Hell Freezes Over for Apple (Again)

In October, 2003, Steve Jobs announced that hell froze over when the company announced its release of iTunes for Windows. (Go to 18:45 in the video.)

Yesterday, Apple announced that an iTunes Movies & TV Shows app will becoming to Samsung TVs (and eventually to other brands as well). In addition, Samsung TVs will support AirPlay 2 (as will other brands’ devices).

Hell is freezing over for Apple because the company has finally accepted that it cannot make enough money from its video offerings just with Apple devices (ie, the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV). This also suggests that the Apple TV has seen its last iteration. If Apple can put the same apps on any smart TV – which is, of course, not complicated – why have a separate device? I suspect we’ll also see an Apple Music app on these TVs before long (as is already the case for Android phones and tablets).

This is the biggest step in Apple’s morphing from a hardware company to a services company and one that has similar implications to their releasing a Windows version of iTunes. That software led to the explosion of popularity of the iPod, and probably 90% of iPod users were Windows users. Things are different with TVs, but Apple has realized that a standalone streaming box isn’t what people want; as more and more services are available directly from TVs, it makes sense to slim down the living room and get another device out of the way. (Of course, this change is not linked to a hardware product that could become a market leader, so Apple has a much bigger struggle ahead of them.)

On Apple’s AirPlay page, the company highlights the fact that AirPlay 2 is coming to TVs from “Leading TV manufacturers,” and this, too, makes sense. You’ll be able to stream audio from a TV to the HomePod, or to an AirPlay 2 compatible soundbar, such as the Sonos Beam, which I recently bought. Streaming AirPlay 2 to a device like that means one less cable to worry about, but I still wouldn’t want to stream to one or a pair of HomePods, at least not until there’s adjustable EQ settings for the devices.

Don’t forget that Apple controls the AirPlay 2 system, and will be extracting licensing fees from these companies, but they may be more flexible in order to get AirPlay 2 on more devices. There are already lots of audio devices that support AirPlay, many of which haven’t yet been updated to support AirPlay 2, but I suspect that those devices that can do the upgrade – that have the necessary hardware – will be doing so more quickly now, as Apple sees an interest in extending this protocol.

The big change here is that Apple has realized that their silo is no longer big enough to fuel their ambitions; that they need to branch out with their services in order to get enough users. We know that Apple will be announcing an original video content service soon, and it makes sense that users of non-Apple devices can watch it.

Also, I suspect we will see the Apple app being offered on existing TVs. While not all TVs will support AirPlay 2, I see no reason why any would not support a couple of Apple apps.

As a hardware company, Apple could afford to be exclusive; but as a services company, they must be as inclusive as possible.