Apple TV 4K and why Apple needs to realise some markets are a race to the bottom

Many people don’t get Apple pricing. They note rival devices are significantly cheaper, and so Apple should ‘compete’ by lowering prices accordingly. Instead, Apple shoots for the high end of the market, grabs most of the profits, and leaves everyone else fighting for scraps.

Mostly, this works. In tablets, there’s simply no competition if you want a device for more than the odd bit of gaming, Netflix and web browsing. Even premium Android tablets are hampered by an app ecosystem that rarely rises above mediocre.

In smartphones, desktops and notebooks, competition is stronger, but even there Apple often wins out through a combination of build quality, software, and services. For many people, for example, you’re only going to prise a device that supports Messages out of their cold, dead hands.

Television is different. Despite Apple’s hopes that the future of television would be apps, the reality is most people use their telly boxes to watch stuff. Although decent appsand games exist for Apple TV, what I hear from developers is sales aren’t stellar (to put it mildly), and most users are gawping at the latest shows and movies rather than battling it out in virtual worlds, or having their telly demand they do more sit-ups.

This presents a problem for Apple, because success in this area largely rests on TV networks and channels supporting your hardware – and that only comes when enough eyes are along for the ride. In the UK, the pickings are slim when it comes to major players. Beyond Netflix and YouTube, you’ve got a BBC iPlayer app that seems to have stumbled in from 2015, and that’s vastly under-featured compared to the app on Android and Amazon boxes. And then there’s the ongoing farce that is NOW TV, a third-generation Apple TV app that’s lurching about like a zombie, desperate to be put out of its misery. Amazon Video’s supposedly showing up at some point, but isn’t here yet. And other major broadcasters like Channel 4 and ITV are entirely absent despite releasing apps for rival boxes and smart TVs.

One strategy with Apple TV would have been – in an un-Apple manner – to go all-in for the mainstream. Fill that little black box full of amazing technology, and an interface far beyond the competition – but price it to grab marketshare.

Instead, Apple decided to be Apple. On stage at the most recent Apple event, execs talked about the benefits of the new Apple TV 4K: amazing picture quality (although The Verge took exception to that in certain circumstances), integration with Apple services (such as Photos), and support for Dolby Vision and HDR10. What they didn’t talk about was a price-point that shot it far beyond its contemporaries.

Amazon’s new Fire TV is now in pre-order, and the contrast is stark. The lack of Dolby Vision HDR support in Amazon’s box might be a red line for some, but the unit costs a penny under 70 quid. You could buy two and still have nine quid in change compared to the price of the old Apple TV (£149!), let alone the new one, which starts at £179. Even for a great many Apple fans, this is just too much to swallow. I can’t imagine many newcomers faced with these two options plumping for Apple. And if the user-base doesn’t grow, services will fade, leaving Apple TV an increasingly insular and limited experience.

I like Apple, and write about the company a lot. I also like Apple TV. It’s a solid unit, with a decent UI, and a ton of potential. But if none of that potential is going to be realised in terms of the unit’s primary purpose, what’s the point in buying Apple TV over an Amazon box? That’s what Apple needs to address, rather than beaming that you can rapidly get an iCloud photo gallery on your telly.

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