A new apps platform has arrived – but will it bring with it users?
Odecee expert Michael Nguyen investigates…
When a brand new Apple device and platform emerges, a lot of excitement naturally builds around the product. The new Apple TV is no different. There is new hardware, a new way to interact with the device and now a means to develop apps for it; the question is – will it usher in with it another era of app store gold rush like we saw with the iPhone?
Having only been on shelves for a few months now, the AppleTV platform is showing some concerning similarities to the Apple Watch platform. Top apps are reportedly making less than $100 a day and Apple have uncharacteristically kept install-base numbers secret. Rather than focusing on the critics, let’s take a step back and analyse the platform for what it is and what it provides to ensure your next app maximises its potential in both representing your brand and providing tangible benefit to your customers.
At Odecee, we established a team to explore the new device – to see what it’s capable of and what apps makes sense for it, and to consider how some of our enterprise clients could potentially make use of it. From this process came some key learnings that might help you or your team when developing for the AppleTV.
We live in an age where our consumption of media and information is delivered through individual-centric devices: phones, tablets and watches are individually owned and mostly used by just that one person – the owner – at one time. Even multiple individuals in the same area may consume the same content on their own individual devices. How many times have you seen a group of people sitting together, separately reading the same thing on their own phones?
In this age of individual devices, what the AppleTV presents is an opportunity to bring back into focus our old friend, the TV, and take advantage of what it provides that a phone or watch can not: a large, digital display that not only shows more of your content but can display it to more people, at the same time. This idea of ‘collective viewership’ is a crucial differentiator and – while it has certainly dwindled with the proliferation of individual screens – offers a powerful experience that encourages unique behaviour from individuals in a group setting.
Take movies for example – while watching one yourself, you are completely engrossed and thinking silently to yourself as the movie progresses. That same movie viewed by a group of people all focusing on one screen can elicit comments, jokes and banter. It simply isn’t possible to engage viewers in the same way on a watch or a phone. These are the type of experiences that will really drive your customers to engage with your business in unique and exciting ways that make sense for – and get the most out of – the AppleTV platform. “But wait,” you ask, “how can I take a banking app and make it a shared experience like a movie?” The answer? Think outside the box.
In exploring the possibilities for the new AppleTV, one prototype that was created at Odecee was a shared banking experience for the family. Rather than taking a simple transaction history and just making it ‘TV-sized’, the app allowed for a communal review of a family’s expenses through expenditure accountability. It encouraged parents to bring their children into conversations about the family’s money and help them understand the bigger picture. Together, families could look at a purchases and discuss, “Was this purchase necessary?”, empowering children to offer input into the everyday operations of the family, at the same time as acting as a financial learning tool. Although not technically difficult or impossible on a smaller screen, we believe this is the kind of unique twist to an existing idea that leverages the core advantage of the AppleTV.
Take Away: The TV is a not simply a large display on which to show more of your content; with a little creative thinking behind it, it has the potential to provide a unique, collaborative and communal experience. Take advantage of that in smart ways that make sense for your business.
As our Odecee group began developing prototype apps on the AppleTV, we came to an important realisation: the AppleTV is primarily a content-consumption device, not an content-interaction device. Its purpose was to provide an easy way for consumers to access media-driven content and then sit back and enjoy it, not for them to navigate between menus to complete their online banking tasks.
Despite offering a proper SDK now that allows developers to create anything they like, Apple themselves know exactly what this device’s strengths and weaknesses are. Their marketing has almost exclusively focused on movies, TV-shows and video games, with the only non-media app being a two-second highlight of an online fashion store from GILT.
How has this unfortunate situation come to be? The culprit: Siri.
More specifically, the Siri Remote. Unfortunately, the AppleTV’s capabilities are marred by the way in which we interact with it – via the Siri Remote. Yes, sometimes we enjoy Siri’s perky, intelligent quips, but other times she fails on our requests; this is definitely another fail on her part. The Siri Remote hinders interaction with the AppleTV and in turn affects the apps we can use and create; this is the reason we believe many people should wait for revision 3 of the AppleTV. The Siri Remote is no different from a glorified gamepad and provides such limited interaction with a device that tries to (and can) do so much more. It’s like your annoying little brother that you need to stay home and babysit preventing you from going out with your mates – it’s always holding you back.
Here’s why: while the remote does have a trackpad, it doesn’t track gestures. Finger movements across the trackpad merely trigger a set of four directional pads, just like a normal TV remote or a video game controller. This presents a UI hierarchy where the user can only navigate in four directions – up, down, right, left. We’ve been so accustomed to being able to navigate directly to where we want with smartphones, so this limitation means designers can’t simply port existing mobile apps to the AppleTV – they need to re-invent the entire user experience to enable intuitive and easy navigation.
Imagine trying to interact with your computer using only the arrow keys and maybe alt + tab. How would you go from ‘File’ in your system bar to ‘Help’ without tapping the right arrow key 6 times? You’d get there eventually, but it’d be incredibly tedious. This is the problem the Siri Remote presents on the AppleTV. Designers will need to rethink how they design apps and allow both the user to easily do what they want to do with a simple 4-way direction navigation, as well as providing an attractive user-interface that isn’t a stale grid structure. Who would’ve thought Siri could cause so much trouble?
Take Away: The limitations of the Siri Remote mean minimal interaction and simplified, unambiguous user interfaces are key for the AppleTV. Sticking to a grid-like structure – like a lot of the included apps do – will provide an easier user experience but may make it a challenge to stand out from the crowd.
Some final words
I mentioned earlier that Apple is strongly marketing the new AppleTV as an entertainment device, and this is their biggest problem. Where does this leave the rest of us who aren’t in the entertainment world?
For one, it’s going to be very difficult for businesses not in the entertainment world to even break through in the first place; customers are purchasing an AppleTV with a preconceived notion that it does just “entertainment”, only to later discover other apps on the app store. Contrast this with the iPhone, which most people will buy for the variety of apps. It’s a very confusing, muddled message from Apple that fails to communicate to everyone what the AppleTV is and what it’s capable of. To be honest, I’m not even sure Apple really knows what the AppleTV is for. In fact, one of our Odecee employees had their recent non-media app submission rejected by Apple on the grounds that “it does nothing”.
At Odecee – we love to drive innovation within the enterprise space. That’s our MO. But we also have an obligation to do that in a way that we can see will have viable results. Although the new AppleTV and tvOS is a huge improvement over the previous iterations in that it has finally been opened up to developers, it’s being held back by restrictive navigation and poor messaging. That results in a chicken-and-egg problem – users won’t want one if there are no apps, and developers won’t make apps if there are no users.
Despite the negativity from many in the community (and a bit from myself), I do believe the AppleTV is an exciting opportunity to really break new ground in the smart TV market.
The iPhone had its critics at the start, but it immediately grew to be an amazing device that changed the landscape in so many areas of our lives. The iPad was derided on arrival as simply being a bigger iPhone and many said it was doomed to fail – it did not. With the Apple Watch, it was written off as simply being a smaller iPhone; while the uptake has been a bit slow, the potential for it to do well is definitely there.
With the AppleTV, the paradigm is completely different. You can’t call it a bigger iPhone. It’s a completely different beast with different customers, different experiences and different expectations. The AppleTV could be at the forefront of that amazing smart TV future everyone has been dreaming of for decades. That is, if Apple and rest of the players in that space can work out exactly what the smart TV actually IS…
This post was written by Michael Nguyen