My Experience at the Apple TV Tech Talk in New York

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“I don’t want to build a game and I don’t have video content to stream. What can I build?” is what one developer asked me at the Apple TV Tech Talk in New York. That was exactly what I was thinking. I’ve ruled out games or video. Too much competition and too expensive. So what else is there?

 

The Conference

There was two parts to the conference: a large ballroom where sessions were presented on various TV topics, and a side room “Q&A Lounge” with a dozen Apple engineers ready to answer questions or look at your code. Unfortunately I did not write any tvOS apps beforehand, so I really didn’t have any technical questions to ask. That seemed to be the majority of the attendees, because the lounge wasn’t busy at all and I wandered in a few times to chat with Apple employees. Seemed like a missed opportunity though, compared to the long lines at the WWDC labs!

The topics presented were fairly technical. They encouraged everyone to come and go as you please to use the Q&A Lounge, which I did. My favorite session was about the tvOS Focus Engine. A lot of thought went into the UI on the TV, and I got a much better understanding of how to apply it to my app ideas.

 

My Unorganized Thoughts and Notes (quotes are from presentations)

My first question was, will there be enterprise distribution for TV apps? This was a very popular request, and according to one Apple employee, a little unexpected. Response: file a radar (I did). Apparently they count and rank radars every 2 weeks.

“TV is a central location in peoples’ homes.” True, but is there an opportunity for TV apps on TVs that are not central? I think so. This was my mindset/approach to any ideas I’d like to develop on the platform. Talking with other devs, I wasn’t the only person thinking this.

“Living Room experience is communal, not personal like iPhone.”

“Assume always connected to high-speed internet.”

Another popular request, third-party screensaver. File a radar.

Apple is still very much figuring out where this platform is going to go. One Apple employee emphasized to me that they really are looking for feedback. File radars for feature enhancements. They understand what they need to do for the big brands and TV networks, but the traditional media players are not going to be the ones innovating on the platform.

What are the non-obvious things you can do with a big TV screen? What if the screen wasn’t in your living room, but in your home office? Kitchen, bathroom, garage, hallway, cubicle? HDTVs are so cheap now, for the right application it would be worthwhile to get an extra TV in your house for the right app.

In fact, I think I’m going to get a 40″ HDTV to hang in my home office just so I can understand the context. Treat it not like a TV that plays video, but more like a wall calendar/clock. Always on, always updating. What kind of “ambient information” do I want to see? Think about Notification Center on the iPhone. If that sounds stupid to you (why would I pay $x to look at something on TV that’s already on my phone), don’t you have clocks hanging in your house? Of all the ways/devices that can tell us what time it is, why still have several clocks throughout the house? It’s “glance-able” info. What else could be glance-able info?

There are a lot of interesting ideas around sports and sports data, but that’s hard to do because those data feeds tend to be expensive or proprietary. However, if ESPN/NFL/etc are smart, they are working on this right now. Enhanced sports viewing experience could be one of the killer apps.

Could I interact with the TV with my phone through bluetooth? Proximity sensing with iBeacons?

 

Conclusion

I had a great time, and if I get the opportunity, I’d do a Tech Talk again. The presentations are great, but it’s meeting other devs and discussing new ideas that is the most valuable.

Last thing. While waiting for the doors to open, one of the hotel catering staff (older guy, late 40s) asks me, “All those Apple employees got the watches on. You think they get those for free?” I said I wasn’t sure, but they’re probably encouraged to wear them at events. Then I held up my watch and explained that almost everyone here has one too, since we’re all iOS developers.

Then he showed me his Apple Watch! He asked his wife for it for Christmas. And get this, he had to upgrade his phone to the 5S so he could use it! The 5S is the cheapest phone Apple sells.

I wanted to share that story because us developers tend to get into a bubble, and forget about the other iOS users out there who are NOT young gadget geeks. It also made me think the watch is going to be a big deal sooner rather than later. If guys like him are spending $400 on the first generation watch, basically because he liked how it looked and liked getting text message alerts on his wrist, then imagine what a huge appeal version 2 and version 3 of the watch will have.

Anyway, I feel real good about the future of tvOS and watchOS this year. New and bigger opportunities!