Apple TV aims open its universal search to all apps

Searching on the new Apple TV won't always be limited to iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, and HBO.

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When the new Apple TV launches later this month, its universal search features will only work with a select number of apps. But it’s not going to stay that way forever.

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told BuzzFeed that Apple plans to offer an API for universal search, so that any app can feed into the results. “I think that many, many people will want to be in that search. And that’s great for users,” Cook said.

At launch, Siri’s search results will come from five streaming services: iTunes, HBO, Hulu, Netflix, and Showtime. That’s a fairly short list, and one that leaves out some major sources such as YouTube, Crackle, Watch ABC, and PBS.

By comparison, Google already offers an open API for search results on its Android TV platform, and it’s likely that Amazon will do the same with Alexa voice search on Fire TV devices (though it’s worth noting that neither of those platforms currently include Netflix in their searches). Roku’s system is a bit more closed down, but supports roughly 20 streaming services with its universal search features.

Cook said the search results will highlight which services are free, or available with an existing subscription that the user already has, though it’s unclear if Apple will denote ad-supported content. Cook also didn’t give a timeframe for releasing the universal search API.

Why this matters: Siri and voice search are key features in the new Apple TV, which has a microphone built into its remote control. But while Siri looks to be more powerful than voice search on other platforms, its usefulness will remain limited until more apps can participate. If Cook is talking about an open API already, hopefully that means developers won’t have to wait too long.

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