Apple TV overhaul invites branded apps onto the original small screen

Gilt Groupe showed off shopping via the new Apple TV.
Gilt Groupe showed off shopping via the new Apple TV.

"We believe the future of television is apps" said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Forget beaming commercials into America's living rooms. Apple wants brands to put their apps there, too.  

Apple today opened up a new avenue for brands to reach TV audiences with a voice controlled overhaul of Apple TV. A new TV app store will give users access to branded software for shopping, booking travel, fitness and a host of other activities.

While previous versions of Apple TV were limited to channels controlled by the company itself, developers now can create apps and upload them to the new Apple TV App Store (subject to Apple software guidelines). The net effect: a far more varied ecosystem of TV entertainment and functionality.

"The TV experience itself hasn't changed much in decades," said Apple CEO Tim Cook during the company’s event in San Francisco. "We believe the future of television is apps."

Apple has redesigned all its apps for Apple TV, which works on all current Apple devices, and it is seeding to its 11 million registered developers the new tvOS that powers it. Vendors getting behind Version 4 include Airbnb; home-shopping app Zillow; game brands including Guitar Hero, Galaxy on Fire and Disney’s new "Star Wars" game.

The company touted the shopping features of Apple TV, with fashion retailer Gilt Groupe briefly taking the stage to show off its Apple TV experience.

Apple TV 4 sports a new operating system and voice-controlled navigation powered by Apple’s Siri technology. The upgrade will ship in October. The base model will cost $149 with 32 GB of storage. A 64 GB version will be $199.

The Siri button lets users request features such as "comedies featuring Jason Bateman" to bring up relevant shows and films. Asking Siri, "What did she just say?" will prompt the digital assistant to back the film up a few frames. Users can also ask for information such as a show's cast, as well as request Siri to display weather or sports scores. Siri can search across multiple apps like Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, HBO and iTunes (but not Amazon).

Super phones, big tablets, smarter watches
At its event in San Francisco, the company also took the wraps off touch-sensitive iPhones, a supersize iPad and upgrades to Apple Watch.

In other announcements, Apple unveiled the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, which feature "3D Touch," a pressure-sensitive control that complements current actions such as pinching and swiping.

"We have changed everything about these new iPhones," Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

The 3D Touch system brings up shortcuts when users press down on the screen, for example. Haptic feedback (a k a) provides navigation cues.For example, in the Mail app, 3D Touch lets users briefly view a message by holding down on the screen, then return  to their Inboxes when they let go.

"What's really great about 3D Touch is it lets us take action on apps without having to open them," said Apple engineering chief Craig Federighi.

In terms of performance, Apple CMO Phil Schiller said the new phones will runup to 90% faster than the current iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The camera includes 50% more pixels, speeding autofocus. The iPhone 6S will cost $199 upwards, and iPhone 6S Plus will start at $299.

Calling the 12.9-inch iPad Pro "the most capable iPad we’ve ever created," Cook touted a range of features that include 10-hour battery life and four speakers. It includes comes with a thin fabric Smart Keyboard and a stylus dubbed the Apple Pencil. Representatives from Microsoft and Adobe demonstrated the speed  with which users can run their professional software.

The Pro line will ship in November and range in price from $799 to $1,099. The keyboard will cost $169, and the Pencil will be priced at $99. Version 4 of the petite iPad mini will also ship for $399.

Apple announced OS 2 for its line of smartwatches will ship Sept. 16, which will allow apps to run native on the Watch without requiring an accompanying device, such as an iPhone. The company has also partnered with Hermes on a line of high-end Watch bands that will ship in October. Cook demonstrated Facebook Messenger and GoPro cameras running native on the Watch and announced that the App Store now carries more than 10,000 Watch apps.

Shona Ghosh of Marketing Magazine contributed to this report.


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