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Did Apple TV Plus secretly become one of the best streaming services in 2020?

apple tv plus acquires rights to Snow Blind
(Image credit: Apple)

As Disney Plus nears the end of its first year, The Mandalorian is still its biggest TV show. That will remain the case when its second season arrives later this month – this is partly due to bad luck with the pandemic delaying production of its long-awaited Marvel shows, but it ultimately hasn't mattered too much. Disney led with a massive archive and the first live-action Star Wars TV show, which has powered it through. 

Despite investing a lot in its original programming and launching in the same month as Disney Plus, it's fair to say Apple TV Plus doesn't have anything that has captured the public's imagination in the way that Baby Yoda has. 

But overall, Apple's streaming service has had a steady release of programming all year – and some of it is actually great. On the TechRadar team, we've enjoyed the likes of game development sitcom Mythic Quest, US football coach-turned-soccer-manager comedy Ted Lasso and the documentaries Boys State and Beastie Boys Story. They bode well for the future – even if the lean library means Apple TV Plus is still far from the best streaming service

So, did Apple TV Plus secretly become a great streaming service in 2020? Not quite. But below we'll talk about how it's doing right now – and why the next few years are looking pretty bright.

Steady programming – but it needs more library content

Apple took big bets on originals like The Morning Show, See and For All Mankind at launch. Not all of them worked – but the investment showed how serious the electronics giant was about partnering with big names to get attention.

In the following months, shows like Defending Jacob (starring Chris Evans), anthology revival Amazing Stories, Little Voice, Trying and Long Way Up have kept things ticking along to various degrees of success. As we said, nothing has captured the imagination quite like The Mandalorian, or an all-consuming Netflix lockdown hit like Tiger King. But it's hard to tell if that's down to the types of programming Apple is making or because its app isn't as widely available to download as some of its competitors. 

Greyhound_AppleTVPlus

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Apple's big surprise swing of the year was landing the Tom Hanks dad movie Greyhound – a World War 2 picture originally destined for cinemas. That was apparently so successful that a Fast Company report suggests Apple TV Plus is looking to make similar swoops in future.

Library content, of course, is where Apple TV Plus still falls down next to other streaming services. Reports have suggested that will change soon, and that the electronics giant is in the market for older shows or movies – and Apple did add the two older Ewan McGregor road trip series Long Way Down and Long Way Round before releasing its newest offering. 

Apple TV Plus' price is worth keeping in mind when discussing its value. At $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 per month, and with a free year's trial included with new Apple devices, the price of entry is low if you're curious about something. 

The upcoming Apple One service, too, will offer Apple TV Plus with Apple Arcade and Apple Music for $14.95/£14.95/AU$19.95 per month – if you exist in Apple's ecosystem already, that's probably quite appealing. 

Apple needs to get over its device problem

In the US, HBO Max and Peacock were both hammered at launch for not being available on Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices (Peacock is now available on the latter). 

To be fair, though, at least each were available on games consoles at launch, as well as Android devices. Apple TV Plus content still can't be enjoyed on either, which is surely limiting the potential audience for a lot of this big-budget content. If the service side of things is the point of Apple TV Plus, the hardware you stream it on shouldn't matter. 

Apple TV, the container app for Apple TV Plus, is available on a variety of Smart TVs, Roku and Fire TV devices – that's good. And on the games console side, that might be changing soon too. A report from 9to5Mac suggests Apple is working on apps for both PlayStation and Xbox consoles (Nintendo is a bit of a lost cause when it comes to streaming video). 

It's strange that it's taken so long for this to happen – but it does mean that when PS4/Xbox owners get Apple TV on consoles, they'll have a fairly robust selection of content to check out. 

Big bets on the future

Foundation

(Image credit: Apple)

While the next few years of Disney Plus seem fairly predictable (lots of Marvel and Star Wars content, along with a quick release of new movies), Apple is the opposite. In July, it made a deal to buy the Antoine Fuqua (Training Day)/Will Smith movie Emancipation for around $120 million – much more than Apple reportedly spent on Greyhound. 

This isn't Apple's only big bet on movies. The next Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration, Killers of the Flower Moon, is a big-budget Western-style film that Apple is financing while Paramount releases it on the big screen. So, you'll be able to see it in theaters (when they reopen), but we'd expect a fast turnaround on an Apple TV Plus release, too. 

These are big bets to energize its streaming offering – and they're likely just the start. They largely follow the pattern of Apple working with big, established names to capture wider attention. 

Apple also has an ongoing production agreement with The Lighthouse and Moonlight distributor A24, with its next release being On The Rocks, the Sofia Coppola film starring Bill Murray and Rashida Jones that lands on October 23. That could pay off as the theatrical landscape dries up, and people go a bit further afield to find new movies to watch at home. 

Apple TV Plus also has second seasons of its shows in the works – The Morning Show, See, Mythic Quest, Ted Lasso, Central Park, Servant, Dickinson and For All Mankind all have confirmed follow-ups.

In 2021, too, Apple will debut its pricey adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation. No offense to Apple, but we hope that this doesn't end up as a very expensive but weighty and boring sci-fi drama – something threatened by its dour first trailer. This should be the tentpole release that gets people excited about the service. 

That's just a few of the projects Apple has in the works. Apple is also working with a vast list of big names on upcoming projects: Werner Herzog, Gal Gadot, Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell, Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Bruce Springsteen, Elisabeth Moss, Jake Gyllenhaal and 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, among others. 

While Apple TV Plus isn't a vital part of our streaming lives yet, then, it has slowly forged its own identity – and showed that comedy and big acquisitions are among its major strengths, to make up for its lack of intellectual property ownership in entertainment. 

Perhaps in a year's time, shows and movies on the streaming service will truly be at the center of the conversation around streaming.