The Apple TV could finally be getting a developer SDK that would allow third-party apps to appear on the platform, according to an analyst note from Jefferies analyst Peter Misek today. The note cites channel checks as the source of the info that Apple will hold an Apple TV-related event in March, at which time it may introduce an SDK for “iTV” development.
Misek also predicts that there will be an actual hardware Apple television set launching later in the year, around September or October, meaning Gene Munster isn’t the only analyst singing that particular tune. But so-called iTV or no, the possibility that Apple will finally open up its set-top box to developers the way it has done with the iPhone and iPad is exciting.
But we’ve been here before. The Apple TV has always seemed ripe for a third-party developer SDK, ever since it originally launched back in 2007, and especially once the second generation model came out in 201o. It was even running a version of iOS when the little black model debuted, which seemed like a guaranteed sign that it was only a matter of time before we’d see Apple do the same thing they’d done with the iPhone: unlock the potential of the platform with an SDK and developer program.
Instead, what we actually saw was Apple roll out third-party apps with various updates, one or a few at a time, carefully gating access to the platform. As to why it would do that, there are a few reasons, but I’d guess that at least part of it has to do with Apple’s ongoing efforts to negotiate content deals with major providers including networks and film studios. Move too quickly to unlock the platform, and you risk incurring the enmity of content distributors who want to have a say in who has access to a channel. Those old media giants probably aren’t too comfortable with a Wild West App Store-type vibe making its way to the living room, especially when it has the popularity and install base of Apple’s iOS users.
In a roundabout way, there are already apps on the Apple TV, and not just the native ones Apple has given golden approval. AirPlay means most apps can mirror their content from an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to the big screen, and do so with a high degree of fidelity, for the most part. But the difference is akin to when Apple originally said that third-party developers can build apps for iPhone, but they’d have to use the web browser to do it. There’s a lot you can accomplish, but it’s not the same as if the apps were operating natively on Apple TV itself.
So how likely is it that this time we’ll actually see Apple open things up? If it is planning a full television launch, an App Store ready to go and populated with content ahead of time would help it greatly, but that depends on Misek’s sources being right on both counts. Misek has been hit or miss when it comes to Apple rumors in the past, but he did get pretty close on iPhone 4S details ahead of its launch back in 2012.