Apple is reportedly gearing up for a new streaming TV service to rival Netflix, Amazon and Google this year, but in the meantime, it is also expanding interoperability with more third parties like smart TV makers to make what it already has available easier to use in the living room.
In the latest development, smart TV maker Vizio today announced at the CES consumer electronics show that it’s adding support for AirPlay 2 and HomeKit to its SmartCast interactive TV platform. The integration will mean that Vizio TV owners can link their other Apple devices up to their TVs to browse and watch content from iTunes, as well as any photos, videos or music on those devices. Then, through HomeKit, they can also control that content and the rest of the TV using Apple’s voice assistant Siri.
Vizio said that the feature will be rolled out first to beta users of the SmartCast 3.0 platform in the U.S. and Canada in Q1 2019. In Q2, it will be rolled out to all SmartCast TV users via a free, over-the-air update to the 3.0 version of the platform.
“At our core, Vizio is committed to delivering value. SmartCast 3.0 is one of the ways we’re doing just that. By adding support for Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit, users can play content from their iPhone, iPad and Mac directly to SmartCast TVs, and enable TV controls through the Home app and Siri,” said Bill Baxter, Chief Technology Officer, Vizio, in a statement.
He added that this also will make Vizio the first smart TV brand to offer the ability for consumers to use any major voice assistant — Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant (the latter two integrations were added previously) — to control their sets. “We’re excited to be the first in the marketplace to support such a wide range of ways for consumers to sit back and enjoy the entertainment they love.” The Google Assistant functionality is also expanding to control more services such as the launching of apps and switching inputs.
The Vizio / Apple news comes just one day after Vizio’s bigger rival Samsung — which has a 33 percent share of the smart TV market in the US compared to Vizio’s 24 percent — also debuted an Apple AirPlay integration, along with a new tab directly linking to iTunes in Samsung’s interactive platform.
The iTunes app is an exclusive to Samsung for the time being, but the Vizio deal lays the groundwork for more collaboration between Vizio and Apple ahead. Vizio, notably, is not a direct competitor to Apple in other business areas in the way that Samsung is.
For Vizio, this is a significant step ahead for the company at a time when it is playing some catchup against Samsung, which once trailed Vizio but gradually overtook it as the leading smart TV player. I’d argue that Vizio is also still recuperating from its no-good, very bad 2017.
Its series of unfortunate events included a failed $2 billion acquisition of the company by Chinese maker LeEco after LeEco itself fell apart; a lawsuit against LeEco over that deal breaking down; another lawsuit, this time from the FTC (settled for $2.2 million) over snooping on its customers’ viewing habits; and a third suit brought by AMD, this time over graphics patent infringement, which AMD has since won.
This is actually the first time that Vizio has been at CES in years, which is also saying something. The company is also using the event to announce its newest range of 4K HDR smart TVs and audio equipment, including sound bars and subwoofers.
On the side of Apple, taken together, the two integrations with Vizio and Samsung underscore Apple’s challenges and ambitions at the moment.
The company last week warned the market that sales of its iPhone smartphone — for years now the company’s undisputed growth engine — would be falling short of expectations for a number of reasons. (They included worse-than-expected sales in China, where price and feature competition is fierce; a global slowdown in phone sales as the market saturates; and weaker demand for its new, expensive models.
Apple, as you know, has over the years been building up a services model to complement its hardware business — with apps, music, video, cloud services and more — and many believe that the company will start to focus on that even more to offset slowdowns in its hardware sales, as well as to boost the sales of that hardware. (Hence the rumors of a Netflix-style OTT video service.)
It’s an opportunity for sure, but not a guaranteed win. Apple TV — the company’s existing bridge to content on televisions — hasn’t managed to overtake the collective popularity of other smaller middleware like Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire stick. And the OTT market is very crowded already, with offerings from all of the above, pay-TV providers, smart TV makers and more.
Given all of the above, it will be worth watching to see who else might have Apple-related news this week and if a kinder, more device-agnostic Apple-as-services provider emerges as a theme at CES this week.