Sling TV arrives on Chromecast with free 2-month trial

IP-based television service Sling TV is finally making its way to Google’s Chromecast streaming device today, and it’s offering few carrots to bait those who’ve yet to sign up.
The announcement seems very much geared toward Sling TV until you hear about the perks being offered. As part of the Chromecast launch, Sling is offering new customers a two-month free trial of its basic package of over 20 channels. For (presumably) current subscribers, those that are willing to pay for three months of Sling TV upfront can also get a free Chromecast device.
The promotion is similar to one Google forged with Netflix when the Chromecast first debuted. However, this time the motivation is likely due to increased competition from the likes of Apple’s newly upgraded Apple TV and Amazon’s Fire TV. (Not to mention that Amazon also just yanked Chromecast from its online retail stores, both from Amazon and third-party sellers.)

Amazon’s disingenuous plan to remove Fire TV’s competition grows

Earlier this month, reports indicated that Amazon planned to stop selling the Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast products through its online marketplace. While the devices are still available right now, they’re scheduled to be pulled at some point today, according to Bloomberg’s initial report on Amazon’s plans.
So why is Amazon doing this? Well, the company would have you believe that it’s trying to prevent consumer confusion, because neither of those competitive devices support its Prime Video service as well as its own Fire TV set-top boxes. But several reports published over the last few days offer an alternative theory.
First came a GeekWire report about Amazon’s apparent plans to introduce a QVC-like channel to the Fire TV. This shopping network would complement a new feature the company is reportedly testing with a small number of users: The ability to purchase items shown on-screen directly via the Fire TV remote.
The report says that Amazon wants to sell items via banner ads shown on the main Fire TV interface, and through the X-Ray feature, which uses Amazon’s IMDb service to share information about whatever a person is watching. (It can identify actors, for example, or share background info about a scene.)
These shopping features wouldn’t be as easy to implement on competitive products. Nor would Amazon make as much money from them — Apple takes a 30 percent cut from all transactions made through its platforms, which is why Kindle users can’t purchase new books via the company’s iOS applications.
That’s a compelling enough reason not to believe Amazon’s claim on its own. Saying it was trying to help its Prime customers was likely disingenuous; it seems more like Amazon is trying to do its best to promote a potential revenue scheme than like it was trying to make sure its most loyal customers are happy.
Then came the revelation, courtesy of BuzzFeed’s review of the new Apple TV, that Amazon could very well introduce its Prime Video service to the platform. Here’s what the review said, captured in a handy-dandy little “screenshort”:

I’ve reached out to Amazon for comment on this claim. Right now it seems damning. If the company can introduce Prime Video to the Apple TV, wouldn’t the customers it’s trying to save from befuddlement be better served if it did that, instead of pulling from its website a device they might want to purchase?
None of this will really stop people from buying a new Apple TV. Like I wrote when Amazon’s plan was revealed: The company isn’t hurting anyone but itself, given the ease with which someone can point their Web browser to Apple’s website instead of refusing to buy something not on Amazon’s market. It’s very possible that Amazon is trying (likely in vain) to retain some of the market share for streaming boxes it swallowed up due to years of Apple neglecting to update the Apple TV.
I’ll update this post if Amazon responds to my request for comment. Not that I’m holding my breath — when the company isn’t sending me press releases about new products or making sure I see Medium posts, it’s fairly tight lipped. Given the apparent duplicity at work here, I don’t expect any comment from it.

Amazon will stop selling Apple TVs and Chromecasts. So what?

Although it seems pretty cut and dry, there are folks in tech media that feel Amazon shouldn’t actually stay competitive, as businesses tend to do to survive.
Case in point: Amazon doesn’t like that neither the Apple TV nor Google’s Chromecast provide easy access to its Prime Video service, so it’s taking steps over the next month to stop businesses from selling the products through its website.
“Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime,” Amazon said in an email to employees. “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”
This means that products which play nice with Amazon’s streaming video service — like most game consoles, Roku’s set-top boxes, and the company’s own FireTV — will remain available on Amazon. Apple and Google are the only ones being booted.
It’s hard to be too upset about this. Could this frustrate Apple and Google? Maybe. Will it be annoying for Amazon Prime customers who expect to be able to purchase anything through the company’s marketplace? A little, I guess. But that’s about it.
But let’s not pretend this is going to hurt Apple or Google that much. Apple has the highest sales per square foot of any retail store in the United States, and it can easily promote its products by emailing the hundreds of millions of people who gave the company their email addresses so they could download stuff from the App Store.
As for Google? Well, running the world’s most popular search engine has its perks. It can also put ads for the Chromecast on YouTube, in Gmail, and basically anywhere else it desires through its advertising platforms. Sure, it won’t offer free two-day shipping, but I doubt most people are in a rush to purchase a new dongle.
Could this be the start of a worrisome trend? Maybe. I guess it would be a problem if Amazon stopped selling e-readers that don’t support the Kindle Store, given that it’s all-but-synonymous with the product category. But those competitive devices are still listed on the company’s site, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon.
At this point, the only entity harmed by this action will be Amazon. It’ll frustrate people who want to make it their one-stop-shop for all things commercial, and it makes the company seem like a petulant child stomping its feet because the other, more popular kids don’t want to play with it. Does that seem like a stable company?
This move reeks of desperation. Amazon might be the biggest online retailer in the United States, but it’s not the only place where people can buy these products. It would’ve been better off allowing them to be listed on its site, if only to keep up its appearances, than to plan the products’ downfall to serve its own selfish purposes.
But we’re only discussing this because of the companies involved. Remove the brands and this becomes a lot less interesting. A retailer pulled some items from its virtual shelves. There are other stores, and luckily for anyone with a decent Internet connection, it only takes a few seconds to visit them and buy those items.

Gaming isn’t Apple TV’s priority, and that’s okay

We’ve been told a hundred ways to Sunday that Apple TV is coming for consoles.

Plenty thought that yesterday would be the day that Apple would make the big gaming announcement that would strike fear into the hearts of Microsoft and Sony’s console teams. But that’s not exactly what happened.

Sure, games are coming to Apple TV. In fact, the way in which games are coming to Apple TV is pretty cool. But Apple TV is not a gaming-first platform, and it’s not a console killer.

Apple TV is a set-top entertainment platform with apps and gaming capabilities, not a gaming-first app-enabled console. And that’s an important distinction. It’s not about to threaten consoles or gaming PCs, and probably not even gaming on iPhones. If Apple TV is going to capture any portion of the gaming market, it will be casual gamers and even then, inspiring those  who game to put down their phones and pick up the Apple TV remote to play may be a tall order. Apple TV may very well upset the likes of Fire TV and micro consoles, but it’s difficult to see it posing much of a threat to robust gaming systems when it itself is very much…not.

To put it bluntly, customers won’t turn up in droves to purchase Apple TV for the games; they’ll come for the interface and for the video content. For the foreseeable future, Apple TV will remain what it has always been in the eyes of the market: a set-top box for primarily Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc. Now, it’s just better. More powerful, more versatile, more searchable and stuffed with more content and apps, some of which happen to be games.

In all likelihood, people will indeed play games on Apple TV, but the gaming experience seems to be one designed around brief and social gaming, not prolonged and immersed console-style gaming. Games like Crossy Road, with its multiplayer functionality and the intentional brevity of its experiences, are well-suited for incidental social and casual gaming, and for exactly that reason, a perfect fit for a set-top box that lives in your living room. Apple TV feels very much like a platform that’s built for casual and social gaming experiences, from the simplified game mechanics to the intuitive and very uncontroller-like controller.

Apple TV’s default controller is its remote–the same remote you use to turn the volume up and down and flick through your Netflix queue. Equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope and touch surface that acts as a directional pad, the new remote is powerful and kind of makes you wonder why every other remote you own is so big when it does so little. The Apple TV remote works much like the Wii remote of yore, interpreting speed, direction, and motion as you move it around in space to do things like swing bats and steer cars.

Third party controller and Apple TV remote

Third party controller and Apple TV remote

In addition to the remote, Apple is also opening up the platform to third-party controllers in what feels like something of an un-Apple move. Whether or not third party controllers become a popular part of the Apple TV gaming experience remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that Apple would welcome third parties into a revenue stream that it thought would be significant.

There may be games that will feel faster and more fluid on controllers. There may even be games designed around the idea of the controller experience on Apple TV. But for the most part, the controller experience will likely appeal to a relatively narrow crossover audience of “gamers who are familiar and comfortable with traditional console controllers” and “gamers who will buy Apple TV with the intention of gaming on it.” And really, that gets right to the heart of why Apple TV isn’t going to be console killer or the be-all, end-all of casual gaming or much of anything at all, really, in the traditional gaming space: because so-called “hardcore gamers” aren’t going to get excited about it.

Apple TV doesn’t have the titles to draw gamers to Apple TV and away from their consoles and PCs. While bringing previously console-only titles to Apple TV is a pretty big power move, console games are still a very different animal, and it likely goes without saying that Apple TV’s specs don’t hold a candle to the consoles when it comes to graphics and performance. Apple TV’s games are casual at their core, and limited space and third party app restrictions will likely mean that they’re perpetually on the “lite” side of the spectrum.

You aren’t likely to see too many existing iOS games ported over to Apple TV in a hurry, though. As 9to5Mac points out, the restrictions Apple’s placed on developers for Apple TV with regards to the use of local storage mean that many will have to completely restructure the way in which their games load content. Here’s the clause in question from Apple’s App Programming Guide for tvOS:

There is no persistent local storage for apps on Apple TV. This means that every app developed for the new Apple TV must be able to store data in iCloud and retrieve it in a way that provides a great customer experience.

Along with the lack of local storage, the maximum size of an Apple TV app is limited to 200MB. Anything beyond this size needs to be packaged and loaded using on-demand resources. Knowing how and when to load new assets while keeping your users engaged is critical to creating a successful app. For information on on-demand resources, see On-Demand Resources Guide“. 

That stipulation, paired with the restriction on app size, means that developers are going to have to do some serious adjusting in order to get their games on Apple TV. For the sake of context, the exceedingly popular iOS game Monument Valley packs a 261.9MB punch, and heavyweights République and Infinity Blade both weigh in at a hefty 1GB. Putting these games on Apple TV isn’t some kind of impossible feat, but restructuring asset loading will require developers to refactor massive amounts of code in order to make their games Apple TV-compliant.

In many ways, Apple TV’s gaming functionality seems like the antithesis to console systems. It’s all about shorter, social gaming, not the prolonged and immersive experiences often found in console games. And that’s okay. Consoles and Apple TV intentionally inhabit very different spaces within the gaming world. There are many ways to be a “gamer”, and many, many gamers prefer casual gaming experiences. The big question mark is whether or not casual gamers have any real desire to take their games from their phones and tablets to their televisions.

Maybe they will. Maybe Apple will find a way to make some money on that portion of the causal gaming market. Maybe we’ll see more games cropping up around the idea of social gaming with iPhones and the “remote controller.” Maybe it’s enough to be a set-top box with games that seem more like just another feature than a selling point. But any way you swipe, tap, or spin it, Apple TV is only a casual threat in the gaming space. For now.

Apple CEO: ‘The future of TV is apps’

Apple today announced a new version of its Apple TV set-top box, which features a touch-sensitive remote and a shiny new user interface design that has integration with the company’s digital voice assistant Siri.
The news came during the company’s annual Fall media event, for which Siri was intended to be in the spotlight. While the event is still happening, thus far it seems like adding Siri to the new Apple TV is exactly what it was trying to hype.

Apple giving a demo of how digital voice assistant Siri functions on the Apple TV.

Apple giving a demo of how digital voice assistant Siri functions on the Apple TV.

During a live demonstration, Apple showed how seemingly easy it is to use Siri when navigating through various programming. For simple navigation, the touch-gestures should do the trick, but for more complex instructions like finding a movie or TV show to watch with children, Siri might be better. [Upon further reflection, I can understand why Apple would have difficulty getting TV networks to sign up for that rumored streaming service its planning. With the new Apple TV, you don’t really need to navigate via channel or by network. You navigate directly to the content you want, sometimes found within an app. It lessens the influence of the TV programmers, while leaving the best part (the content).]
Apple TV's new remote.

Apple TV’s new remote.

Speaking of the remote, it’s finally something worthy of the company Steve Jobs built. As you’ll see in the image above, the top of the remote is devoted to touch gestures. It maintains the simplicity of the last version of the remote with just a few buttons — Menu, Airplay, Siri/Voice control, play/pause, and surprisingly an option to adjust the volume. And to top it off, the remote has a lighting cable port at the bottom — presumably for charging (3 months per charge) and connecting to other devices.
Apple also announced that Apple TV will be running on a new operating system, tvOS — which will finally give developers the ability to create their own apps that are intended for television screens rather than mobile devices or desktops. This is something both developers and consumers have been clamoring for since at least the introduction of the Apple TV itself. Those apps will also have continuity with other existing apps on iOS and OS X, according to the company.
There were a few attempts to show how diverse the Apple TV could be with third-party applications, most notably with a new Major League Baseball app that provides easy access to stats while watching a live game. It’s also worth pointing out that with the addition of an Apple TV app store, Apple just made a play to become a console for casual gamers. This is something that Google’s Android TV platform hasn’t quite mastered, and Amazon’s Fire TV hasn’t done much better. (More on that later.)
Unlike the previous three models, Apple appears to have reversed its decision to eliminate the need for storage (probably because of its push into gaming). The new model has two options: a 32Gb version for $150 and a 64Gb version for $200. The new Apple TV should hit shelves in late October, the company says.

Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ event wish list: iPad Pro, iPhone 6S, & a worthy Apple TV update

We have only a single clue ahead of next week’s Apple media event: “Hey Siri, give us a hint.”
Oh, and no shortage of rumors, whispers, and posturing.
Apple’s keynote is September 9. We expect Siri to take a starring role, with Apple incorporating its digital assistant inside new products, such as an entirely new Apple TV (that may even feature third-party apps for the first time). Pushing Siri into the limelight will become even more necessary as smartcars and smarthomes become as commonplace as smartphones.
We also know the keynote will take place in San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium, which seats 7,000. That’s huge. Toss in the fact that it’s going to be streamed not only to iOS devices but Windows 10 users as well, and we are expecting a bold, boisterous Apple — one that’s eager to reveal its intentions to be everywhere we are, and with us everywhere we go.
Expectations aside, here are all the things we’re hoping Apple will announce within new or updated products, along with the (completely unscientific) odds it will happen:
Apple Event


Go Smaller (Odds: 25%)

iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus are a given. We also hope Apple introduces a non-phablet device, one about the dimensions of an iPhone 4S, but with the newest hardware, Touch ID, and better camera. Phablets are awesome, but they’re not for everyone.
That said, there have been no reliable reports of a new device in an old form factor.

Force Touch (Odds: 90%)

Force Touch senses how hard or light the user is touching the screen, enabling an entirely new palette of controls. Touch the screen with extra pressure to call up a secondary menu, for example, or to access a weapons cache in your favorite first-person shooter. At the very least, Force Touch will reduce the number of swipes and taps required for a specific task.
If executed properly Force Touch could even negate the need for a home button. No home button means much more screen real estate. We are not expecting this anytime soon.

Bigger Battery (Odds: 25%)

Unless you’re rocking an iPhone 6 Plus, with its massive 2,910 mAh battery, at some point during the day you’re scoping out a wall socket. It’s 2015 and this needs to stop. We wish for significantly improved battery life. Otherwise, it’s like building the world’s greatest off-road vehicle, but including only a tiny gas tank. Lots of places you could take it, but you better not.
Unfortunately, there’s been very little chatter about a larger battery.

More Speed (Odds: 90%)

A new A9 processor and more RAM seem almost certain. This means better response, improved gameplay, fewer lags, even when running Pandora or Google Maps in the background, for example.
It’s also rumored the new iPhones will include a Qualcomm chip that increases LTE download speeds from 150 Mbps to 300 Mbps. That’s a noticeable improvement. We think this will happen.

A Sharper Image (Odds: 90%)

Multiple sites have all but confirmed that the new iPhones will include a 12mp camera — a decent leap in resolution over iPhone 6’s 8mp offering.
There are also multiple reports that the front camera will get a much-deserved boost from its paltry 1.2mp to 5mp. That, plus the expected front-facing slo-mo video feature should help usher in a whole new selfie revolution — and require Instagram to purchase a lot more servers.
We are hoping for a 16mp camera, which is now standard on most premium smartphones, but we think the odds of this happening are very slight.

Why this Apple TV fan has come to prefer Amazon’s Fire TV

While many anxiously await Apple’s new groundbreaking iWatch, Amazon’s Fire TV sets its sights on replacing Apple’s hobby device. Even for the most devout Apple addicts that cant live without their Apple TVs will find the Fire TV to be a worthwhile replacement.

WatchESPN goes down during the Rose Bowl

WatchESPN, a service that allows cable subscribers to stream live sporting events on devices like Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, and iPhone and iPad, has been serving error messages instead of streaming live video on Thursday. The outage happened during the Rose Bowl, one of the most anticipated college football games of the year and the first of three college football playoff games streaming on WatchESPN.

Upset Oregon and Florida State fans aired their displeasure on Twitter.

Timothy Burke at Deadspin speculates that the issue has something to do with ESPN’s playlist, and that it’s not a content delivery network problem. This incident isn’t the first time WatchESPN has gone down under high strain.

[company]ESPN[/company] is aware of the issue and says it’s been “largely resolved on all platforms.” I can watch the stream in a browser, although I’m still having trouble connecting on Apple TV.

One thing is clear: If your team ends up making the championship, and you actually want to watch it, you might want to find a friend with cable.