The fourth-generation Apple TV offers a range of new features including Siri, a more versatile Bluetooth remote and the ability to search for content across multiple streaming services. The biggest advance, however, is the arrival of an Apple TV App Store and the opening of the platform to developers. For now, the available apps are consumer focused; games and apps for streaming services dominate, though there are a fair number of fitness, cooking, shopping, travel, and education titles, too.
So far, there's not much in the way of business apps. But that doesn't mean the new Apple TV -- it was unveiled Sept. 9 and went on sale Oct. 30 -- isn't capable of serving as a business device. Looking through Apple's developer forums, it seems that at least a handful of devs are eyeing apps for business and retail. And even with few dedicated business apps, the device already has some inherent business functions built in.
Earlier Apple TV models and business
Before getting into what the new Apple TV offers, it's worth looking back at the features of its predecessors that are suited business (and education). The biggest feature is AirPlay, which allows content from an iOS device or Mac (or a PC with the right software installed) to project content wirelessly to an Apple TV-connected TV. That content can be app-specific if a developer has integrated AirPlay into it or can simply mirror the screen of a device. Recent Macs can also use the TV as an additional display.
AirPlay makes the Apple TV an inexpensive presentation tool that can be more convenient to use than trying to hook a laptop up to a display or projector using a cable. With HDMI so ubiquitous now, any mobile professional should be able to easily connect an Apple TV on the road or in client/customer offices. You might need to configure network settings, but even that isn't an issue if a MacBook is used, since it can create ad-hoc Wi-Fi network that an Apple TV can be pre-configured to access.
The Apple TV isn't unique in this regard. Other streaming devices such as Google's Chromecast offer similar functions.
What's unique about Apple TV is that it offers support for Apple's MDM framework. This is the same framework that allows IT departments to manage iOS devices and Macs, delivering greater enterprise management and deployment oversight than purely consumer platforms. That can be useful for devices used on the go, and works well for fixed devices in offices, conference rooms or classrooms.
The list of settings IT can use to manage an Apple TV isn't exhaustive; it includes ways to secure access to the device, manage its network connectivity, and limit some content through the use of proxy servers. This also allows Apple TV's to be pre-configured by IT using a configuration profile generated by Apple Configurator, a USB-tethered Mac-only app that can be used to apply management settings to Apple TVs and iOS devices. As part of the configuration profile, Apple TVs can also be enrolled in MDM/EMM solutions for further management.
The fourth-generation Apple TV has the same support for AirPlay and Apple's MDM framework as earlier models, meaning it can be used with the same business or education settings. As a result, AirPlay as a presentation tool will no doubt remain a primary business use case for the new model, while the possibility now of apps dedicated to business and enterprise use could extend the platform's use further.
There are other possibilities, if Apple is paying attention and wants to see Apple TV in greater use in the office.
One of the most compelling uses for the Apple TV is using an app to display product, event, or company information. This isn't really interactive, but there are a lot of environments where it could work well: in retail outlets, at conference/convention centers and other event venues, or as window presentations in industries from retail to real estate to restaurants to transit facilities.
Digital signage apps could even being used in line management or crowd control -- think of a walk-in clinic or repair shop where consumers can see where they are in a queue and/or see wait times.
That use would work best in a kiosk mode where the Apple TV automatically booted into an appropriate app, something that apparently isn't available on the device at this time. Another challenge is that you'd need an easy way to load content into the app. Most likely this would be via a cloud service as a bridge between a Mac, PC or some other device and the Apple TV. Alternatively, content could be entered on the Apple TV directly, but with the device lacking support for Bluetooth keyboards or the iOS Remote app this would be a rather clumsy process.
Business content and tools
Another possibility would be an option to access specific, business-related content. This would strike a balance between digital signage, presentation, and content streaming and would be particularly useful in classroom or training situations where a specific set of resources needs to be provided to students or clients. This could include traditional presentation-style content, images or diagrams, or streaming video.
Apps fitting this category are already available to some extent with Coursera's app for Apple TV being the best example.
One possible use case would be using Apple TV for business or industry-specific calculators and tools. These could encompass a range of tools from interactive classroom/training apps to insurance or loan calculators to healthcare risk assessment apps. They would allow simple input of data, apply calculations, and deliver a result in real-time. Combined with content related to the business/industry, the results could provide a unique form of engagement.
One example, drawing on healthcare, might enable a nutritionist to enter calorie, sodium and sugar intake information to simulate how changes in diet could affect the risk for diabetes or heart disease.
Enterprise apps (or the lack thereof)
Enterprise apps, designed to be used only on Apple TVs within an organization, would be an excellent extension for business or education. They could function in terms of providing access to specific resources and content collections as well as to offer access to real-time information like a producition, sales, or a customer interaction dashboard. They could even go as far as allowing a user to peruse enterprise apps/systems like a company directory or calendar.
The issue here is that many of these apps would likely be custom designed for in-house use and would need to be distributed outside of the public App Store similar to how enterprise apps are distributed to iOS devices. According to an Apple staff member on the company's developer forum, this capability for enterprise app deployment isn't yet available. Whether this is a feature Apple plans to add is unclear, though doing so could be relatively simple for the company since it would largely involve extending existing iOS management capabilities to tvOS.
Customer-facing apps for the App Store
With the previous examples, I looked at how apps could be used in a business setting. Those examples articulate the value of the Apple TV itself as a business tool. But an equally compelling prospect is the idea of creating apps that potential customers could download from the App Store and use on their Apple TVs at home. There are already some excellent examples of companies investing in the new Apple TV as a customer engagement and shopping solution: QVC, Gilt, Airbnb, Zillow, and Houzz are all great examples.
Beyond shopping, the Apple TV offers a unique platform for providing information about products and services as well as customer service interactions. Apps in this category can even provide links to social resources, offer access to behind-the-scenes content and allow users to compare items or services in real time. In this respect, they can function much as a business calculators, but with a customer driving the experience rather than a salesperson or consultant. Apps created for these types of purposes can even be used in both of those contexts.
Consumer-cntric for now, but business-friendly
For now, the new Apple TV remains a consumer-focused device designed to be used primarily in the living room. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have potential in the boardroom, classroom, store window, or on the retail floor. Hopefully, Apple will address some of the challenges to using it in business settings to expand its usefulness.
In the meantime, there are still some compelling use cases that rely on what's already in place.