Here are some takeaways from today’s busy, software-focused Apple event: Apple TV Plus is a subscription service with alone Originals from Apple. Unlike Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you don’t get access to a catalog of licensed shows or movies.
Apple TV Plus is not a separate, standalone app. Instead, you’ll access it using Apple’s TV app, which will expand to many more devices over the next few months.
Starting in May, the Apple TV app will offer additional paid subscriptions and can stream select shows and movies from Apple partners like HBO without sending you to a third-party video service.
This is all separate from the Apple TV the product, which is a streaming set-top box you can buy in stores today that’s important to Apple’s living room ambitions. The company would tell you that the Apple TV is the best way to experience all that art and content.
Confuses? It was easy to miss some of this or get confused, especially when Apple bundled these announcements with a new credit card and magazine subscription service.
How does all the new TV stuff fit together? Let me do my best to present it in a way that makes sense.
What is Apple TV Plus?
Apple TV Plus is a video subscription service that will feature Apple’s growing list of original TV shows and movies. When it launches this fall, Apple TV Plus will be the exclusive way to watch this content. And Apple has poured in the money to form a star-studded roster of talent working to produce programming that can hopefully be equal to Netflix’s top shows. Even Oprah is on board.
But Apple TV Plus isn’t its own app or separate experience. It will actually be accessible through the Apple TV app on iOS, Mac, and other platforms. It will likely have its own dedicated TV app tab or section, but Apple didn’t go into detail about that at today’s event – and the website on Apple TV Plus is extremely lightweight on the details. The best we got was a brief glimpse of an Apple TV Plus row with flashy animations during today’s keynote.
The service will be ad-free (since you’ll pay for it) and Apple plans to launch it in over 100 countries.
What is Apple TV Plus not?
- A real competitor to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video: Like Peter Kafka correctly predicted to Recode, Apple is not (yet) building a comprehensive streaming service that mixes originals and licensed programs like its rivals. Instead, the Apple TV Plus service focuses exclusively on original Apple programming. There’s no older stuff to browse endlessly like we tend to do on Netflix or Prime Video. No Hollywood movies or past TV hits to speak of. Not yet anyway.
- On Android or Windows: Although it announced a TV app for multiple platforms (including Fire TV), Apple gave no indication that the service and its originals will be available on Android or Windows. It’s a huge hole if the company hopes to make these high-profile shows accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Native apps for these platforms, at least for now, don’t seem to be in the cards.
- On the Web: The same goes for web browsers. Apple made no mention of a way to stream Apple TV Plus through popular desktop browsers like Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.
When can I watch Apple TV Plus?
Apple says it will share pricing and availability details for Apple TV Plus this fall, but didn’t go more specific than that. We have no idea how much Apple TV Plus will cost per month or if you’ll be able to bundle it with the company’s other discounted services.
What is the Apple TV app?
The Apple TV app was the first announced in October 2016 and launched on fourth-generation Apple TV and iOS devices at the time. It is now a pre-installed app on all iPhone, iPad and Apple TV devices.
Apple has positioned the app as a modernized TV guide: it’s an all-in-one hub for finding recommendations on which shows to watch. The “Watch Now” tab offers personalized choices tailored to your own tastes and culled from many popular video subscription apps.
The Apple TV app also has a sports component, offering live scores and notifications for nearby matches. And finally, it provides easy access to your iTunes TV show and movie purchases or rentals. Starting in May, the TV app will become the place to go for those same digital purchases of movies and TV shows on Apple TV.
Does the Apple TV app cost money to use?
No. Unless you’re paying for Apple TV Plus or an Apple TV Channel subscription (and neither of those are available yet), the TV app itself is completely free.
Soon you’ll be able to subscribe to networks like HBO and watch (some) shows and movies right in the TV app
The TV app is therefore a useful resource for finding something to watch. But until now, the Apple TV app has always directed users to third-party apps to stream something. You can search for an HBO show in the TV app, but when you press play game of thrones, you would be switched to HBO Go or HBO Now. This jumping between apps can be a bit awkward and makes what Apple is trying to do less transparent. That’s about to change – in some cases.
Apple now says customers will be able to watch content directly within the Apple TV app. But critically, this only applies to Apple TV channels that were announced today.
What are Apple TV Channels?
Apple will soon offer optional add-on subscriptions similar to what Amazon does with its Prime Video channels. You will be able to pay for HBO, Showtime and other services using your Apple account. Now, you can already subscribe to these networks on iOS and from their respective Apple TV apps, but there are advantages to doing so through Apple’s new TV app method.
For one, you can share access to your Apple TV channels with up to six family members. Second, instead of having to watch the content of these channels on several different apps, everything will be visible directly in the TV app. And finally, you will be able to download shows to watch them offline.
Apple showed a slide of the Apple TV channels it plans to offer, and I’ve put the heavy hitters (for most people, anyway) in bold below:
- acorn tele
- Brit Box
- CBS All Access
- Dropping out of CollegeHumor
- Eros now
- Lifetime Film Club
- MTV Success
- Nickelodeon Success
- live PBS
- Show time
- Smithsonian Channel Plus
- Sundance Now
- Made with taste
- faith and family
- Urban Cinema Channel
It’s an odd mix, but it at least puts Apple on par with Amazon. If you like TV shows from any of the services above, you’ll be able to watch that content directly in the Apple TV app. And Apple says it will deliver premium picture and audio quality for all Apple TV channels because it directly handles channel feeds instead of relying on HBO, CBS, Starz, etc. Combine that with the option to download content for offline viewing, and you can see why people may choose to start managing their subscriptions through channels.
The prices of the various Apple TV channels were not disclosed. Apple is rumored to be offering discounted bundles of these, but the company didn’t delve into any of that today.
But you’ll make a few more jumps
Other apps – even ones with shows featured in the TV app like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video – will still require you to switch to their own apps to watch something. Apple’s website is a bit misleading about this, hinting that users will be able to “watch ‘Hulu’ easily” within the app. A Hulu spokesperson directly confirmed The edge that is not the case.
Where can I watch the Apple TV app?
Currently, the Apple TV app is available on Apple TV set-top boxes (fourth generation and Apple TV 4K) and iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. But at today’s event, Apple said the TV app will come to Mac this fall. Additionally, the company has confirmed that it will bring the TV app to Samsung smart TVs this spring and to TVs from Vizio, Sony, LG and others “in the future.” Fire TV devices from Roku and Amazon will also receive the app “in the future”.