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The iPad...plus!

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News trickling in from various corners of the tech world this past week may turn out to signal an overhaul in the way we consume movies and TV. First in line: We obviously don’t need to alert you to Apple‘s unveiling of the new iPad. With a Retina display that blows away even HD resolution, and the addition of 4G networking, we’d call it a reasonable, if not earth-shattering, update.

The new iPad aside, though, Apple CEO Tim Cook’s announcement of movie and TV series streaming for the 100 million users of Apple’s iCloud service should be a watershed moment for consumers and content owners alike. In simple terms, instead of needing vast amounts of hard-drive space, consumers can just access all their purchases on demand from the great database in the sky. It’s nearly the final piece in the cloud puzzle, and an especially huge deal that every studio — except, at press time, Fox and Universal — has finally gotten on board.

Cook also announced that owners of the new third-generation Apple TV will be able to sign up for Netflix streaming subscriptions directly from Apple TV’s iTunes Store link instead of having to use a separate device. (The current Apple TV already allows Netflix access, but doesn’t have an option for creating a new account and paying for it via an iTunes account, similar to apps on an iPhone.) Apple has clearly learned the value of keeping its partners close and its competitors closer — especially when it stands to get a cut of every new subscription.

Speaking of Netflix, the company has been something of a pioneer among online video providers for its forays into original productions (like the new series Lilyhammer). Other online video providers are following suit: Both Hulu and Yahoo! just announced new partnerships with production company FremantleMedia and indie studio Vuguru, respectively, as they expand their commitment to original programming. And there was chatter last week that Amazon, already funding original content, may try out TV too. (The company declined to comment.)

And in yet another facet of Netflix news, there was a report last week that the company was in talks with cable providers to have its subscription service integrated into cable set-top boxes. Steve Swasey, Netflix VP of corporate communications, claims the entire story is based on a misunderstanding, but has confirmed that ongoing talks with cable companies have focused on subscription deals similar to the iTunes one. Which makes sense, if only because with the rise of Internet-enabled HDTVs, the days of clunky cable set-top boxes appear numbered. Seemingly confirming that hunch, Forbes last week reported that Google is quietly trying to sell off the cable-box business of its new acquisition Motorola Mobility. Not a moment too soon, as the rumor mill also says that Apple has its own smart-TV solution in the works beyond its Apple TV box. With apologies to the rest of the industry, we look forward to its announcement crushing the news cycle again in the very near future.

Android Update: Is Google Gunning for iTunes?
Google’s Android Market was relaunched last week as Google Play (or Play Store on mobile devices) and now combines apps, music, books, and movies. Mimicking Apple’s iTunes Store in content if not in form, it’s vastly easier to search than before and prettier than iTunes. The sheer quantity of fire-sale-priced items and the relentless inclusion of ”Play” in marketing copy (Play of the Day, 2 Days to Play, etc.) smack of second-fiddle desperation, but ‘Droiders will love the first-rate upgrade.

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