It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what this week’s most important announcements are. Apple, Google, and Microsoft, the three towering tech giants dropped a series of gadgets that are well positioned to change the future of PC. There is a clear trend among them: each is designed for a special subset of professionals, which is reflective of the industry as a whole: traditional PC’s are fading from average households and becoming specialized professional tools.
But among these innovative pushes for PC’s to become the trucks of computers is Apple’s TV app. The one app that unifies all your television experience by aggregating all the content every tvOS app offers into one interface. This, out of everything released on October 27th, is probably the most strategically important product announcement.
Capturing a market that hasn’t grown noticeable
I don’t think it’s innovative. It’s not flashy or futuristic, but that’s perfectly fine. The crucial realization is that Apple is moving ahead of everyone else to capture a market that doesn’t yet stand out. Remember the first MacBook Air? No one asked for an expensive, screamingly thin, and underpowered laptop. But they all missed the point. Apple didn’t create the first Air to satisfy an existing demand, it was a classic case of industry disruption: they were iterating on a product that would eventually surpass existing ones while others were busy polishing the status quo. It would start expensive and niche and slowly by the magic of economics come down in price and go up in power. And before anyone could act, Apple touted the best line of ultrabooks that left others years behind in competition.
I think that’s the trajectory for Apple TV. Apple TV was more than underwhelming for its first few years of life, and expensive compared to its competitors. When Apple announced the new Apple TV with an App Store, that signified a strategic shift. The introduction of tvOS meant that the black box is no longer a glorified streaming dongle, but a standalone family computer. The new voice-controlled computer could position itself against Echo, Google Home, and stands in the center of a mesh of smart home devices.
Then comes the TV app. How does a single app change the game? By being here early and helping create a top-notch family computer experience before others. It’s like the early MacBook Air. But why a family computer? Why not self-driving cars, drone delivery network, Apple houses, or an AR headset? Those are equally promising, but TV is the low hanging fruit. Last time I checked, families and homes are not going away anytime soon, so rather than other products that require a tectonic shift in consumer behavior and perception, a shared content-consumption experience, namely TV for the last century, is the low-hanging fruit ripe for disruption.
Post-millennials are Apple TV’s primary targets. Maybe us millennials too
Millennials are cutting the cord, that’s old news. But we haven’t stopped watching TV. More importantly, post-millennials, who are still in school learning how to algebra, will never grow up with the cord. They will grow up playing with touch screens, navigating apps, and soaking themselves in immersive technologies and content on demand, never subjecting themselves to the broadcast schedule set by someone else.
This generation will see the TV as a giant computer, not just a content streaming device. They will expect this giant screen to facilitate social moments with friends and families, interact with them, talk to them, entertain and educate them.
The TV app brings together the video content everyone wants to watch, but more importantly, presents it in a way post-millennials understand.
As content partners fully accept their slipping revenue in top boxes and traditional cable businesses, more of them will flock to devices like the Apple TV. Apple is already putting iOS devices in the hands of many children. These young minds will grow up iOS-native. Apple’s design philosophies and interaction models are home to them, which poses more inertia to buying a competitor’s device. And if we fast forward in a simplified world model, when they grow up to be working adults and start having families, the Apple TV will be the go-to choice for family entertainment. It will already work with everything they own.
Humans are creatures of habit, and I think that’s the winning strategy Apple TV is betting on.
On the same note, perhaps emerging markets will welcome devices like the Apple TV more so. We have literally hundreds of millions of people in India, China, and other rising nations that grew up with smartphones and tablets and never became accustomed to the rigid world of websites, search boxes, file systems and apps. These people use chat interface to call taxis and pay utility bills and expect devices to understand what they say and what they want. A unified TV experience with voice as the input method can’t be more perfectly positioned to appeal to these users.
In other words, the emerging population demands a more human-centered and shared computing experience more than ever.
How the Apple TV can do that
Apple already developed a crucial ingredient of shared computing: switching user context by Touch ID. Accounts, passwords, and identities are notoriously hard concepts to understand and remember, more so in countries that leapfrogged the age of email+password mess. Users in China usually identify themselves by phone numbers and security codes sent via texts. (That may or may not have anything to do with the fact that the email address system inherently assumes a good grasp of the Latin writing system). What if Apple uses fingerprint to skip registration and login, and as soon as you put your finger on the touch ID sensor, it automatically detects a new user and asks you to spell your name or simply logs you in?
Imagine a subtle Touch ID sensor on the TV remote: when the mother holds the remote and presses the Touch ID sensor, Apple TV switches to her user context, with personalized recommendations for her and “Up Next” episodes she left off. When the kid and his friends come home, Apple TV switches to his account showing commonly used games, shows, and education apps.
Now imagine an Apple TV that can pair with an arbitrary number of remotes. Naturally, these remotes will be left at different spots in your house. Apple TV can listen to the “Hey Siri” hot keyword from all these remotes and provide instant help via the remote’s speaker closest to you. If Apple can cram an unbelievable amount of technology and battery life into the Watch, it can do the same for the remote once the cost goes down.
An even crazier idea: imagine remotes not as controllers, but standalone computers themselves. You can plug one of them into your newest game controller or console, and instantly the controller or console can talk to your Apple TV without a hitch. Bring your remote to your friend’s house, suddenly you can play a multiplayer game against your friends with your Game Center account. Or maybe, the remote itself is just an iPhone… I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m sure many of you have even better ideas. The possibilities are exciting and limitless.
Obviously, Apple TV’s path to dominate post-millennials’ homes has a lot of big if’s. Google might take over the integration market with an Assistant-themed ecosystem. Amazon for all you know might have a lineup of killer devices up their sleeves. Nintendo Switch might finally make us all gamers again and reclaim its throne in the living room. Even Microsoft seems like it’s finally starting to appreciate design. As we transition away from tediously moving our cursors and wording every single intent on the keyboard toward waving magic wands at devices that require the least input to accomplish the most, the living room computer will be the way to the future of shared computing experience. Apple TV is a platform designed to do that, and the real protagonist of the show has just gotten started.
This article was originally published on Fwd: Thoughts, a publication Jasper and I run on Medium. Follow us there if you'd like to read our thoughts on tech, design, and business.