The best thing about Apple’s new TV app is that you don’t need an Apple TV

Apple’s updated TV app launches in May and hits other devices in the spring.
Apple’s updated TV app launches in May and hits other devices in the spring.
Image: Apple
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Oprah Winfrey took the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater on Monday (March 25) to announce a partnership with Apple that includes two documentaries and a book club. “They are in a billion pockets, you all,” she said, describing her decision to partner with Apple. “A billion pockets.”

Apple’s army of users stands to get a whole lot bigger than that. The tech giant announced at the event that it will bring its TV app to other platforms besides iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV devices this year. The app will hit Mac computers in the fall, as well as devices from other manufacturers like Samsung smart TVs, starting in the spring, followed by Amazon Fire TV, LG, Roku, Sony, and Vizio devices.

Apple’s TV app currently curates programming from a collection of online apps. It has become a pivotal part of Apple’s video push, which is part of its growing services business. Through the TV app, Apple will begin selling subscriptions to external video services like Showtime, HBO, Starz, and CBS All Access—which it is referring to as Apple TV channels—when it makes an update to the app in May, the company announced today. It will also release original content through a paid subscription service, called TV+, starting in the fall. Apple has not yet said how much the subscription will cost. It will be going up against subscription video incumbents like Netflix and HBO with the new platform.

Apple’s decision to expand the TV app outside of its walled garden and onto other devices, including those from competitors, is akin to when Apple first released iTunes on Windows computers back in 2003. It brought the music store to more than Apple loyalists, and helped turn iTunes into the place where the world bought its music. That had wide-reaching implications for the music business as well as Apple.

The TV app may not be as groundbreaking as iTunes was in its day. There are already myriad services that offer original content, Netflix chief among them, and other platforms like Amazon Prime Video Channels that aggregate video services. But bringing the TV app to other manufacturers will widen the potential audience for Apple’s video services—and give Hollywood legends like Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, who are creating content exclusively for Apple’s upcoming subscription service, the chance to get their programming in front of more eyeballs. Apple will need to rally, and build on, its army of “one-billion-plus strong,” as Winfrey said, if it plans to take on Netflix and Amazon in video, as those services have about 10-year headstarts.

There could be a downside to extending the TV app to more devices—it could hurt the Apple TV. The streaming-media player, which starts at a higher price point than most of its competitors’ hardware, lags behind Roku and Amazon Fire TV device in terms of market share among connected-TV devices in the US.

But that could also be an incentive for Apple to improve the TV device—and its nightmare-inducing remote that is designed to be perpetually held the wrong way.

For those who don’t have an Apple TV, you will still be able to find programs like Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, and Reese Witherspoon, when they are released through Apple’s subscription service later this year, as well as take advantage of the other features the TV app is touting.

Want a better understanding Apple’s TV strategy? Check out our guide to the streaming-TV wars.