Apple TV Plus: Content, Cost, Devices, Pros & Cons

Shortly before he passed away, Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he had finally “cracked” how to make television smarter and easier. Eight years later, Apple has finally released Apple TV Plus. So, did Apple make good on Steve's prediction? In this article, I will assess the quality of the user interface, original content, pricing, and hardware compatibility of Apple TV Plus, but, as is true with most Apple products, the sum is greater than the parts. Apple’s ecosystem is what makes Apple TV Plus so appealing compared to the competition.

Related: Apple TV: Your Complete Guide to Setting Up & Streaming On-Demand Content

Apple TV Plus Platforms & Devices

First thing’s first: you don’t need an Apple TV in order to access the service. Instead, you can access the new content via the Apple TV app that runs on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac computers, in addition to Apple TV hardware. Even Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and some Samsung TVs can access Apple TV Plus, and you can stream content from your iPhone via AirPlay to some newer smart TVs from Vizio and LG. This leaves out a lot of PC and Android users, at least for now. If you’re using Apple equipment, you can stream the content in 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos too.

Apple TV Plus User Experience

Steve Jobs dreamed of unifying disparate content providers into a single interface. And while the Apple TV app can integrate many subscriptions into one interface, it’s not perfect. Apple lets you link your diverse streaming accounts with your Apple ID. This works as a single sign-on solution, making it easier to add new content and Apple equipment. But in reality, you’re still just launching the associated app, which has its own interface. When you return to the Apple TV app to access content from a different streaming service, you will be placed into yet another interface. Netflix and Disney Plus allow for distinct user profiles, so the apps remember what each user is watching and where they are in the show. Those services offer settings to keep kids from watching inappropriate content. The Apple TV Plus service currently doesn’t allow for multiple user profiles and doesn’t reliably remember where you left off, especially when you switch to a different device.

Apple TV Plus Limitations

It’s an open secret that many subscribers to HBO, Netflix, and Amazon Prime share their accounts with friends and family. Netflix recognizes this and limits the number of simultaneous viewers and downloads depending on the price plan. Apple TV Plus goes in the other direction, with a very generous allowance for up to six simultaneous viewers with unlimited downloads, with some restrictions. This is great for binge-watching shows on long plane rides, as long as you remember to download in advance. Speaking of binge watching, while Netflix is known to release an entire season at once, Apple TV Plus follows in the footsteps of HBO and CBS All Access, doling out episodes weekly. This approach is meant to encourage discussions at the water-cooler and social media buzz as new episodes hit the internet. But it won’t make binge-watchers happy.

Apple TV Content: How Does It Compare to Other Streaming Services?

Content is where the rubber meets the road. Apple doesn’t have a multiyear library of award-winning content, unlike Disney, HBO, Netflix, and Amazon. Almost all of Apple’s shows are brand new, though they have brought on some established players like Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell, and Jason Momoa. But at launch, these names are just a promise of quality content, not a guarantee. In many ways, Apple TV Plus is like a professional sports team with a big bankroll. It has recruited famous, experienced players, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the players will have chemistry and deliver a championship.

Netflix, HBO, and even the new Disney Plus offer decades worth of award-winning content. Think about all of the awards and fans Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and shows like Friends have earned. Disney Plus also starts off with both existing and new content from proven franchises like Star Wars and Marvel, making it a safe bet if you had to choose one service. But the good news is, you don’t have to choose one, especially since Apple TV Plus is free for recent Apple hardware customers for a year.

Here are my impressions of some of Apple’s early shows. There are some spoilers here; you’ve been warned.

The Morning Show: Like most of America, I like Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carrell, so somebody thought they should all be in the same show. While they all have a strong comedy background, The Morning Show isn’t a comedy. If you’re expecting jokes, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, they deal with serious topics ripped from the headlines, like fake news and sexual misconduct. In fact, all three of those stars have emotional breakdowns in the very first episode. Come to think of it, every real-life morning show has more humor than this show, but if you can look past that, the performances are strong. I’m already hooked.

See: It’s hard to accept the premise that in this future dystopian world, nobody can see except two infants. I tried to like it, but it was a little too derivative and far-fetched to take seriously. But Jason Momoa was in Game of Thrones and Aquaman, so maybe far-fetched is his thing.

Dickinson: Believe it or not, this period piece about Emily Dickinson is not just about poetry. It is a comedy about a strong, independent woman who was ahead of her time. Hailee Steinfeld is famous as a singer/songwriter/actress, particularly among the younger crowd, but she is a believable outsider in this period piece. Plus, I like that a younger generation might find their next hero in an author and not an Instagram model.

For All Mankind: At New York Comic Con, one month before Apple TV Plus premiered, I was able to see an early screening of For All Mankind and observe a panel featuring the actors, creators, and producers. I went into the event expecting this show to be yet another dystopian view of an alternate timeline, similar to Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, but in this show, the Soviet Union had beaten the US to the moon. However, as the creators explained, that outcome caused the US to abandon the Vietnam War early and encourage women to enter the workforce, including NASA. Who can say which timeline is the dystopian one? It’s a neat premise, and I’m glad Apple TV Plus gave the show a platform.

Oprah’s Book Club: Oprah may be the queen of daytime talk, and her book club drives the bestseller list, but it remains to be seen if a serialized version will do the same. After all, the big bang from exposure on her broadcast TV show hits a worldwide audience at one time. But a streaming show, limited to Apple users, with viewings spread out over days may not have the same impact.

Servant: Fans of M. Night Shyamalan’s work will expect a twist in any drama he creates, and Servant is no exception. The best way to describe this series is as a mashup of The Twilight Zone, Chucky, and Pet Cemetery. Unlike The Sixth Sense and most of his other work, the twists and turns need to stretch out over an entire series, so it will be interesting to see how he does it.

Truth Be Told: This fictional drama starring Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer looks promising. The show follows the form of a true crime story, which is popular lately (think the Serial podcast meets HBO’s True Detective), combining home video-style footage with drama.

Kids will get some attention as well, with two shows in particular. Helpsters should remind viewers of Sesame Street, because Jim Henson’s team is behind it. Snoopy in Space is for fans of Snoopy and Charlie Brown, but a couple of franchises doesn’t match the vault at Disney. Ghostwriter will appeal to the young adult viewer who likes shows in the vein of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Goosebumps, and Lemony Snicket.

If your preference is for traditional television, you might be better off with Hulu or YouTube Pro, or a compilation of individual network apps. The Apple TV app can still act as a launching pad for many such services regardless of whether you subscribe to Apple TV Plus or not. Personally, I am already hooked on For All Mankind, and I am awaiting Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories reboot, so I expect to be a paying customer after my trial ends.

Apple TV Plus: How Much Does It Cost & Is It Worth the Money?

Perhaps the biggest thing going for Apple TV Plus, in the short term, is its low cost of $4.99/month with a free seven-day trial. Even better, the current promotion gives away a free year of the service to anyone who has purchased an eligible Apple device on or after September 10, 2019 (Apple should recognize if you’ve made a qualified purchase and allow you to try the service for a year). The risk/reward ratio has suddenly tilted very much in the consumer’s favor. Students with an Apple Music subscription can also get free limited access to Apple TV Plus. But keep in mind that if you cancel the trial, it takes effect immediately and you won’t get a second chance, so rather than cancel early to avoid being charged in 12 months, set a calendar reminder if you really don’t want to risk being charged a year from now. For those who have purchased an eligible Apple device during the promotional period, the free service is worth trying and will only get better.

Pros:

  • Essentially free for many Apple customers, for a year

  • A few gems like For All Mankind and The Morning Show

  • Something for kids, young adults, and grownups

  • Cheaper than Netflix

  • Supports multiple simultaneous users and downloads

Cons:

  • Can’t binge-watch a new series

  • No user profiles to allow for separate favorite shows

  • No proven franchises compared to Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Star Wars

  • No award-winning library compared to Netflix, HBO and Disney Plus

  • Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and other promised shows haven’t launched yet

The Final Verdict

Personally, I find Apple TV Plus already to be worth the cost of a cup of coffee each month; but by giving millions of Apple customers a free year of Apple TV Plus, Apple has given itself breathing room. Over the next year, Apple can streamline the user experience and add valuable, even addictive content. Most users should reserve judgment until next year to decide whether the $4.99 monthly fee is worth it.

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Author Details

Todd Bernhard's picture

Author Details

Todd Bernhard

Todd Bernhard is a bestselling (6+ million downloads) award-winning (AARP, About.com, BestAppEver.com, Digital Hollywood, and Verizon) developer and founder of NoTie.NET, an app developer specializing in Talking Ringtone apps including AutoRingtone. And his profile photo is of the last known sighting of Mr. Bernhard wearing a tie, circa 2007!

An iPhone is almost always attached to his hip or in his pocket, but over the years, Mr. Bernhard has owned an Apple Newton, a Motorola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Compaq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62. In addition to writing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bernhard has written for its sister publications, PocketPC Magazine and The HP Palmtop Paper.