CES 2019: Samsung TVs Score iTunes and a MicroLED Upgrade

Television hardware news can be a relatively sleepy affair; at a certain point, “big” begins to lose much meaning, and smart TVs in the age of Roku often seem redundant at best. And yet at CES this year, Samsung has managed meaningful developments on both fronts.

First, in what will likely prove the biggest surprise of the trade show—admittedly not saying much these days—Samsung announced that iTunes would soon take its place alongside Hulu and Netflix and myriad other streamers on its smart TV platform, Apple’s first concession that it might need more than Apple TV to hold sway in the living room. Not only that, but Samsung HDTVs will support AirPlay 2, Apple’s method of automagically beaming content from one of its devices to a big screen.

In fact, Apple later clarified that multiple “leading TV manufacturers” would build in AirPlay 2, effectively giving Apple a coherent alternative to Google Chromecast. The iTunes app will remain exclusive to Samsung, at least for the time being. The team-up might seem surprising, if only given the animus between the two companies in recent years.

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“As companies, the two of us, we’ve buried the hatchet over the past year or so,” says Andrew Sivori, vice president of TV marketing for Samsung Electronics America. “That opens the opportunity for things like this to happen.”

Otherwise, this feels significant for what it represents than what it will enable in practice in the near term. Since the launch of Movies Anywhere in 2017, you could find the majority of your iTunes movie purchases within your Amazon Video or Vudu or Google Play Movies app anyway, and vice versa. If you own a lot of iTunes TV shows, though, congrats!

iTunes on a Samsung device, though, fits neatly with Apple’s broader aims. With iPhone sales sagging thanks to longer upgrade cycles, Cupertino increasingly needs services like Apple Music and its impending video subscription service to take up the slack. Take the iTunes-on-Samsung news the same way you might have last month’s Apple Music-on-Amazon Echo announcement. Or go all the way back to an iTunes announcement in 2003, when it landed on Windows after only two years as an Apple exclusive.

Which is to say, Apple has realized it cannot go it alone. Walling off its garden worked for years, but alliances will help ensure long-term growth. As for Samsung, iTunes gives its smart TV something Roku doesn’t have, at least for now. That’s priceless.

And then there’s the new Samsung hardware. While the company introduced a MicroLED display last year, the 146-inch behemoth appears not to have shipped in 2018 as planned. Even if it had, the so-called Wall was far too big, and presumably too expensive, for civilian households and budgets. In 2019, the next-generation screen tech has become more manageable, if still not altogether reasonable.

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