The superlatives were out in force at today's Apple event as executives explained how the new Apple TV app will "completely change how you watch TV," and why the new interface is simply "the best."
However, the vision that Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) introduced with its new app, simply and aptly called "TV," is remarkably similar to one that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has also embraced: a single, unified guide for everything you watch.
CEO Tim Cook launched the new TV app saying, "We want Apple TV to be the one place to access all of your television." One of the critical features of the product is the ability to sign on once with pay-TV credentials and get authenticated across every installed TV app, both on the TV and on iOS mobile devices. The application also automatically populates a new "Watch Now" menu with anything a viewer's watched recently and offers up a set of recommendations in a "What to Watch" bar. Two menus titled "TV Spotlight" and "Movie Spotlight" include only the content from a user's installed apps, and there are additional options to browse curated content by genre.
Since the Apple TV interface is an aggregation point for lots of different apps, it starts with a unified search function and integrated content results, but then pops a user directly into the relevant app to view content. A user can either stay within the app's user interface, or backtrack into the Apple UI.
Siri is also a big part of the new TV experience. Viewers can use voice commands to navigate video options and also dialog with Siri in order to get new information like what other shows are on, or how to watch a particular sports matchup.
Remarkably, many of the features Apple announced today with Apple TV are comparable to those available through Comcast's X1 platform. Comcast has started rolling out Netflix integration to X1 subscribers, and that integration includes merging Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) content into the X1 program guide and TV search function. As with the Apple app, X1 lets users jump back and forth between the Netflix UI and Comcast's own interface. X1 subscribers can also voice commands to discover and tune to different video streams. (See Comcast Binges on Netflix in New Beta.)
Like Apple, Comcast aggregates a lot of content in one place. The crucial difference between the two is that Apple offers users more choice about how they bundle that content, while Comcast arguably makes that content easier to access by not separating it out into individual apps. Accessing dozens of individual apps could potentially make the Apple TV experience more disjointed. Those apps also might or might not carry the same selection available through traditional linear and on-demand television.
In terms of selection, it appears that Apple has not reached a deal so far to include Netflix in its unified interface. Comcast has Netflix and its own channel line-up as part of X1, but doesn't include many other video apps available on over-the-top boxes like the Apple TV.
Of note, Apple also announced new integration with Twitter Inc. today, making it possible for viewers to watch live video from events like football games and the ongoing Presidential election saga alongside a Twitter stream through the Apple TV. Apple also offers thousands of games on its TV box and said today it will make Minecraft available by the end of the year.
The interesting thing to watch now will be how Apple TV and Comcast, along with the other major pay-TV providers, continue to respond to each other. For example, there's been much to-do about service providers offering up their own comprehensive apps for retail OTT devices. (See Comcast answers the app call and FCC's New Pay-TV Plan: Shove It Up Your App.)
Will Comcast head to Apple TV next? And what happens in the battle of the UIs then?
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading