The New Apple TV Is a Stuttering Step in the Right Direction

Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

One of the more exciting things about iOS 12.3, ostensibly, is that it allows you to get offline access to movies and shows that had no legal offline access before this. Only you’ll have to pay Apple for that privilege.

The iOS update went live yesterday and a key feature for anyone who travels, or regularly takes the subway (and thus loses internet access between stops), is the ability to load up on movies and TV shows that previously had no offline access.

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It works through Apple’s terribly named TV app (seriously, having Apple TV the hardware and Apple TV the software is bad form and makes troubleshooting either via Google search an absolute nightmare) as part of the new feature called Channels. The idea, according to Apple, is that Channels is the platonic ideal way for viewing content from providers like HBO, Showtime and Starz. Typically you subscribe to those channels either via your cable provider, a streaming provider like PS Vue, or directly. Then you watch the content via its specific app, which relies on the content provider to maintain that app and the server.

That’s great until the server gets slammed—say by millions of people watching the final season of Game of Thrones. Then the content gets pixellated and gross and we all complain.

With Channels, the content is streamed directly from Apple’s servers instead. Theoretically, that means a cleaner and more stable source (we haven’t had a chance to test that claim yet). The bonus is that subscribing through Channels also means you get offline access to content, even when the provider doesn’t provide offline content in its own app (like HBO).

However, because nothing in the streaming world is ever simple you can’t just have any subscription to a service like HBO or Showtime. As former Gizmodo reporter Christina Warren noted on Twitter, in order to take full advantage of Apple TV’s new feature you have to subscribe to the services through Apple.

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So if you, say, subscribe to HBO Go via PS Vue or your local cable provider you won’t actually get offline viewing or the content via Apple’s dedicated servers. When we asked Apple for comment regarding Apple having seemingly exclusive rights to offline access to HBO, a spokesperson directed us to HBO itself. HBO did not immediately reply to our request for comment.

One could presume it’s because Apple’s Channels feature is independent of HBO. It’s an Apple exclusive feature because Apple is doing all the work. So if you want it you’ll have to subscribe through Apple (Apple gets a cut of all subscriptions made through it).

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Which sort of makes sense! Apple has always provided a really excellent experience, whether watching TV, or using a phone, or doing some stuff on a computer—but it has also demanded you pay a premium for the privilege. So you want the potentially highest-quality cordcutting version of a service like HBO? Apple’s got it—but only Apple.

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About the author

Alex Cranz

Senior Reviews Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.