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Tim Cook: Apple will offer an Apple TV API to open up universal search beyond initial launch partners


The Apple TV is launching later in October but many of the details about the device remain under wraps. At the announcement, Apple announced that the Apple TV Siri universal search feature will include data from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO. Many had hoped that Apple would be more open with this feature, allowing Siri to incorporate data from third-party services without requiring a special Apple partnership. In a move that will please many, Tim Cook has announced that Apple will offer an API for universal search, after all, via an interview with Buzzfeed.

In a recent interview with BuzzFeed News, Apple CEO Tim Cook said universal search in Apple TV is not something that the company plans to reserve for key content partners. “At launch we’ll have iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, and HBO — so we’ll have five major inputs into universal search initially,” Cook said. “But we’re also opening an API, so that others can join in.”

Cook says that including more sources is the best experience for customers, suggesting that many services will want to be listed in the search results. The open API will also benefit non-US customers, as Apple is less likely to make partnerships with region-specific content providers.

It is unclear when the search API will be made available for use. From Cook’s wording, Apple intends to launch exclusively with iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO results.

Cook has also confirmed that the Apple TV will not favor one service in particular, including its own iTunes offering. If a user can get the movie or TV show for free, such as through a Netflix subscription, that option will be prioritized. In cases where different series of shows are spread amongst services, the Apple TV will also handle this situation in the most user-friendly way.

In other words, if I’m a Netflix subscriber and I want to binge-watch a five-season series, will an Apple TV search tell me that the first three seasons are available to me for free on Netflix, the fourth is available for purchase on iTunes, and the fifth is available only on HBO? Or will it leave me to work that out myself?
Cook said the former scenario is the one Apple’s implemented. “It will be clear which service is free,” he said. In other words, Apple will show each season or episode in all the services in which it’s available to you and iTunes if they have it.

The Apple TV is set to launch sometime in October. Apple has been sending out more developer kits over the last few hours due to ‘amazing demand’ to make apps for the platform. The new Apple TV will retail at $149 for the 32 GB model and $199 for the 64 GB model. The third-generation Apple TV is still available to buy for $69 but won’t get any of the fancy new software features.

9to5Mac’s Dom Esposito got his hands on an Apple TV for a full walkthrough, so make sure to check out our hands on with the new device.

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  1. Scott (@ScooterComputer) - 7 years ago

    Very smart timing for this announcement by Tim Cook, makes Amazon look even MORE like a bunch of yutzes for their pre-emptive removing of Apple TV (and Chrome devices) from sale. If Amazon now doesn’t submit a fully-featured (including this API) Apple TV app to Apple, it will be pretty clear who is to blame and whose products to avoid (Amazon). But Apple MUST follow through!

  2. applewatch20152015 - 7 years ago

    Does universal search include my local hard drive of movies connected to Apple TV through iTunes?

    • Jassi Sikand - 7 years ago

      If you bought the movies via iTunes then yes, but if it’s just other content then no, namely because there’s no metadata to use as search parameters.

      • Mark Harrington - 7 years ago

        What if you add the metadata info to those files through like Subler? I’m hoping those are included.

    • Jassi Sikand - 7 years ago

      Probably not, Mark. The API’s are what read the metadata so I highly doubt those API’s will account for user-held content

  3. srgmac - 7 years ago

    Still no information about the ATV 3rd gen getting the new OS update? What about the new remote working with the 3rd gen ATV??

    • Paul Douglas - 7 years ago

      There’s no information on those things because they’re not happening.

    • Jassi Sikand - 7 years ago

      There has been news: it’s not getting the update

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        Wow. What a bunch of horse shit. Do you have a link? I haven’t seen any info about that on 9to5Mac.

    • northmccormick2014 - 7 years ago

      Apple developer site strictly says the software is only for the new generation of Apple TV. They also said it in the keynote.

  4. RP - 7 years ago

    The TV screen is going to be as important as the the phone screen. The only reason it’s not today is because it’s been ignored. There’s been a monopoly that’s retarded it. That’s why a lot of us here have said time and again not to beg the networks for content, to instead leapfrog them like Apple and Google and everyone else did to the Microsoft wall of stagnation. Let her rip! Open her up to those who do want to participate, not the ones who want to maintain an old guard monopoly.

  5. definitely a good move. Would also love to see 3rd party API support for Siri on iPhone / iPad.

  6. Terrence Newton - 7 years ago

    This addresses my number one concern with this product.

  7. Inaba-kun (@Inaba_kun) - 7 years ago

    That’s nice, but these devices live or die by their content lineup, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re heading into a very fragmented media world. Who will want separate boxes just so they can access every service? I really hope Apple are meeting the refuseniks, such as Amazon and the BBC and they’re thrashing some sort of deal out.

    More than ever Netflix are the smart operators here. All they care about are subscribers, and they’ll let you watch on anything with an Internet connection.

    • Paul Douglas - 7 years ago

      The BBC is basically obligated to make an App for Apple TV due to the platform neutrality commitment imposed on them by the BBC Trust.

      • Inaba-kun (@Inaba_kun) - 7 years ago

        If only that we’re true. The BBC have a somewhat patchy record of supporting new platforms, often waiting many months, even years, to come onboard. (if at all)

        For what it’s worth I’ve asked them if they’ll be supporting the new Apple TV. The answer was a clean and unequivocal no. I even asked them why, and was simply told again that they would not be supporting the platform.

      • Paul Douglas - 7 years ago

        Then lodge a complaint with the BBC Trust. The Trust has been quite clear about the BBC’s requirement to maintain platform neutrality with the iPlayer. There is no significant barrier to supporting the platform and they are present on competing platforms Roku and fire OS. There also exists a BBC iPlayer app for Android TV, though there appears to be some weirdness with its availability. They do not get to just say no.

  8. iosser - 7 years ago

    This is a really big move. It will enable apps with free content to have a level playing field, and for ATV4 to be properly useful. Apps which I hope will use this if and when they are out include Plex and Elgato EyeTV/Netstream which would enable ATVs round a house to play broadcast live TV without a TV/Sat cable round the house. Also, using an Elgato solution for live TV could mean a fully consistent interface for all media through the ATV.

    This is important because when you have a live TV schedule feeding into the search API and a broadcast prog appears, you want to tap and switch to that channel within tvOS or set a schedule to record it, not have to switch over to the native TV input.

    My only concern is being able to switch off the $$ feed in the API.

  9. windy999 - 7 years ago

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Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.