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Apple just ripped key features out of its Apple TV app — for Android TV

The Apple TV Plus Logo surrounded by clouds
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple appears to have severely cut back functionality of the Google TV and Android TV versions of the Apple TV app. 

As spotted by FlatPanelsHD (opens in new tab), the latest app update has taken away the option to buy or rent movies directly in the app. In place of the two buttons offering said functionality, Apple has one labelled “How to Watch." When pressed, you’re informed that “you can buy, rent or subscribe in the Apple TV app on iPhone, iPad, and other streaming device.”

You can apparently still watch movies and TV shows you’ve previously bought or rented elsewhere and, despite the text above suggesting subscriptions are done elsewhere, at the time of writing you can still sign up for Apple TV Plus from in the app. 

FlatPanelsHD also notes that if you refuse the app upgrade, you can continue to rent and buy directly from your TV. And, at the time of writing, the apps for other platforms, including Roku, Xbox, PlayStation and smart TVs remain unaffected.

Why is Apple making this move?

While Apple hasn’t given a reason for this discrepancy, the most likely reason is the 30% cut that Google charges developers for in-app purchases. If that’s correct, there’s a certain irony here, given Apple reportedly considered applying "punitive measures" to Netflix (opens in new tab) when it removed the ability to sign-up via the iOS app.   

If that is the reasoning, however, Apple has decided that some things are worth paying for. As mentioned above, you can still sign up for Apple TV Plus — the subscription streaming service which most people will have downloaded the app for in the first place — from within the app. 

While that may seem like an oversight, it may simply be a matter of priorities. The sheer generosity of the Apple TV Plus free trial scheme suggests that Apple is keen to keep subscriber numbers healthy and growing, and it may have concluded that any kind of friction — i.e: making people sign up away from the app — is bad news for that goal. 

Ultimately, paying Google $1.49 for a $4.99 subscription is still better than making nothing and losing a customer, no matter how irritating the company may find the payment in principle.

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.