Apple has long been infamous for maintaining a closed ecosystem of products and services, limiting features like iTunes, iMessage, and Siri exclusively to its own hardware, so its notable that over the past year, the company has begun to show an unprecedented level of openness as it clearly seeks to bolster its services division by embracing a wider range of devices.
To be fair, this is a trend that actually started back in 2016 with the release of Apple Music on Android, but for a long time that remained an outlier — the notable exception that proved the rule of Apple’s walled garden. Over the last year, however, this has begun to dramatically change. First Apple Music gained Android Auto support, directly supplanting Apple’s own CarPlay as a marketing hook to promote iPhones, and then Apple expanded the service beyond its own HomePod by embracing Amazon’s Alexa speakers. Then, in an even more surprising move, TV makers announced at CES that not only would they be adding AirPlay 2 support — the first time the video streaming protocol has been deployed on a non-Apple device — but that Samsung would be going a step further and actually adding direct support for streaming movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store, without the need for an Apple TV.
Now, true to its word, Samsung has already announced the availability of the world’s first iTunes-enabled TVs. The company’s new 2019 QLED lineup will be available in 4K models with sizes from 43 to 82 inches, and 8K models ranging from 65 to 98 inches. The 2019 models will all debut with the new iTunes Movies and TV Shows app, which will be available in more than 100 countries, although the company suggests that AirPlay 2 support won’t necessarily be included out of the gate, but will be coming “soon” to all of the 190 countries where Samsung Smart TVs are sold.
Samsung notes that the iTunes Movies and TV Shows app — which sounds like it’s a single app, rather than the pair of apps found on Apple’s own Apple TV set-top box — will allow users to both access their existing library of iTunes-purchased content, as well as browsing the iTunes Store directly from their TV to buy or rent anything that’s available on the iTunes Store, including the entire library of 4K titles, of course.
Interestingly, it also appears that Samsung and Apple have taken steps to integrate iTunes with Samsung’s Smart TV experience. Samsung promises that the iTunes app will also work with its Universal Guide and Samsung’s updated Bixby assistant and search features “to create a consistent experience across Samsung’s platform.” Samsung also touts the coming AirPlay 2 support as allowing effortless streaming, but it sounds like there will be fewer surprises there, as there’s not much extra for Samsung to add to the straightforward AirPlay 2 streaming protocol.
While all of Samsung’s new TVs are gaining iTunes Movies and TV Shows and AirPlay 2 support, the company isn’t leaving last year’s models entirely out in the cold, with the announcement noting that “support on 2018 Samsung Smart TVs will be made available via firmware update” — presumably for both the iTunes apps and AirPlay 2.
With Apple expected to launch its Netflix-like streaming service this spring, Samsung’s announcement of its new lineup is timely. While the iTunes Movies and TV Shows app that will be included is focused only on accessing purchased content right now, its inclusion definitely opens the door for Apple’s updated TV app, which is expected to form the hub of its new streaming service, to come as part of a future update. However, even if that doesn’t materialize right away, the addition of AirPlay 2 will allow iPhone and iPad users to get on board with Apple’s video content without the need to add an Apple TV to the mix.
Samsung’s new TVs are starting to become available for ordering on the company’s website this week, and are expected to start shipping by March 1, 2019.