On May 23, the mega-media company Warner Bros. Discovery pulled the trigger on its major streaming app upgrade — well, downgrade, really. Yesterday was the launch of the new “Max” app and service, where the company brought all of its streaming content together in one place. In practical terms, this means adding Discovery content to HBO Max.
For the Apple TV, the experience is a huge step backwards. There’s a new app, technical glitches, missing features, and worse prices – and there’s no good reason for that. It’s a comedy of errors that smacks of executive meddling against the better advice of real product designers who know what people actually want.
Search for the Max app
Launch the HBO Max app and you’ll be greeted with a big message: “Something went wrong.” The company has been sending out easy-to-ignore emails for a while saying Max is coming, but you can forgive most Apple device users for assuming that the now-defunct HBO Max app would just update to Max. No. It’s a new app that you need to download, and the error message on the HBO Max app doesn’t tell you that.
I’m not sure who decided to call this “Max” when the “Max” (aka Cinemax) part of the content wasn’t very popular and the HBO brand was synonymous with prestige must-see TV.
From a business suit perspective, it makes sense. HBO wasn’t exactly known for its kids’ shows or the kind of low-effort, leave-it-in-the-background unscripted reality TV that Discovery dominates. We don’t want people to think they’re missing out!
Social media is clearly inundated with “god this is stupid” comments, but the best shot has to come from NBC Universal’s rival streaming platform Peacock on Twitter.
There are of course other problems. The app is simple with overly simple navigation given the breadth of content. For some reason, someone who really should know better decided to lump writers, directors, and producers all together into one “Creators” section, which immediately infuriated the Writer’s Guild of America and the Director’s Guild to no avail.
Another bad custom player?
Max’s video playback is a custom task rather than the native tvOS player, and it’s just as bad as you might think. It’s almost (but not quite) as bad as the Peacock player at launch.
You don’t get the Siri remote jog wheel feature, you can’t use the awesome Siri “what did he/she say?” feature, there is no picture-in-picture support, none of the system-wide accessibility features are supported (such as reducing flashing lights or loud sounds), content frame rate tuning, and so on.
The funny thing is that the company really should know better. The HBO Max app underwent a major update two years ago where the native player was replaced with a modified version and the outcry was so great that they brought back the native tvOS player within a month.
Quite a few users have noticed a lack of support for the Up Next queue in the TV app on Apple TV, but it seems like this is a technical glitch that isn’t affecting everyone. I have Succession And Barry in my Up Next queue and they still work fine, although they had to redirect to the new Max app.
Don’t worry, it will cost more anyway!
The worst thing is that the price has gone up. There is an ad-supported tier at $9.99 per month and an ad-free tier at $15.99 that also lets you download 30 pieces of content. Those are the same as the old HBO Max prices, although now you can only watch up to two screens at a time instead of three. But the ad-free tier used to give you 4K and HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio, and those are now locked behind a more expensive $19.99 Ultimate plan (which also gets you two more simultaneous streams and a total of 100 downloads) .
Anyone who already has an HBO Max ad-free subscription gets a six-month waiver, but after that you’ll have to pay $4 more per month for the same audio and video quality.
Clearly someone at Warner Bros. Discovery wants Max to become the new Netflix – a video streaming service with a huge amount of content that you can’t seem to live without and are willing to pay a fortune for. And if Netflix can get away with eschewing all tvOS standards, why can’t they? But Warner Bros. Discovery has no first-mover advantage and the streaming landscape is more competitive than ever.
“Something went wrong”, indeed. That $6.99 a month Apple TV+ subscription is starting to look better every day.