Apple TV Plus: Our biggest unanswered questions

Apple finally filled in the most glaring blanks about its streaming service: its launch date and price. But you may need more answers before you commit.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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6 min read

Apple TV Plus is set to launch Nov. 1. 


When Apple unveiled its streaming service, Apple TV Plus, in March, it left us with more questions than answers. On Tuesday, it filled in the most important blanks: Apple TV Plus will launch on Nov. 1 for $5 a month, with a free year subscription for anyone who buys a new Apple gadget. 

Ultimately, Apple TV Plus will become another subscription in Apple's growing constellation of services, including Apple Music for tunes, Apple Arcade for games and Apple News Plus for articles. Apple's hope is that all these services -- particularly those like Apple TV Plus that offer exclusive material -- could entice people to buy more iPhones and other gadgets , not to mention forking over recurring fees to the company every month. 

But Apple TV Plus is jumping into a scrum of streaming services, old and new. Netflix, the biggest subscription video service in the world, dominates with more than 150 million subscribers, and that's not to mention Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Disney Plus, a highly anticipated service from the media giant, will roll out less than two weeks after Apple's. And other media companies are piling on, with both NBCUniversal and HBO-owner WarnerMedia planning their streaming services in the coming months. 

As TV fans figure out which of these services they actually want to watch, Apple still hasn't answered all the things you may need to know. These are our biggest unanswered questions. 

So, no library of licensed shows and movies then?

Apple made no mention Tuesday of any shows and movies on Apple TV Plus other than its own original programming. Every streaming service takes time to ramp up a slate of originals, but most of Apple TV Plus' competitors have licensed shows and movies as a safety net. Apple confirmed that only nine titles would be available at launch, with another five to come in the months that follow. 


Reese Witherspoon (left) and Jennifer Aniston star in The Morning Show, one of the launch titles on Apple TV Plus.  

Claudia Cruz/CNET

By comparison, Netflix will release more than double that just between now and the date Apple TV Plus launches. Disney's forthcoming streaming rival, Disney Plus, will also have nine original titles at launch -- in addition to 300 movies and thousands of catalog TV episodes. 

And those licensed catalogs can be really important. HBO may be best known for its original series that rake in ratings and Emmy awards every year, but mostly people watch licensed movies on HBO. Hollywood movies make up 72% of HBO viewing, the network's CEO said in 2017. 

What about bundles?

With Apple ramping up a network of entertainment services, bundles seem like a gimme, but we're still waiting to hear anything about them. 

Bundling services is becoming more common among the competition. Disney will offer a discounted triple bundle with Disney Plus, ad-supported Hulu and ESPN Plus for $13 a month, a $5 discount. Spotify has teamed up with Hulu and Showtime (which is owned by CNET's parent company, CBS) with a cheap package.

Watch this: Apple plays it safe with iPhone 11 as it pushes new services like Apple TV Plus (The Daily Charge)

A discounted package for two or more of Apple's services -- like Music, TV Plus, News Plus, Arcade or even iCloud storage -- would also be a way for Apple to ease some of the pressure on its newer services that need time to build up their catalogs and reputation.

When will it stream to more than just Apple products and Samsung smart TVs? 

Apple says that "in the future" the TV app -- and with it, Apple TV Plus -- will be coming to other platforms, namely Amazon Fire TV , LG , Roku , Sony and Vizio. But it hasn't said exactly when that will happen, and it hasn't specified whether any devices on those platforms will be excluded. 

As far as the Roku and Fire TV smart TV operating systems are concerned, will the app only come to smart TVs from TCL, Toshiba and others? Or will it also end up on some or all of the streaming sticks and boxes from Roku and Amazon -- including devices as cheap as the $30 Roku Express and $40 Amazon Fire TV Stick? Apple and Roku reps haven't responded to our requests for clarification, while the Fire TV rep didn't provide any additional details.

We also don't know how -- or if -- Apple will let people with non-Apple mobile devices stream its programming. The company said Apple TV Plus will be able to stream via the web, but app streaming is always a better experience than using a web browser. And while the iPhone is popular, 85% of mobile phone shipments last year were Android phones, according to IDC. That's a lot of potential subscribers to leave out in the cold. 

Period piece Dickinson and sci-fi epic See are two of Apple's shows that'll debut at launch on Nov. 1. 


Will it stream in 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos? 

UPDATE: Answered! Dolby helped cleared this up: Apple originals will be available in 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision and most titles also offer Dolby Atmos sound, according to this Apple support page.

These high-quality video and audio formats are offered on other services, including Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Vudu, and the Apple TV 4K, which supports all of them, is one of the best ways to take advantage. 

Will Apple limit simultaneous streams? 

We know that Apple TV Plus will participate in Apple's family-sharing feature, which lets you and up to five family members share a plan. But we haven't heard details about whether Apple TV Plus will limit simultaneous streams.

Simultaneous streams translate to the number of devices that can watch a service at the same time. Hulu allows two simultaneous streams. HBO gives you three. Disney Plus will permit four. And Netflix ranges from one to four, depending on which tier of service you pay for. Simultaneous-stream limits can be a pricing feature in some cases, but they're also a way services gently prevent password sharing from running rampant.

What's Apple's attitude about password sharing, and how aggressively will it enforce the rules?

Streaming services generally aren't huge fans of their customers sharing login credentials so that friends, family and barely there acquaintances can freeload. But none of them is particularly aggressive about hunting down password sharers. HBO's former chief Richard Plepler once said password sharing was a "terrific" marketing vehicle, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has called it "something you have to learn to live with."

Apple has never been atypically militant about Apple Music password sharing, but its $6 billion budget for Apple TV Plus could bring about different calculations. 

How will Apple TV Plus be presented in the TV app UI?

The TV app groups television shows and movies together and presents everything at the top in an Up Next row, regardless of which service (iTunes, HBO, etc.) a program comes from. In the TV app today there's a big preview section dedicated to Apple TV Plus directly below that top row, which leads to show titles that have a "coming November 1" note and an option to add them directly to the Up Next row. With such prominent placement even before the shows are actually available to watch, it's safe to assume TV Plus will get top billing after launch as well.

Will Apple TV Plus have parental controls? If so, what'll they be?

For other content on the Apple TV app, like iTunes and HBO for example, you can go into the Apple TV's main settings page and select Restrictions to turn on parental controls for both TV shows and movies. Choosing PG and TV-Y respectively, for instance, prevents content with higher-age ratings from showing up in the TV app. It makes sense for Apple to follow the same scheme for shows on Apple TV Plus, but we don't know for sure.

Originally published Jan. 18, 5 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:30 a.m.: Adds answer about 4K, HDR and Dolby. 

Celebrities show off their new series on Apple TV Plus

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