It’s finally here: Apple has announced its flagship streaming service, Apple TV Plus, at the tech giant's star-studded keynote event at the Steve Jobs theatre in San Cupertino, California.
With a parade of Hollywood actors and directors, including Steven Spielberg and Jennifer Aniston (and even Sesame Street's Big Bird) taking to the stage to promote their exclusive Apple TV Plus shows, Apple seems to be taking aim at Netflix's popular Originals programming.
So, how does the new streaming service differ from Netflix? And could it truly pose a threat to the most popular streaming platform in the world? Read on for our take on Apple’s first foray into the world of TV and movie streaming.
Apple TV Plus vs Netflix: overview
Aside from being the most popular streaming service in the world, Netflix has become something of a cultural icon, even inspiring its own lexicon – we all know what it means to ‘Netflix and chill’ (if you don’t, ask an appropriate adult), and most people have been on an uncontrollable ‘Netflix binge’.
With a wide-reaching mix of original and licensed shows and movies, Netflix’s huge variety of content, as well as its ease of use, has given birth to the cult of binge-watching.
Apple, on the other hand, will have some way to go if it’s to unseat Netflix from its throne with Apple TV Plus, its new ad-free subscription service, which it says is launching "in the fall" – so between September and November this year.
However, with a host of exclusive programs with some very famous faces attached, Apple could potentially rival Netflix's Originals – if it can match Netflix's prodigious output that is.
From the sounds of things, Apple will be releasing "new additions every month", but it hasn't confirmed how much new content we can expect each month.
Apple TV Plus vs Netflix: price and availability
Apple TV Plus is set to launch on the new and improved Apple TV app, which in turn is coming to a wide range of smart TVs in May, as well as to set-top boxes and streaming sticks from rival companies like Roku and Amazon.
We learned back in January that the Apple TV app was coming to a number of smart TVs – in ranges by Samsung, Sony, LG, and Vizio – in addition to Apple's own set-top box and streaming player, the Apple TV.
This means Apple TV Plus won't be restricted to Apple TV devices – and moving the app onto rival devices is a risky move by Apple, as it could reduce the number of consumers buying into Apple TV hardware. We're wondering if Apple is looking to phase out this hardware in order to focus on the improved Apple TV app.
It's been rumored that Apple’s new streaming service would slightly undercut Netflix's monthly subscription cost, but there was no mention of a price at the March 25 keynote.
Having recently upped its prices, the cheapest Netflix plan is currently $9 / £5.99 / AU$9.99, while its HD Standard plan (the most popular) costs $13 / £7.99 / AU$13.99.
For fans of Ultra HD streaming, the 4K Premium plan is available for $16 / £9.99 / AU$17.99.
Netflix is available to use on a huge range of devices, which will also synchronize with each other – this means you can start watching a show on your desktop browser, pause it, and pick up in the exact same place when logging back in on your big-screen TV.
Depending on which subscription package you opt for, you can watch Netflix on up to four screens at one time.
As well as your computer, gaming console, and built-in TV applications there are Android and iOS apps, as well as a whole suite of set-top streaming boxes that will give you access to Netflix's video library.
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We still don't know exactly how you'll be able to watch Apple TV Plus; at the launch event Tim Cook made no mention of devices like Android TV, PC desktops and laptops, gaming consoles, and non-Apple tablets.
If Apple TV Plus is relegated to Apple devices aside from the aforementioned smart TVs and streaming boxes, it's difficult to see how it could prove a true rival to Netflix, which is available on a plethora of devices and operating systems.
Apple TV Plus vs Netflix: features and user interface
One of the best things about Netflix is how it tailors its content to you, with its recommendation algorithm learning your preferences as you watch. As a result, it’s then able to adjust how content is positioned on your home screen, recommending shows and movies you may like based on your watching habits.
While we don't know how the Apple TV Plus section of the Apple TV app will work exactly, we do know that the updated version of the app uses "machine learning" to display shows you may want to watch near the top of your home screen... much like Netflix does.
Another reason for Netflix’s popularity is its intuitive user interface, which makes it easy to navigate shows and films you’ve saved to your ‘list’, as well as making it easy to search by genre, director, actor and more.
Again, while we don't know what the Apple TV Plus part of the app will look like exactly, the rest of the redesigned Apple TV app looks rather attractive. At the top of the screen there are categories like 'Movies' and 'Sports', where you can choose where you get your content, from a variety of 'Apple Channels'.
You may want to watch drama shows via Hulu and get sports from your cable provider – these are part of Apple's 'Channels', which exist separately from Apple TV Plus (i.e. you'll need to buy a subscription to each provider or platform should you want to watch its content).
On the technological side of things, Netflix's dynamically-scaling streams mean you don't need to choose the quality level you want to watch at. If your bandwidth is low it will deliver just the standard definition versions, but if you've got the hardware and the capacity it will go all the way up to 4K Ultra HD resolutions if available.
Apple hasn't made any mention of 4K support for Apple TV Plus so far, but we'd be very surprised if its original content wasn't available in Ultra HD – after all, Apple has made a big deal about working with the "world’s most celebrated creative artists", and it would be a huge anticlimax if these artists' work could only be watched in 'normal' HD.
Beyond higher resolutions, Netflix also allows you to download selected shows and movies for offline viewing. Downloads stay in your library for 30 days at a time, and will automatically expire at that time – even if it's on a device that isn't connected to the internet.
Apple says content on the Apple TV app will be "available on and offline", and we assume that includes Apple TV Plus content as well.
Apple TV Plus vs Netflix: content
Netflix has a huge range of exclusives, originals and classics to get stuck into, and is fast becoming a respected distributor of original movies and TV series, with Netflix Original Roma taking the award for Best Cinematography, Best Director, and Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars earlier this year.
Its best-known original series include Orange Is The New Black, Bojack Horseman, Stranger Things, Daredevil, Maniac, and House of Cards.
It's these shows that Apple wants to rival with its own original programming through Apple TV Plus, with a parade of Hollywood stars out in force at the launch event to introduce their new Apple TV Plus exclusive shows.
Steven Spielberg announced that he's resurrecting his 'Amazing Stories' anthology series that first hit our screens in the mid-eighties, while Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carrell debuted 'The Morning Show', a series that examines the ”complex relationships between men and women in the workplace” in the framework of a morning news show.
Other series announcements include Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodward's dystopian thriller 'See', where the world is blind after a virus wipes out sight and most of the human race, as well as Kumail Nanjiani's 'Little America', which will depict short stories from immigrants.
There's something for kids as well, with a new Sesame Street spin-off show called Helpsters that's all about coding.
While these shows may sound great, it doesn't look like Apple will be able to match the sheer volume of content on offer from Netflix at launch – and there's a big, gaping film-shaped hole in the new streaming service. However, if Apple does release new content every month as it says it will, and gets some original or syndicated movies onto the platform, it could soon catch up.
Of course, it’s not only about original content; a huge part of Netflix’s success rides on the enormous variety of syndicated content it puts out, ranging from gritty thrillers like Breaking Bad to adult cartoons like Rick and Morty – not to mention its extensive range of kids shows and movies.
Apple TV Plus, on the other hand, won't offer any licensed content at all. For now, you'll still have to buy those shows a la carte through iTunes or via your terrestrial cable app in Apple TV Channels.
At this early stage there's no way of knowing whether Apple TV Plus will pose a real threat to Netflix – but judging from the lack of syndicated content and (for now) the sparse programming roster, it probably won't be catching up any time soon.
However, Apple TV Plus could prove a problem for Netflix in terms of quality; Apple has a strong lineup of famous creatives behind its original programming, and a real focus on high-quality content.
Of course Netflix also puts an emphasis on quality, as its Oscar success with Roma shows, but we all know there are also some truly terrible films and shows on the platform, and we doubt Apple will follow suit in that respect.
While we do know that the Apple TV app is coming to a wide range of smart TVs in May, as well as set-top boxes and streaming sticks from rival companies like Roku and Amazon, we still don't know whether it will available to watch on Android TV, PC desktops and laptops, gaming consoles, and non-Apple tablets.
And we don't even know how much it will cost – and this will likely be a big point of differentiation between Apple TV Plus and Netflix. If Apple can offer a lower subscription fee than Netflix, that could just give it the edge.
Either way, we'll have to wait until later this year to find out whether Apple TV Plus threatens Netflix's place as the world's favorite streaming platform.
And with Disney launching its own Disney Plus streaming service this year too, the question of streaming supremacy will likely only get harder to answer.