So I got an Apple TV and the necessary cables in order to sideload software to it. It’s a very interesting product.
But it’s a product which I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around, so here are my thoughts.
Think, for a moment, about how you interact with your mobile device. You may be waiting for a bus or you may be waiting at an airport–so you pull your mobile device out and maybe kill 5 minutes surfing the web or playing a game. (Thus, games that are easy to learn and which have a short play cycle–meaning a game you can play a level in 30 seconds or so–are quite popular. What makes games like Candy Crush or Angry Birds popular is that they combine a short play cycle with something that is easy to learn, and something which provides a lot of pretty animation and sounds–almost like a slot machine.)
A tablet is not something you’re going to pull out of your pocket like your cell phone. It’s something you pull out of your bag. But because its a tablet, you don’t need a desk; you can hold it in your hand. Like a paperback book.
And so a tablet is a great device if you want to spend an hour reading, or watching a movie. It’s also a great device for browsing your e-mails, surfing the web and reading content. It’s also a good device for playing games which have a deeper level of engagement: remember, it’s not something you can whip out in 5 seconds, tinker with it, and stuff back in your pocket. So I would think games that would work well on the iPad would be ones like world building games (like Caesar III).
Now a tablet combined with a keyboard would make a good device for creating some content–and in some ways it occupies the same space as a small laptop computer, which is also equally hard to pull out, and set up. So a tablet with a keyboard is like a laptop computer: you’re not pulling it out of your pocket like a cell phone. You’re not pulling it out of a backpack and holding it like a paperback book. Instead, you’re pulling it out, putting it together (a tablet with a keyboard) or opening it up, and you’re setting it on a desk.
At which point it’s time to start creating content–even if that’s just a blog post or a long response to an e-mail from work.
Desktop computers, of course, sit on your desk; they’re ideal for creating content, and since they are not mobile, they can be far more powerful since there are fewer constraints on power consumption and size. And being the most powerful, they are ideal for high powered games–games which require far more computational power than can run on a laptop computer. (Though today most processor manufacturers are concentrating on energy efficiency over raw performance, so the gap between desktop and laptop computers are not as wide as they used to be.)
Desktop computers are ideal for software developers, for running video and photo editing, and for sophisticated music editing. (I have a MacPro with 64gb RAM as my primary development computer, and it can compile a product like JDate’s mobile app in moments, where my 13 inch Mac Air takes several minutes to do the same task. I also have a 21″ monitor and a 27″ monitor attached to my MacPro–which means I can easily open Xcode on one monitor, have the app I’m debugging on the second, and have documentation open while I’m debugging the code.)
The Apple TV is not something you pull out of your pocket and fiddle with for 5 minutes. It’s not something you pull out of your backpack or purse and open up like a paperback book. It’s not even a laptop or tablet with a keyboard that you pull out of your backpack and set up on a convenient desk. It isn’t even a desktop computer, since the monitor is across the room and being watched by several people rather than sitting a couple of feet from your face on your desk.
And that makes the use case of the Apple TV quite different than the device you pull out and fiddle with for 5 minutes while waiting for a train, or pull out of your backpack and read like a paperback book.
Think of how you use your TV. You may pop some popcorn, or grab something to eat (my wife and I routinely eat dinner in front of the TV), sit down and eat while watching the TV. You may play a video game in front of the TV–but ideally the best video games for a TV can be a social experience.
But sitting down in front of the TV is not as trivial a process for many of us than even sitting down in front of a desktop computer. (A desktop computer you may sit down in front of in order to check your e-mail, but chances are you’re not sitting down for the long haul. So you’re not relaxing as you would on a couch, settling in and leaning back, sometimes with pillows or a blanket. Your desktop chair is probably far more utilitarian than your couch.)
That means you’ve sat down for the long haul, and you’re seeing some degree of entertainment. Even if it is interactive–a video game–you’re not sitting down on a couch for 5 minutes to check your e-mail.
So I would contend that the Apple TV is ideal for the following types of things:
(1) Watching video content. (Duh.) And it’s clear the primary use case Apple has with the Apple TV is to permit individual content providers help Millennials “cut the cord” by allowing content providers build their own content apps.
On this front I’m concerned Apple’s limits on the size of shipping apps may hinder this, since a lot of modern games have memory requirements larger than the current Apple TV app size constraints.
People are complaining that Apple is also hobbling app developers by requiring all games to also work in some limited mode with the Apple remote–but realize that the serious gamer that is your target market will have quickly upgraded to a better input device, so think of using the Apple control as a sort of “demo mode” for your game. Yeah, you can play with the Apple remote, but to really enjoy the game you need a joystick controller.
(3) Browsing highly interactive content that may also work on other form factors. (I could envision, for example, a shopping app that runs on your TV that is strongly tied with video content–such as an online clothing web site with lots of video of models modeling the clothing, or a hardware store web site tied with a lot of home improvement videos. Imagine, for example, a video showing how to install a garbage disposal combined with online ordering for various garbage disposals from the site.)
I think this is a real opportunity for a company with an on-line shopping presence to provide engaging content which helps advertise their products, though it does increase the cost of reaching users in an era where margins are getting increasingly thinner.
(4) Other social content which may involve multiple people watching or flipping through content. Imagine, for example, a Domino’s Pizza Ordering app for your Apple TV, or a version of Tinder that runs on the TV.