I had the pleasure of spending the entirety of last week at WWDC18. After five days of keynotes, workshops, and demos on all things Apple, there’s much to unpack. Too much for one post so I’ll focus on the video space here.
As someone who works in the business of video streaming apps, I couldn’t help but notice that this year’s event made a bold statement about Apple’s intent with video. From 4K to native control, Apple is looking to be the premium brand for all things TV and media.
Here’s a rundown of the latest news coming out of WWDC and what it means for the world of video.
Let’s start off with the obvious contenders; tvOS 12, and Apple TV.
No big surprises here when it comes to hardware and software. Apple is still clearly committed to this market and remains focused on being a premium brand. There is no low-cost hardware in sight. In fact, they added 4K and Dolby Vision HDR in the fall and bumped up audio with the addition of Dolby Atmos Audio. Any titles people have purchased in the past are getting automatically updated to 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos Audio if available–and they are doing this for free.
Apple is going all-in on quality but the news that really piqued my interest is Apple’s continued push to partner with operators. First, Apple TV has partnered with several providers, including Charter Spectrum in the US, to provide live content on the Apple TV box. In the Charter Spectrum context, it is still unclear if customers will be able to use Apple TV as a direct set-top-box replacement.
When Apple Partnered with Canal+ in France, and Salt in Switzerland, the announcements touted that the Apple TV device as the set-top-box so this is quite likely for Charter Spectrum as well. We’ll have to wait until later this year to find out.
Second, Apple is evolving their single-sign-on feature for Pay TV apps and reducing it to zero-sign-on for TVE apps that generally require you to log-in with your cable provider credentials.
Zero-sign-on works by detecting your broadband network provider and if it is the same as your cable provider, it automatically logs you into your cable provider’s app and any other apps your cable provider gives you access to. For the moment, Charter Spectrum is the only announced partner.
It seems that in many instances, Apple TV is not a cord-cutter technology but rather a cord-transitioning technology. OTT boxes and apps are playing nice with operators, especially as the platform vendors get more aggressive with their international roll-outs. Ultimately, everyone wins:
- Pay TV providers save costs on hardware production while still continuing to sell their bundles
- Platforms get distribution to ensure device lock-in by offering incentives that other streaming devices cannot
- Users get an affordable and modern device that also provides them access to other apps
This is very interesting since, in parallel with this trend, every platform is also trying to own the user by building better user Interfaces, improving discovery and search, adding voice controls, and creating their own apps.
The race to own the glass has never been stronger. I’m eager to see how this tug-o-war pans out between operators and platforms. I suspect we will see more strategic pairings bubble up in the coming months/years.
Straight to the Metal
When software developers are looking to create a premium visual user experience, they often say that they are going “straight to the metal”. What they mean is that they interface directly with the Graphics Processor to deliver smooth, high-quality graphics and navigation. It is no surprise then that Apple’s own GPU interface is called Metal.
One of Apple’s big announcements at WWDC was that they are transition all GPU support in the latest MacOS, called Mojave, to Metal and will deprecate support for OpenGL. We suspect this will eventually happen on iOS and tvOS as well.
It is becoming clear that the GPU is the new crown prince of the computing castle.
The gaming world has long understood that developing games with different codebases for different platforms is a recipe for disaster. It is inefficient, expensive, and almost always leads to apps on some platforms lagging behind, and in some cases, getting left behind entirely. Furthermore, it is difficult to deliver a consistent experience across all platforms, even though users expect it. It’s table stakes at this point.
To avoid these challenges, and to deliver apps with fluid animations and the best possible user experience, virtually all game development is based on a rendering engine and a single codebase that takes full advantage of the GPU.
Large publishers that need to go cross-platform have taken a page from the gaming world in order to deliver premium experiences on as many platforms as possible. You.i TV has been a pioneer of this approach in the video space and has seen great success in the marketplace because of that.
With their big push behind Metal and the realization that a single codebase is an attractive option for many publishers and media brands, Apple is getting on board as well with their announcement of a new Focus API that is coming out in tvOS 12 this fall.
“Focus Engine now supports apps regardless of how they are rendered” announced Ada Turner, tvOS Engineering. This announcement drew cheers from the crowd — clearly, the technology behind this announcement is a big deal for a lot of people, including You.i TV.
So what did Apple actually announce?
In effect, Apple created a new focus API that enables developers to get a truly native feel when it comes to the Siri remote. Navigating apps, including the wiggle of tiles on screen as you move around the page, are all going to be much easier to implement and get exactly right.
And on top of this, the Focus API also enables full accessibility almost for free!
This is something You.i TV and others have been asking for for a long time and it is wonderful to see Apple be so open to other approaches beyond UIKit and actually put in engineering effort to help app developers in this way.
Worth noting: You.i TV has already developed a proof-of-concept that uses this new API in preparation for full integration into You.i Engine One, so that any You.i TV customer can take advantage of the new capability when tvOS goes live this fall.
You can watch the “What new in tvOS 12” session here: https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2018/208/ . The new API announcement starts at 10:10.
Original Content & Streaming Service
And lastly, a section for a lack of announcements. Despite Apple pouring over $1 billion in original content, there wasn’t any news around original programming mentioned during the entirety of WWDC. This isn’t surprising since it is a developer-centric conference and Apple isn’t expected to launch original content until March 2019. Still, I and many others would have loved a small teaser.
Perhaps the consolation prize is that Apple TV will now support live content indicating that Apple is serious about continuing their content aggregation evolution.
Apple has signaled the next phase in the war for attention. Moving towards a direct-to-consumer video strategy has proven to work. Now, it’s about making streaming devices the premiere content hub in the modern household. Live TV options, better picture/sound quality, more control to developers, and strategic content partnerships all boil down to better experiences for the user. Apple has played their hand, Amazon has done the same with the Fire TV Cube. More to come.
All-in-all, my first tour at Apple’s WWDC conference was a success and the energy was palpable. I can’t wait for next year.
You can watch a replay of Apple’s WWDC18 keynote, here.