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Wishlist for Apple TVKit

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Mutual Mobile
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July 6, 2015
5
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For many years, developers have eyed ever-growing screens in living rooms and dreamed about what they could do with all that space. Now that Apple has launched its most diminutive developer platform yet–WatchKit–it appears to be turning its attention back to the big screen.

For Apple–a company that has a history of bringing technology to bear at just the right moment–television could not be more ripe for disruption. The rumor mills were churning over what new TV hardware or platforms may be announced at this year’s WWDC, but it looks like developers will have to wait until at least fall to take over the living room thanks to the latest “Kit” in Apple’s arsenal, TVKit. So what would developers like to see in TVKit?

Access to media streams

If you’re a Major League Baseball, UFC, or World Wrestling Entertainment fan, you can already stream your media content on an Apple TV, but what if you’re a third party that wants to build the ultimate fan experience around the Super Bowl? With TVKit, developers could embed streaming media from the user’s Apple TV subscription inside their TV app, if the content owners allow it.

Let’s assume the NFL permits third parties to embed the feed. The developers could prominently feature the game alongside a user interface that allows fans to watch and interact with their friends and family across the country–and on the 50 yard line–all from the same big screen.

The NFL themselves could use such technology to offer unparalleled access to the game, showing the network feed, interactive stats, instant replays, player cameras and commentary, all on the same screen.

In January, ESPN produced college football’s National Championship Megacast–twelve different ways to experience the game including traditional coverage, live video with natural sound from over 100 mics installed around the stadium, a view from each team’s student section, and even a DataCenter telecast that featured the game and a significant amount of statistics, as well as real time social media integration. ESPN used all their different channels and media properties to pull off this feat, but imagine what their developer team could do using TVKit.

Viewing parties

Major events, whether network television or something else, take on a new life when they can be experienced with others. SDK support for wrapping or overlaying UI for a viewing party interface on the screen during a livestream would be groundbreaking.

Recent stream broadcasting technologies like Meerkat and Periscope captured attention by allowing one person to instantly share their current experiences via their iPhone cameras to a few thousand people simultaneously and interact with them, creating a viewing party in the palm of one’s hand.

Social commentary of televised events currently happens in real time on Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Facebook, but what if it could happen in closer proximity to the content itself? What makes this compelling, is that such commentary could be retained so that time-shifted viewings could continue to incorporate the original real-time experience.

TVKit could allow a developer to choose any source–conventional television broadcast, popular YouTube channel, movies, music videos, or video game competitions–and make an event out of it, to which others could be invited to and interact with.

Native hardware games

It’s no secret that games have been huge for driving the annual growth of the iOS platform, 2015 being no exception. The sheer volume of mobile devices and games has already made iOS the largest platform for games in the world, however, Apple still hasn’t given developers an adequate way to bring those games to the TV.

Until now, developers have been forced to AirPlay small game interfaces or second screens over Apple TV to get their games on the big screen. A proper SDK running directly on the hardware plugged into the HDMI port is what they really want. And since Apple added support for console-style controllers in iOS 7, the pieces are already in place. Let’s hope this Fall’s special event will be when they finally set console gaming in motion.

Expanded HomeKit integration

Apple has quietly  included support for HomeKit in its existing Apple TV for months, allowing it to act as a hub in your home for various HomeKit-enabled devices, which began shipping in early June. The under the hood functionality will let users control their devices from anywhere. Apple TV acts as a conduit between iCloud (where HomeKit intelligence really resides) and your home (where your actual devices sit).

But developers want HomeKit to come front and center, allowing home management right from the TV. And controlling your TV and entertainment options directly (“Hey Siri, tune to HBO and cue up Game of Thrones”), that should be on the table. Besides, if HomeKit can turn off all your downstairs lights when you head upstairs to bed, why wouldn’t it turn off your TV too?

Handoff

Continuity is the name of the game in 2015 for Apple devices, with Handoff as the mechanism for seamlessly going from Apple Watch, to iPhone, to Mac and back again. Apple TV has long had AirPlay, which sort of fills that role for photo and video but a TV SDK would allow many more possibilities for applications that have content to present on any sized screen.

TVKit Extension

Developers can be a greedy bunch, which is why we want a full, native SDK. But what if that’s not what Apple has in the cards, at least from the start? What if we get something closer to the first release of WatchKit instead, or in addition to full native?

Some developers, such as game programmers, will want total control of the screen, but most won’t need it. Not all possible layouts make sense on the TV format. There may even be significant restrictions if Apple makes third party content streams available, such as placement or size. What if Apple only gives us a certain set of predefined, approved layouts, similar to Glance layouts in WatchKit? As much as we might dislike constraints, restriction breeds some of the most creative solutions.

TV at a crossroads

Whatever Apple gives us, it’s clearly time for an update. The current Apple TV, while admirably still fulfilling its mission to deliver content, is long in the tooth. People want more than simply content. They want to be engaged, and they want to connect. TV viewership is down, and they’re tired of cable bills.

Networks know they need to evolve to survive. HBO is untethered. YouTube channels have millions of subscribers. Cable network shows are a hit with much less. There are more entertainment options now than ever. Television is not going away, but what and how we watch is on the verge of change. It sounds like the perfect time for Apple to reinvent another industry.

For more on TVKit, watch the episode of Ask A Dev embedded below.