So, Apple's big plan to talk cable companies into making the iPod of the television industry thus far involves getting Time Warner to let it put HBO Go on its box (if you buy a cable subscription!), something other similar boxes already do. How very unexciting. It's surprising that Apple TV doesn't already offer HBO Go, since its biggest competitors Roku and Xbox 360 have had it for over a year. And it's not like Apple has spent that time coming up with some innovative arrangement that would that would excite the cord-cutter (and cord-never) set. No, per Bloomberg's Edmund Lee and Adam Satariano, by mid-2013, Apple TV owners who also subscribe to cable or satellite TV can watch the premium channel through their TVs via Apple's box. Yes, if you have an Apple TV, you can watch HBO either on it or through your cable box. The choice is yours!
HBO Go is a modest improvement over the HBO On Demand offerings because it offers HBO's entire library of shows, not just a select few. HBO also puts brand new episodes up right after they air, which is nice for people who forget to set or have a too-full DVR. But, cable subscribers already have access to HBO Go—on their computers. The improvement here is that existing subscribers now have another way to get those shows onto their TV screens.
This too-late move to get Time Warner on its box surfaces a larger problem: Apple TV has very few apps so far, as AllThingsD's Peter Kafka points out. HBO Go will bring its total outside app count up to 10, a ton fewer than Xbox and Roku. And yet, many have talked about Apple TV as the gadget that will change everything. Perhaps techies overlooked the deficit because the company has been in secret talks with cable companies to supposedly revolutionize TV for years. It's coming, the Apple rumors promised, fending off any doubts that Apple would deliver something great. But, nothing exceptional has arrived yet, certainly nothing that sounds like the Apple TV code Steve Jobs claimed to have cracked shortly before his death. Rather, this sounds like something Apple should have done years ago. Apple, if anything, is playing catch-up.
But maybe Apple isn't the place to look for the future of television. Elsewhere in TV land, something new, different, and possibly revolutionary is happening. Netflix, an entity that does not require a cable subscription, will release its first big-budget TV drama today. Unlike Apple, Netflix is trying to operate outside of the traditional cable-bundle structure in order to create an alternative for people who don't want to pay into the old system. Instead of playing by HBO's rules and selling its shows on its strict terms, Netflix wants to be the HBO of streaming TV, by creating premium shows that will draw people to Netflix for a premium price. Also in an attempt to do things differently, Netflix has released all the episodes at once, to appeal to our binge watching sensibilities. The experiment might not work. But at least, unlike Apple, Netflix is trying.