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3 Surprises From the New Apple TV

By Daniel B. Kline - Sep 10, 2015 at 7:20PM

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The company finally introduced the long-awaited hardware.

Perhaps the most-anticipated part of the Apple (AAPL -5.64%) September Event was the introduction of new Apple TV hardware. 

The move was expected. In fact, it was so overdue that many thought it was going to be announced at the company's Worldwide Developers' Conference over the summer. For the September product unveiling, it was not a question of whether the company would release a new set-top box, but what the hardware would do, and just how radical a departure it would be.

Of course, Apple did not disappoint, releasing a new version of Apple TV, but the product may be as notable for what it's lacking as for what it has.

There is no cable-like service
For months, the media has been speculating that Apple planned to tie its new hardware launch into the release of a new subscription-based pay-television service. Not only did the company not mention any sort of cable-like product, it actually used rhetoric suggesting it didn't believe the current multichannel universe was the future of television. 

The company reinforced this on screen behind Tim Cook during the product introduction. It's a bold statement, but it also sounded a bit like sour grapes.

Source: Apple.

It has been widely reported that Apple has had trouble in its negotiations with content owners regarding creating a cable-like service. Saying that apps, not traditional networks and cable channels, are the future sounds a bit like the company is defending the content it has access to and downgrading the value of what it cannot currently access.

That may be a negotiating ploy with the networks and cable channels, but it came off as less than sincere. You have to imagine that once Apple makes the deals its needs to to launch a subscription-TV service -- if it ever does -- it will stop downplaying the roll of the current television ecosystem.

The new remote has a touchscreen
Apple announced that Siri would be integrated into the new TV hardware, but that was widely expected and can hardly be considered a surprise.

The glass Touch surface on the new remote was engineered to provide an experience that feels both fluid and precise. What your finger does on the remote is exactly and immediately what it does on your screen. It's so natural, in fact, that your eyes don't even need to look down. You never have to hunt for a button to press or have a light on to see. Instead, the new remote has a glass touchscreen which allows users to do things like fast-forward and rewind.

The touch surface was designed to allow people to interact with Apple TV the way they do a touch-based iPad or iPhone. Apple explained how it works on its website: What was a bit of a revelation was the new remote control for Apple TV, called the Siri Remote. It's a major redesign with fewer buttons, including dropping the jog and shuttle wheel from the previous design.

Siri Remote also works as a game controller when flipped and held on its side. It's a smart update that's much more exciting than simply adding voice commands, which rival Amazon already offers on its Fire TV box.

The Siri Remote has a new look and a glass touchpad. Source: Apple.

Apple TV is now open to developers
The previous versions of Apple TV were a closed environment. Users only got the apps Apple wanted them to have. There was no app store, and no way for developers to build new apps for it without working directly with the company.

That has changed with the new hardware, and Apple even introduced a new operating system for its set-top box tvOS. The company put out a preliminary document for developers explaining how the new system would work:

The process for creating apps for Apple TV is similar to the process for creating iOS apps. You can create games, utility apps, media apps, and more. Apple TV also makes it easier to create client-server apps with custom user interfaces that are consistent across multiple apps. You build these client-server apps using web technologies such as HTTPS, XMLHTTPRequest, DOM, and JavaScript. You use Apple's custom markup language, TVML, to create interfaces, and you specify app behaviors in a TVML document using JavaScript. The TVMLKit framework provides the bridge between your native code and the JavaScript/TMVL code in your user interface.

While that's a whole lot of technical words, what it means is that the same people who build apps for iPads and iPhones will now be able to do do for Apple TV. That's a big leap forward that could make the new Apple TV worth its hefty $149 price.

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