Tag Archives: appletv

Fin and split-view for Apple TV

Joe Cieplinski ported his iPhone timer app Fin to the Apple TV:

“Three weeks of spare hours here and there to get myself familiar with the HIG, the UI challenges, etc. was well worth the effort, as far as I’m concerned. And now I get to see if any of my users find the TV app useful, or if I pick up any new attention as a result of being there.”

Hearing stories like this, and thinking about my own apps, I’m convinced that the Apple TV needs split-view support like iPad multitasking. Our apps could be off to the side of the screen while someone uses most of the TV for watching shows or running another full-screen app. Just as I suggested that lightweight universal apps are okay, there is a class of apps that would become more useful when they don’t have to monopolize the entire TV.

Wrap-up thoughts on the TV web

I’m going to mostly let John Gruber have the last word on the Apple TV vs. the web debate, because I could write about this every day and my readers would run away before I run out of material. I’m glad John addressed the Mac vs. the command-line argument, though, because it didn’t seem quite right to me either. He says:

“The difference is that the command-line-less Mac was intended to replace command-line-based computers. The GUI relegated the command-line interface to a permanent tiny niche. Apple TV and Apple Watch aren’t like that at all — they’re not meant to replace any device you already use to access the open web.”

This is the most hopeful part of the Apple ecosystem as it relates to the web. Apple’s other platforms really do have a great web experience. Remember when web sites were faster and worked better on a PC than a Mac? If anything, the opposite is true now.

One of the themes I keep hearing is that a “web browser” on a TV will make for a poor user experience, so don’t bother. I tried to correct that misunderstanding in this post; it’s not about standalone Safari, it’s about web technologies that could be used in native apps. But ignoring that, I think everyone too easily forgets what the mobile web was like before the iPhone.

Steve Jobs, from the original iPhone introduction:

“We wanted the best web browser in the world on our phone. Not a baby web browser or a WAP browser — a real browser. […] It is the first fully usable HTML browser on a phone.”

That was a breakthrough. I believe the same evolution is possible on tvOS — to include parts of the open web and do it with a great user experience. You can start by weaving it together inside native apps. (I filed a bug with Apple yesterday with a suggestion. It was marked as a duplicate.)

The web is at a fascinating, pivotal time right now. It has been shaken up by centralized publishing, closed platforms, and now content blockers. Users no longer value the concepts that made Web 2.0 special. The web can still have a strong future, but we have to try something, and we have to try it on every platform we can.

The web without HTML

On Twitter, Alex Fajkowski responded to my blog post about tvOS with this:

“They have access to the open web—NSURLSession exists. HTML rendering is inappropriate for the watch and tv.”

I disagree with both of those sentences. Maybe Alex didn’t read my full post, because I wrote that web services are not enough. HTML and links and URLs are equally important parts of the open web. NSURLSession gets you web services but nothing else.

(As an aside, HTML turns out to be a pretty useful format for styling text, too. Why wouldn’t you want to use it for iTunes movie descriptions on the TV, for example? That seems completely appropriate.)

Think about the full scope of the internet. What percentage of content is available via web services — that is, structured data that can be parsed and displayed with a custom, native UI — compared to all the traditional, HTML-based web sites? You’ll find that there is an almost unimaginably large number of that latter kind of web site, and the only way to access and display that content is with an HTML renderer.

Now imagine a world with only native apps. You’d need custom apps and web services for different kinds of content, just as we have native Twitter or Instagram apps today, but we’d need these for many thousands of categories: tvOS with TVML, recipe or cooking apps with FOODML, and so on. Eventually, having so many formats would get unmanageable. We’d need to invent a general purpose format that could accommodate many app formats, and (surprise!) that general format would look a lot like HTML. Why break old content and essentially reboot the web, when we already have a capable format in HTML?

Of course, there’s no immediate risk of getting to that hypothetical native-only future. But when a company with the size and influence of Apple has 4 major platforms and only 2 of them have access to the open web, that should give us pause. Let’s reflect on how this plays out, so we can get back on track if the web does become marginalized.

John Gruber commented that these new devices don’t need the web at all, comparing it to the original Mac shipping without a command line interface. I realized while reading his closing paragraph that my own blog post had been poorly titled, and so the whole point too easily misunderstood. John wrote:

“Or it could be that Apple has decided never to open WebKit to developers on Apple TV. Either way, it won’t affect Apple TV’s success, and everything will be OK.”

Apple TV’s success doesn’t change my argument. My Apple TV dev kit arrives on Friday, I’m going to build an app for it, and I can’t wait to watch Apple’s latest platform take off. When I wrote that the Apple TV “needs” the web I didn’t mean that it would be crippled and unsuccessful without it. I simply meant that the web should be there in some form, even if limited.

(It doesn’t even have to be Safari. There just needs to be enough web technologies to make some part of the open web possible. Again, that means web services, HTML, and links.)

Yesterday, John Gruber also wrote about web apps and native apps, and what each should focus on:

“Native apps can’t out-web the web, and web apps should embrace that.”

That’s good advice. There are plenty of important tasks for the web community that should be top priorities, such as encouraging a return to independent publishing and trying to fix the lack of redundancy. The web will always be playing catch-up with native apps for user experience, but the web will always be ahead as a distributed, open publishing platform. And that is such an important feature, it should be available on as many devices as possible.

Every device needs the web

In a widely-linked post to Medium, Daniel Pasco writes about the problem of not having WebKit available on tvOS:

“Webviews are the duct tape of the mobile world. I’d estimate that 50% to 80% of the major apps out there use webviews somewhere within their apps. Apple’s Mail app uses webviews for your email messages, because webviews can style and render the content very efficiently. NetNewsWire uses them prolifically, particularly in a few features we haven’t enabled in the shipping version yet.”

I’ve argued on Core Intuition that even with the Apple Watch — as silly as it might seem to want to browse the web on your wrist — there should still be some basic access to the web. If not a full browser, at least a webview so that developers can style short content.

Daniel Jalkut suggests a related compromise for the Apple TV:

“I propose that Apple could strike a compromise that would serve those ambitions while also supporting the tasteful handling of web content in apps. How? By forbidding network access to web content. Apps themselves could still access the network, but not from within their web views.”

This is much better, but I think we should aim higher, since giving up on the web seems to admit early defeat to what Daniel acknowledges is probably WebKit’s politically-motivated omission. The web might not be the most usable medium on all devices, but it is arguably the most important one. Just because we all love native apps doesn’t mean we should trade in the significant value that the web provides, especially for independent writing and a permanence that can outlive silos and platforms.

Apple has 4 major platforms now: iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and the Mac. It’s a dangerous precedent for 2 out of those 4 to not have access to the open web. Web services are only part of the story; HTML and the hyperlink are also both fundamental components of web access. A platform is too shut off from the rest of the world without them.

Apple announcements and Flash video

If you are wondering why I haven’t posted here in over a month, it’s because I’ve been getting my writing fix “over on Twitter”:http://twitter.com/manton, in 140 characters or less a couple times a day. Still trying to figure out the best way to integrate that experience into this site. I also have the usual queue of blog post drafts that will roll out here when I have time.

Meanwhile…

A bunch of really interesting things hit today. Microsoft Surface (can’t wait for the multi-touch iPhone); iTunes Plus (already upgraded my songs); and YouTube on the Apple TV (welcome if unexpected).

I have actually been dreading the iTunes Plus announcement because I am behind in “Wii Transfer”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/ development, and I had hoped to coincide version 2.3 with the DRM-free AAC files on iTunes. It should be ready for a private beta in a few days. (Want in on the beta? Just email support@riverfold.com.)

But it’s the YouTube feature that is really fascinating to me. I’ve long thought that Apple has all but given up on web video, somehow content to let Flash dominate. The Apple movie trailers site as the last pocket of QuickTime content isn’t quite good enough. Apple could have created something on the scale of YouTube but hooked into the iApps, .Mac, and built on QuickTime. Maybe even as an extension of the iTunes Store around video podcasts.

(The great thing about podcasts is that they are decentralized, but it makes it a little more difficult when you are trying to build a community. The iTunes Store also does a great job for discovery but nothing to help content creators. There is no one-step upload.)

The Apple TV announcement is weird because while on the surface it looks like a confirmation that Flash video wins, it might just be the first sign of Apple fighting back. Every video on YouTube will get the H.264 treatment. The web video revolution (of sorts) has been great, but the pieces are coming together for truly useful broadband video. Perhaps YouTube sees that they could be a major player not just for silly webcam videos but as an infrastructure for high quality distribution, with content in some categories that will rival the networks.

That future is especially believable the first time you sync up near-HD video podcasts to the Apple TV. It’s a great experience and definitely exceeded my expectations.