Apple appears to be working on a revamp of its TV app that the company hopes will turn it into users’ go-to place for all their shows, movies, and more. A new Bloomberg report says Apple is planning to remove its apps for buying and renting content and bundle that with its streaming content, channel-subscription options, and more. The new app could launch as early as this December on the Apple TV box, across Apple’s other platforms, and on the other TV operating systems the Apple TV app is available on. (The fact that the Apple TV is distinct from the Apple TV app, which is not the same as Apple TV Plus, and that “Apple TV is available on Roku” is a technically true phrase never fails to blow my mind. These names! But I digress.)
In a sense, there’s actually nothing new about this strategy. Apple has long wanted the TV app to be the place users went not just to find Apple’s own content but to find, subscribe to, and manage everything else. Remember that famous quote where Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he’d “finally cracked” the future of TV? Jobs imagined a TV that didn’t have complicated remotes or countless inputs and that had “the simplest user interface you could imagine.” Apple hasn’t yet built a TV set, but this forthcoming update to the TV app appears to carry on that spirit. (Apple didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.)
Some of that spirit is already present in the current TV app. You can open it to see recommendations from multiple streaming services, and you can use the app to subscribe directly to other streaming services — giving Apple a cut in the process, of course. By combining the iTunes collection of shows and movies, Apple can make the TV app a place worth going even more often.
One reason for Apple to try and make its streaming dreams come true: the impending launch of the Vision Pro headset, which is many things but is most of all a television. The TV app is likely to be prominently placed in users’ headsets as they’re learning new interfaces and new behaviors; not all third-party apps are going to be there immediately, and that could give Apple a chance to build the kind of viewer habit few other apps have created.
The problem with this vision, of course, is that it’s just about impossible to pull off. Content providers have been reluctant to make their data and content available outside their own apps, preferring to keep users inside their own universes. (Netflix would much rather you find the new Great British Baking Show season by opening Netflix than by searching in the TV app.) As more services become ad-supported, too, they’re going to be even more competitive for your watch time. Apple’s Channels strategy has had ups and downs, too; a number of big services, even those like Max that were once available on the platform, no longer are. Many have tried to make the “universal streaming guide” work, and none have succeeded. Not even Apple.
The problem with Apple’s vision is that it’s just about impossible to pull off
Apple does have some important advantages here, though. The Apple TV Plus streaming service has become a surprise power player, churning out hit shows and critically acclaimed ones, with titles like Killers of the Flower Moon coming soon to the service. The MLS streaming service has evidently been a huge success for the company, too. As a result, many users are already accustomed to opening the TV app to find content.
For all the complications and setbacks, the dream of a better streaming experience just won’t die in the tech industry. And Apple, perhaps most of all — the company that revamped music buying with iTunes, made a fortune with the App Store, and is, in general, better than anybody at selling you content and collecting its commission — just can’t stop trying to make it work.