple TV at WWDC was that of John Moltz. He quoted Brian X. Chen of the New York Times “Yet one much ballyhooed device will be absent from the conference: a new Apple TV, Apple’s set-top box for televisions”, and followed up with this perfect retort:

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ if true.

Either way, the Axonista Screening Room will be packed with Apple nerds for the event and, with a start time of 6pm in Dublin, we’ll be watching with beer and popcorn — and clinging tightly to our glimmers of hope.

Whatever happens, we can’t wait !



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Daragh Ward

CTO at Axonista, maker of Ediflo and other software delights for TV broadcasters. Dreamer, adventurer, part-time sorcerer.