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Apple's new TV app is an important half-step to the future

Apple's new TV app is an important half-step to the future


Messy, but getting there

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I just got a chance to play with Apple’s new TV app on the Apple TV, which is... just called TV. It’s more of a second home screen than an app, really — when you open it up you see a bunch of shows and movies that you can watch based on the video services you’ve subscribed to either directly or through your cable provider. If you don't have the apps installed, you won't see the stuff. That's the big thing to know — this is another frontend to apps, not a service on its own. And importantly, there’s no Netflix content anywhere in sight, although Apple says it’s working to sign up more partners soon.

Netflix isn't here yet

Clicking on a show or movie opens the Apple TVs show screen that display all the apps a particular show is in, and then you can pick one, which will then open that app and play. This is where it gets confusing: the TV app isn’t actually where anything plays, so when you hit menu while a video is playing, you get dropped back into the Showtime or HBO Now app or whatever. Apple’s remapped the home button on the remote to take you back to the TV app, but it doesn’t remember where you left off — it starts you right back at the top of the interface.

If you have a cable subscription, Apple is supporting something called single sign-on, which means you can authenticate an app like HBO Go and have those credentials get you into every other app your provider supports, like Watch ESPN or FX or whatever. Apple’s going to put "collections" in the store of all the apps supported by various providers like Comcast and Verizon, but it’s not quite the dream of opening the TV app and signing in and just finding all the content that’s possible to watch. In other words, it’s not quite a cable box, but you can do the work to make it act like one if you download enough apps.

It’s messy, to be sure — it feels like a half-step between a huge collection of video apps and a single streaming TV service. But it’s a super important half-step, which finally allows the Apple TV to be a primary video browsing device, instead of just a place you go to watch specific things. We’ll have to play with it a lot more when it comes out, which is scheduled for later this year.


Apple announces new TV app