Apple TV Plus, the company's fourth premium subscription service (joining Apple Music, Apple News Plus and Apple Arcade) is here, and it's … interesting. Priced too low to write off immediately, Apple TV Plus aims to worm its way into your streaming habits with big names, important premises and a surprising amount of supported devices (at least for Apple). It's even on the Fire TV Stick (which Disney Plus can't claim yet).
Having spent a weekend poking around the service's initial offerings, I've found that Apple TV Plus package isn't exactly ready to compete with Netflix, even though some of the Apple service's shows can be pretty entertaining. But our list of the best Apple TV Plus shows and movies shows that the service is building a decent catalogue.
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TV is a medium where commercial (Big Bang Theory) and critical (The Wire) success can be mutually exclusive, so my lukewarm thoughts about some of Apple's shows may prove irrelevant over time. The success of Apple TV Plus, however, depends on many of its shows can find a strong audience that makes the service a must-have.
Apple TV Plus pricing, availability and deals
Priced lower than any major streaming service, Apple TV Plus costs $4.99 per month (with a one-week free trial). That includes 4K streaming (which costs $15.99 on Netflix) and family sharing, with a total of six shared accounts permitted. Apple TV Plus is available in more than 100 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Australia.
You can get a free year of Apple TV Plus by buying a device to watch it on; that could be the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch or any Mac. Students paying for the $4.99 Apple Music account get Apple TV Plus for free.
Apple TV Plus app and device support: Flawed
Apple could not hope for its streaming service to succeed if it were limited to just Apple's hardware; neither the Apple TV HD ($149) nor the Apple TV 4K ($179) is affordable. So, the good news is that the service isn't limited to the TV app (available on tvOS, iOS, iPadOS and macOS).
There's an Apple TV app for both Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices.
How well those apps run, though, is a different question. Apple TV Plus operates smoothly on Apple's own devices, but things didn't run as smoothly elsewhere. Users (including my colleague Andrew E. Freedman at Tom's Hardware) have reported random crashing in the web browser mode, and I saw the Amazon Fire TV app stop mid-episode in Dickinson, which kicked me to the Apple TV app's home screen.
I couldn't watch in a web browser for long enough to see a crash, however, as I saw bumpy video quality, especially when people were moving in both See and Dickinson. Frustratingly, any progress made in a web browser doesn't carry over to other apps. That stack of browser-based problems might seem small for those with a streaming stick or box, but those who use their laptop for their TV would say otherwise.
A less annoying, but still noticeable issue happened as I streamed Apple TV Plus shows on the Fire TV Stick 4K; the load time after fast-forwarding or rewinding a show was about 8 seconds on average, while Netflix (5 seconds) and Prime Video (4 seconds) loaded footage faster.
My Roku Ultra had the least-annoying issue of all outside platforms, as I noticed a slight lag between clicking a button on the remote and the on-screen graphics responding.
Apple TV Plus library: Not aiming for quantity
Apple TV Plus' $4.99-per-month price makes sense given that you can fit the nine entries in the Apple TV Plus launch list — The Morning Show, See, For All Mankind, Dickinson, Ghostwriter, Helpsters, Snoopy in Space, Oprah's Book Club, The Elephant Queen — in a single smallish paragraph. A few of those originals made our list of the best Apple TV Plus shows and movies, but it was a later release (Ted Lasso) that truly made people sign up.
You can't say the same about Netflix's originals lineup, which earns its higher price (HD streaming costs $15.99 per month) with quantity, offering hundreds of shows and movies. Disney Plus launched with nine originals, and those shows will debut one episode per week, but the service rolled out many more new hits and Marvel and Star Wars shows that nearly make it a value pick at $7.99 per month.
Outlook: Waiting on more hits
Is Apple TV Plus worth it? Well, the shows certainly look like they cost a lot to make, but based on my experience, I have to say the service's value is on a case-by-case basis. You can watch all of Ted Lasso and love it, but beyond that you might want more (and not find it).
I'll be updating this review as Apple TV Plus evolves, as it's a living, breathing thing. I currently pay for Apple TV Plus as a part of an Apple One bundle.