Opinion: Why it’s no big deal the UK isn’t getting Apple’s new ‘TV’ app

The lack of Netflix and Amazon Prime is only part of the problem, because the Apple TV pickings are much thinner in the UK

The exciting new shiny thing at Apple’s October 2016 event was the new MacBook Pro. But Apple also gave plenty of stage time to the Apple TV’s new TV app. (And, no, we’re not overly keen on these brutally generic app names either.)

Having boldly claimed last year that the future of television was here and that said future was apps (with existing app-centric telly device makers presumably receiving said news in bemused fashion), Apple’s seemingly banking on a single app to be the hub of your viewing habits. The snag: it’ll be US-only upon launch in December. And the thing is, I don’t care.

Convenience factor

It’s not that it's not a good premise. We’re all sick of bouncing between several telly apps, regardless of the device we’re using. Digital was supposed to make things simpler. Instead, our favourite shows remain chained to individual apps. Want to watch the latest Mr Robot, Walking Dead, Stranger Things, or some other fantastic telly? Best remember where to find it, then.

It’s like the commercial world hasn’t moved on from traditional TV channels, despite people of a more nefarious bent merrily torrenting everything and selecting whatever they want to watch next from a big list of files. In other words, those that pay get a worse user experience yet again.

Hence: TV. Apple iPhone everything together inside one app, marrying discovery of new content and a watch list. Finish an episode of something and the next tempts you to continue. Live news and sporting events can be accessed, too, using Siri, which is smart enough to provide links to related stories and scores. And cable TV customers can use single sign-on for all related pay-TV subscription apps. This all works across iOS devices as well, resulting in a truly unified experience.

Missing pieces

Only it’s not that simple. Even in the US, there are restrictions. Amazon’s ongoing cold war with Apple means there’s no Amazon Prime Apple TV app. And although a Netflix app exists, the streaming giant’s approach to Apple’s TV is ‘wait and see’.

In the UK, things are far worse. When we reviewed the Apple TV, we noted “Apple’s partnerships appear to be very US-focused”. A year later, we now at least have Sky’s NOW TV and BBC iPlayer, but the majority of networks remain conspicuous by their absence.

If you want to watch Channel 4 shows (beyond news), ITV, Channel 5 or UKTV, you’ll need to AirPlay it from an iOS app – assuming AirPlay isn’t blocked by it. Most of these networks offer stony silence or noncommittal noises when it comes to Apple TV – baffling given Stuff having heard from developers about how simple it is to get an app up and running – especially if you already have something working on iOS.

It seems perverse than 4oD exists on Samsung tellies, but not on Apple TV. It’s absurd ITV’s on Amazon’s Fire TV Stick but not Apple TV. And what the hold-up is – money; control; licensing; the heads of all these networks having been driven to despair by using iTunes – we’ve no idea. But until the UK’s selection of TV apps expands, Apple’s TV app not coming to these shores is no great loss.