Media Streamers

3 ways Apple's new TV app will change the viewing experience on Apple TV

Analysis: Fresh off a hands-on demo of the new streaming video aggregation app, coming in December to Apple TV boxes, iPads and iPhones, we'll tell you what you need to know.

James Martin/CNET

"A unified TV experience that's one place to access all of your TV shows and movies, one place to discover great new content to watch."

That's how Apple CEO Tim Cook described a new app called TV. Sounds great, but what's the catch?

I spent an hour this morning meeting with Apple's TV team, who gave me a walkthrough of the new app, which is coming to Apple TV boxes, iPhone and iPads in December. They described how it would work, what it was intended to do and what it can't do (yet).

Here's what I learned.

1. It cuts out the middleman.

The TV app is a basically a "meta-app" -- a one-stop shop for all of the supported video apps on your Apple device. The best part of it is the top line of the main Watch Now page, called Up Next. It lists every TV series and movie you've recently watched across every participating app. Think of it as the "Continue Watching" row from Netflix, applied across multiple apps. "Westworld" from HBO Now will be listed right next to "The Mindy Project" from Hulu, next to "Power" from Starz. Clicking one immediately begins playing the next episode for easy binging, or resumes where you left off, without you having to go through the app itself (aka, the middleman).

Lower on the Watch Now section are rows with TV shows and movies, all of which are available immediately to watch based on your subscriptions. If you don't subscribe to Hulu, for example, you won't see "The Mindy Project" here. Apple says the choices are curated by humans, not customized to individual viewers via an algorithm, and skew toward "stuff I can watch for free" (meaning, via apps you're already subscribed to as a flat fee, or as part of your cable package) rather than "stuff I have to pay for on iTunes."

2. You'll need to leave the app for Netflix (so far), plus Amazon is still MIA.

The worst part of Apple's TV app? Content from every external video app won't be included at launch. Netflix is the biggest omission. A Netflix spokesperson confirmed to CNET: "We won't be participating at launch, but are evaluating the opportunity." Of course, Apple TV has a Netflix app you can enter to watch shows directly, and Netflix results are included in its cross-app search and Siri results, so I'd be surprised if it remained a permanent holdout.

Here's where I remind readers that an app for Amazon video (Prime or otherwise) isn't available at all on Apple TV, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. The same goes for other video stores like Google Play Movies and TV, Fandango Now and Vudu. (An important caveat: All of those services, including Amazon, have video apps on iPhones and iPads.) If you want to buy an individual TV show or movie on Apple TV, you have to buy it from iTunes.

apple-tv-comparo.jpg

The Apple TV remote's TV button will (left) will launch the TV app (right).

David Katzmaier/Sarah Tew/CNET

3. The TV button on the Apple TV Siri remote will launch it.

How important is the TV app to Apple? Important enough to serve as a de-facto home page of the device, at least as far as the remote is concerned. There's a button on the remote with a TV icon (above) that looks exactly like the on-screen icon for the TV app. Today, pressing it returns to the main Apple TV home page, which lists all the installed apps and games. After the TV app launches in December that will change, and by default pressing that button will launch the TV app itself.

If you don't like that behavior you can change it in settings, and as always you can return to the main home page by holding or repeatedly pressing the "Menu" key.

We'll know more soon.

I could write another umpteen things to know about the app right now and it hasn't even launched. It will replace the "Videos" app on iOS, there's no plans for a Mac version, its "kids" section breaks down videos by age group, etc.

But Apple's reps were careful to say that things are still in flux and will remain so until (and probably even after) it appears in December. For example, they refused to specify exactly which apps will be included (or even that Netflix would be excluded), nor did they specify which providers (beyond DirecTV and Dish Network) would be supported by the single sign-on feature, which is also slated to arrive in December after first being unveiled in June. Other possible next steps for the TV app include live TV support and maybe even Netflix-style profiles for individual family members.

I plan to give it the CNET Reviews hands-on treatment when it does launch. In the meantime, if there's anything you're wondering, let me know.

Now Playing: Watch this: Apple TV gets... TV app
1:39