Friday, August 2, 2013

Why Apple TV does not have an SDK yet


Yesterday, someone asked me "is it possible to build apps and push to apple TV?"

My short answer was: Not yet. 

My longer answer was:  
People (mainly "Analysts") have been prognosticating the arrival of an Apple TV SDK for years.  The media always picks up this analyst hype and regurgitates it as valid news from a credible source - which it's not.  This year alone, there have been two "Apple TV SDK imminent" events (one in February, and one just before WWDC) that I can think of.  I'm sure we'll see a third before the September iOS event for the iPhone 5S.  Of course, the SDK has never happened to materialize yet.  
As for opening it up to external developers, I subscribe to saying "never say never" but I think it's not likely to happen this side of the next five years.

Afterwards, I was asked why YouTube and Netflix are on Apple TV then.

Here's how that works...

The current landscape for traditional media as you know, is centred around two things:
1.  The content creators who spend a lot of money making stuff.
2.  The content aggregators who get this stuff for nearly free and distribute it.

The content creators are the music labels, hollywood studios, newspaper reporters, TV productions, authors, etc.
The content aggregators are the iTunes, Huffington Post, Youtube, Flickr, Netflix, Wikipedia, etc.

The general rule of media these days is the expensive-to-create content flows one way into a black hole of content aggregators who distribute it at the cheapest price to the public.

This is the model of iTunes, which works great for Apple, but not so for the authors, music labels, etc.  But given that's the price point people will pay, the content creators have to take what they can, even if Apple is skimming 30% off of the already cheapened price.  However, there's a few players that are exceptions to this rule, because they undercut even Apple.  

These two exceptions are YouTube (it's free) and Netflix.  Netflix's monthly subscription rate is approximate to renting one blockbuster and one older film per month on iTunes.  Apple can't easily compete with that.  

So, here's what happened:
1.  The YouTube app on Apple TV was written by Apple, not Google.  This is the same as what happened on iOS, until Apple pulled their product - at which point Google stepped in with their own app.
2.  Netflix agreed to rev-share with Apple.  It's also big enough that Apple knew it'd be a selling point for their hardware and they'd be fools not to go with it.  So, Apple now skims from Netflix too.  But, in doing that (bear in mind there's no App Store for Apple TV) Apple has to push the software for Netflix as part of the Apple TV OS upgrade - which means all 12million or so devices got that Netflix client.

Netflix was a win-win situation for Apple who gets more revenue from the same device, and Netflix gets another platform to sell through.