As Apple’s original video production costs reportedly balloon past a billion and given recent music video app consolidation, I wonder what sort of distribution methods the company will employ when content begins arriving in 2019. Will these shows be accessed via an Apple Music subscription (as Carpool Karaoke is) similar to Google Play Music with YouTube Red and to better take on Spotify, sold independently via iTunes, or packaged within an entirely new video streaming offering? The latter strikes me as unlikely – for comparison, Netflix had millions of customers before venturing into original content (and marketing still remains a challenge). Might they employ a multifaceted approach that also includes syndication to a Hulu or leverage existing partner Disney, with its own upcoming streaming service? And then there’s the episodic question – all at once like Netflix or a weekly trickle like CBS All Access and Hulu?
Archives For Apple
The delayed and seemingly incomplete, or at least limited and locked-in, Apple HomePod has arrived… for pre-order, anyway.
Digital Trends reports that the new $349 connected speaker’s sound really shines, besting all comers in fact. But, to fully appreciate Siri’s soundtrack, one must also subscribe to Apple Music. On the flip side, connected speaker pioneer Sonos recently integrated Amazon’s more adept Alexa voice control with Google Assistant waiting in the wings. Further, given 80 linked services, Sonos natively streams just about everything… including the aforementioned Apple Music. So while a single Homepod may sound better, Sonos is generating some well deserved publicity by offering up two Play One speakers (in black or white) for the price of a single Apple speaker (also in black, err space grey, or white) – essentially a limited time $50 discount.
Personally, having cycled through a number of Sonos and Bose devices, I’ve concluded my hearing is about as good as my vision and I’d probably be content with a few $99 refreshed Amazon Echoes for music playback and even more extensive Alexa interaction. Although our single remaining Sonos Play:1 has stayed strong, playing nature sounds and lullabies remotely, on command each and every day in our daughter’s room.
Although announced last spring and having missed Belkin’s promised fall release, we knew the HomeKit-endowed WeMo Bridge was poised for release… and here it is. The Bridge does exactly what it says in linking up (a subset of) WeMo hardware to Apple’s smart home control — not only do you get direct Siri control of WeMo accessories, they’ll easily interoperate with all other devices in the ecosystem. For example, a WeMo motion sensor could be configured to trigger competing Hue lighting. Or the Philips Hue Motion Sensor, which I highly recommend, could trigger a WeMo Smart Outlet.
While WeMo Bridge pricing is reasonable at $40, it’s an easy decision for me to abstain. No, it’s not my well-documented frustrations with WeMo (since lessened) and HomeKit tepidness. It’s that Belkin has clearly abandoned the portion of the WeMo product line that I continue to rely on.
My streaming hardware preference has waxed and waned over the years. And, whereas I’d given the Fire TV a slight edge the last year, the balance has now slightly tipped to Roku. Of course, outside Apple TV and Nvidia Shield, a solid, high quality experience can be had under $100 — no doubt about it, both the Amazon and Roku platforms are great.
I’ve preferred the Fire TV voice remote for a variety of reasons, including the feel, layout, and infinitely more versatile Alexa voice control. And, amongst the new stick/dongle-esque streamers, Amazon provides a superior physical design … that doesn’t require a HDMI adapter for certain television mounting situations. Further Amazon has provided a generally richer interface and app experiences. However, where they started to lose me is an updated interface infested with advertising that not only distracts but also interferes with navigation.
On the flip side, Roku’s interface and a large number of apps are ridiculously simplistic. But what they lack in visual complexity, they more than makes up for in clear, efficient interaction… which is ultimately of more importance. Where they really hit it out the park in 2017 are models with new remotes that also control television power and volume. Instead of crippled, unpredictable HDMI-CEC interaction, Roku supposedly uses EDID over HDMI to identify your television and load up the relevant IR codes. And in my small-scale test, it performed remarkably.
Due to the tremendous number of (accurate) leaks, there weren’t too many surprises from the new Steve Jobs theater located within the new Apple campus. But a couple of interesting items, that I hadn’t anticipated, caught my attention.
Apple TV Price Drop
I was convinced we’d see an Apple TV price drop of some sort, perhaps tied to a touchless-remote on the bottom-end, to bring them inline with the market leading Roku and Fire TV. However, Apple controls the supply chain like no other and is conceivably content with lower penetration but presumably larger margins. While not quite a surprise, again given those leaks, it was refreshing to see Apple will sell 4K movies for the same price as 1080P while upgrading existing purchases… for those who consume in that manner, anyway.
Expansive iPhone Lineup
While both the iPhone 8 and iPhone X were correctly predicted, in hardware if not name, I didn’t expect Apple would keep around so many former generations of phone. To meet a wide array of budgets and fend off the onslaught of solid lower-end Android handsets, the iPhone SE, 6S, 6S Plus, 7, and 7 Plus will join the 8, 8 Plus, and X on store shelves – in multiple capacities and colors. At least for now. Remember when they offered a single model? Beyond the expansive lineup, Apple is clearly committed to offering more than two years of updates (unlike the competition) — not that it’s a new m.o., but I do wonder if at some point they choose to fork the software a bit and continue to provide security patches to older OSes on hardware that cannot support the latest and greatest.
Well will you look at that… While Sonos’ April FCC filing turns out to be rather pedestrian, a brand spanking new, though heavily redacted (until February 28th) FCC filing confirms one new connected speaker with integrated voice control:
The EUT is 802.11 a/b/g/n (HT20) Client Device. Product model S13 is a high-performance all-in-one wireless smart speaker and part of Sonos’ home sound system. S13 adds integrated voice control functionality with far field microphones. Moreover, the device will support multiple voice platforms and music services, allowing customers to effortlessly control their music on Sonos.
So, not only will Sonos be gaining voice control from Alexa-powered hardware and apps, the streaming pioneer will also bring native hardware integration. From the included imagery, there will obviously be a mic button (or, more likely, touchable surface like the Play:5) – on what I assume is the first refresh of their entire speaker line. But will the speaker(s) also provide always-listening capability like Amazon, Google, and Apple? And which voice services, beyond Alexa, might we expect?
I can’t tell you if this is an entirely new model or replaces an existing one, but with CEDIA around the corner, perhaps the wait won’t be long…
Update: Confirmation of Alexa support and a photo of the ecobee4 can be found here, ahead of a May 3rd announcement.
The ecobee4 smart thermostat, originally leaked last month by Apple, has just passed through the FCC. As to what it offers over the ecobee3 and its remote sensors, well, that remains mostly a mystery. We assume it will retain Apple HomeKit integration and there is some thought its profile will match the new and slightly revised ecobee3 lite.
But most curious, based on the FCC glamour shot above, is some sort of round opening along the top of the ecobee4’s enclosure. What I’d originally thought might be additional or relocated environmental sensors, versus an exhaust port, may actually be a small speaker given new intel I have received indicating tighter ecobee+Alexa voice integration. Incorporating Amazon’s voice assistant makes a whole lot of sense given the practicality (why clutter things up with yet another Echo Dot) and recent $35 million dollar investment.