The tech media is going mildly gaga at Samsung's key-note announcement that Samsung TVs will soon carry Apple's iTunes. And at a company level, this is certainly interesting — in former years the two companies have been more often in court than in cahoots, so the cooperation here is interesting in itself.
There’s also the regular rumour that Apple has long had its own TV design under development — so could this be is a test run for its own TV, or alternatively is this a relinquishing of the goal? Conversely on Samsung’s side, is this an admission of defeat for its own attempts to offer iTunes-like music and movie services — is it now carrying iTunes instead?
Just the movies
But the inclusion of iTunes is nothing too radical in user terms. The Samsung inclusion is just the iTunes movie/TV rent/buy service. Many TVs offer multiple ways to access movie and TV rentals so that users can stick with their preferred service — the Samsung image above, for example, shows the Google Play movie/TV service right alongside iTunes. And while Android TVs heavily favour Google Play, of course, they allow access to many other services through other downloadable apps.
So it's a small offering. This is not like having an AppleTV built-in, let alone being like an actual Apple television. The iTunes TV/movie service is one single 'app' from within the AppleTV platform. And music is not part of it — there’s no music at all in the Samsung implementation of iTunes, no Apple Music subscription access, there’s no access to your iTunes library of music to play. This is not iTunes as a desktop user would know it.
Why no Apple Apple Music as an app? Apple has already delivered an app for Android phones, but it doesn't seem available as an Android TV app, at least here in Australia, so you can't play Apple Music directly through an Android TV either.
But for the latest Samsung TVs, there is another way to play your Apple Music subscription, and it's far more interesting than the inclusion of a mere app.
The real revolution
There’s another Apple inclusion announced for Samsung and other TVs, and this really does potentially change things.
All the TVs listed below will soon have AirPlay 2 activated, streaming technology which will allow you to stream audio and mirror or hand over video streaming from an iOS device or Mac directly to the AirPlay 2–enabled smart TV.
This not only clears up how to play your Apple Music stream to the TV, it potentially puts Apple technology right at the heart of home entertainment, where it has long wanted to be. Your iPad or iPhone can control entertainment not only on the TV but throughout the home. You'll be able to play music on the TV and sync it with other AirPlay 2–compatible speakers anywhere in your home — and with so many audio manufacturers already including AirPlay in their products (Denon/Marantz/HEOS, Yamaha/MusicCast, Sonos, Bluesound/BluOS, Dynaudio, DefTech, Naim, B&O, B&W, etc), this will allow Apple to hijack the TVs as the hub for a whole-of-home AirPlay entertainment network. AirPlay operates across a whole home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and it can work at full CD quality for music; it’s a whole lot better than using Bluetooth.
We should note there have long been third-party apps like AirScreen and and AirReceiverLite (less ad-congested) to achieve AirPlay to Android TVs, but it can be hoped that the real deal will be more prominent and hopefully more reliable.
HomeKit next? Android assault?
What next? It’s not hard to imagine Apple HomeKit following in a future update. We note that on Apple’s page for Home accessories, TVs are already listed as “coming soon”. And Apple's AirPlay page notes that "With AirPlay 2 and HomeKit, you can use Siri on your iPhone to send a video to your TV. Better yet, ask Siri to play a specific show in a specific room." (A note mentions this is "not available on Samsung TVs".)
And if this all goes well, imagine if Samsung agreed to put AirPlay 2 on its Android phones and tablets. It might be seen as a win-win — for Apple this would further benefit its wider ecosystem, while for Samsung it would remove a key USP from iPhones and iPads, giving Samsung true cross-platform devices, outside the usual Apple-Android divide.
So AirPlay 2 on televisions is the real revolution here. It puts Apple technology at the heart of home entertainment, where it has long wanted to be. It’s not clear whether Apple also benefits from license fees from the TVs, as it does from audio equipment including AirPlay; this might be an initial market-testing roll-out. (And of course we wait to see how well AirPlay 2 video streaming works under third-party implementation; it's hardly perfect even within an all-Apple system.)
At the same time this move opens the AirPlay platform for other companies to provide end-points for iPhone and iPad control — good for Apple's sources, though you’re less likely to need an AppleTV. This final point aside, it seems a neat move by Apple.
And we suspect that the strategy is also a fair indicator that the idea of an Apple-branded television has had its day. But the TV itself was not the final goal. The TV as an Apple hub— that was the goal. Could Apple make the TV itself? How could it possibly cater to such a wide and fragmented market? Could they achieve it in a separate media box — the AppleTV? Kinda, yes, but not with the real integration that Apple must desire, and TVs are now smart enough to do most of that stuff already. Solution: get the tech into mainstream TVs.
That list of TVs that will get AirPlay 2 currently includes:
- LG OLED (2019)
- LG NanoCell SM9X series (2019)
- LG NanoCell SM8X series (2019)
- LG UHD UM7X series (2019)
- Samsung QLED Series (2019 and 2018)
- Samsung 8 Series (2019 and 2018)
- Samsung 7 Series (2019 and 2018)
- Samsung 6 Series (2019 and 2018)
- Samsung 5 Series (2019 and 2018)
- Samsung 4 Series (2019 and 2018)
- Sony Z9G Series (2019)
- Sony A9G Series (2019)
- Sony X950G Series (2019)
- Sony X850G Series (2019 85", 75", 65" and 55" models)
- Also US Vizio models.