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The Value-Add of Apple TV

Jason Snell over at Six Colors recently asked the question, “Why does the Apple TV still exist?” In the course of answering the question, he noted that Apple TV lets consumers:

  1. Play some games;
  2. Use Homepods for a nice, if somewhat problematic, Atmos sound system;
  3. Use HomeKit on their TV;
  4. Use the…remote?1

He goes on to discuss some of the things that could make the Apple TV a bit better, including turning it into a kind of gaming system, make it better at doing HomeKit things, or maybe even something to do with WiFi. Key is that as Apple’s content has migrated to other platforms and AirPlay 2 has rolled out to manufacturers’ TVs there is less and less need to have an Apple TV to actually engage with Apple’s own content.

I think that Snell’s analysis misses out on a lot of the value add for Apple TV. It’s possible that some of the following items are a bit niche, but nevertheless I think are important to subsets of Apple customers.

  1. Privacy: Smart TVs have an incredibly bad rap. They can monitor what you’re doing nor are they guaranteed updates for a long-time. Sure, some are ok, but do I trust a TV company to protect my privacy or do I trust a company that has massively invested its brand credibility in privacy? For me, I choose Apple over TCL, Sony, LG, or the rest.
  2. Photo Screensavers: I use my Apple TV to display my photos, turning that big black box in my living room into a streaming photo frame. Whenever people are over they’re captivated to see my photos, and frankly I like watching photos go by and remind me of places I’ve been, people I’ve shared time with, and memories of past times. There’s nothing like it on any Smart TV on the market.
  3. Reliable Updates: As Apple develops new features they can integrate them with TV environments vis-a-vis the Apple TV, meaning they’re not reliant on TV manufacturers to develop and push out updates that enable features that Apple thinks are important. Moreover, it means that when a security vulnerability is identified, Apple can control pushing out updates and, thus, reduce the likelihood that their customers are exploited by nefarious parties. TV manufacturers just don’t have the same class of security teams as Apple does.
  4. Family Friendly: Look, it’s great that lots of TVs can stream Apple content and that you can throw your screen/content onto Smart TVs using AirPlay 2. But what about when not everyone has an iPhone on them, or you don’t want to let people onto the same wireless network that your TV is on? In those cases, an Apple TV means that people can find/show content, but avoid the aforementioned frustrations.
  5. HomeKit: I know that Snell mentioned this, but I really think that it cannot be emphasized enough. Apple TV—and especially an updated one that may support Thread—will further let people control their Internet of Things in their home. Assuming that Thread is included in the new Apple TV, that’ll also make the Apple TV yet another part of the local mesh network that is controlling all the other things in the home and that’s pretty great.
  6. Decent Profits: Apple TV has long been a premium product. While Apple won’t earn as much on the sale of an Apple TV as on an iPhone, they’ll earn a lot more than what is being made when someone buys a Sony, TCL, or LG TV.
  7. Brand Lock-in: Let’s face it, if you have a lot of Apple products you’re increasingly likely to keep buying Apple products. And providing an alternative to Google or TV manufacturers’ operating systems is just another way that Apple can keep its customers from wandering too far outside of their product line and being tempted by the products developed and sold by their competitors.

On the whole, I think that there continues to be a modest market for Apple TV. I’d bet that the biggest challenge for Apple is convincing those who have abandoned their Apple TVs to come back, and for those who are using their Smart TVs to pick up an Apple TV that offers a lot of similar uses as their existing TV operating systems. That’ll be a bit easier if there are cool new things associated with a new Apple TV—such as positioning it as a gaming platform with AAA gaming titles—but regardless there is value in the Apple TV. The challenge will be communicating that value to Apple’s current and potential customers but, given their track record, I’m confident that’s a challenge that Apple’s teams can rise to!

Update: Snell catalogues many of the above reasons to get an Apple TV–as well as some others–in a new post based on what his readers told him.


  1. I actually really like the remote, but recognize I’m in the minority. ↩︎
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Your TV as a Beachhead

The Internet of Things is moving apace and consumers are increasingly purchasing Internet-connected devices for their homes. In the case of SmartTVs it appears that manufacturers’ poor security design(s) could pose a direct threat to the network the TV is integrated with:

Since the well-known Javascript object XmlHttpRequest is available within the DAE, not only the TV is the target of possible attacks but also other networked devices in the user’s home network.

Using a timing-based approach, attackers are able to scan the user’s home network from the TV for other devices that are behind the user’s firewall and would not directly be visible from the internet. This could be used for user profiling and for finding further attack targets.

The next step for the attackers could be the reconfiguration of components in the local area network in order to facilitate further attacks via different vectors. For example the home router – which in many cases has no password protection when accessed from the LAN – could be reconfigured by the attacker to have no protection against attacks from the internet.

In order to gain personal information, attackers could access well-known services like UPnP or http in the user’s network via the connected TV. For example IP cameras or printers could be compromised using this technique.

Also using the XmlHttpRequest object, attackers can transfer all of the gained information to arbitrary Internet drop-zones, which would also expose the victim’s IP address.

As a lot of these attacks have been publicized in the context of browser hacking, there is a lot of available code on the Internet that might be used for also compromising Smart TVs.

While the researcher who’s done this work is presently posing SmartTVs as potential – rather than necessary, or actual – threats, now that the cat’s out of the bag it’s almost guaranteed that more people will be working on weaponizing your TV. Isn’t the pervasive connection of equipment to the Internet just great?