On May 23, megamedia company Warner Bros. Discovery has launched an update to its major streaming app – well, a downgrade, actually. A new service and app called “Max” was launched yesterday, where the company brought all of its streaming content into one place. In practice, this means adding Discovery content to HBO Max.
For Apple TV, this experience is a huge step back. There’s a new app, tech glitches, missing features, and a worse price – and there’s no good reason for it all. It’s a comedy of errors that reeks of executive intervention against the best advice of real product designers who know what people really want.
Find the Max.
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 that mention Max is coming for a while now, but you can forgive most Apple device users for suggesting that the now-defunct HBO Max app will just upgrade to Max. Nope. This is a new app that you have to download and the error message in the HBO Max app doesn’t tell you that.
I’m not sure who decided to call it “Max” when some of the “Max” content (also known as Cinemax) wasn’t very popular and the HBO brand was synonymous with prestige must-watch television.
From the point of view of a corporate suit, this makes sense. HBO hasn’t exactly been known for its children’s programming or the low-effort, unscripted reality shows that dominate Discovery. We don’t want people to think they missed something!
Social media is obviously flooded with “god, that’s stupid” comments, but the best response has to come from NBC’s rival streaming platform Universal Peacock on Twitter.
There are other problems, of course. The app is basic with very easy navigation given the breadth of content. For some reason, someone who really should know better decided to bundle the writers, directors, and producers into one “Creators” section, which immediately angered the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild for no benefit.
Another bad custom player?
Max’s video playback is a custom job instead of the native tvOS player, and it’s about as bad as you can imagine. It’s almost (but not quite) as bad as the Peacock player at launch.
You don’t get the Siri remote jog feature, you can’t use the wonderful Siri “what did he/she say?” features, no picture-in-picture support, no system-wide accessibility features (such as reducing flashing lights or loud sounds), content frame rate matching, etc. are supported.
The funny thing is that the company really should know better. Two years ago, the HBO Max app underwent a big update that replaced the native player with their own, and the outrage was so great that they brought back the native tvOS player a month later.
Quite a few users have noticed the lack of support for the Up Next queue in the TV app on Apple TV, but it seems to be a technical glitch that doesn’t affect everyone. I have succession And Barry in my Up Next queue and they still work fine even though they had to redirect to the new Max app.
Don’t worry, at least it costs more!
Worst of all, the price has gone up. There is an ad-supported monthly tier for $9.99 and an ad-free tier for $15.99 that also allows you to download 30 pieces of content. It’s the same as the old HBO Max price, although you can now only watch on two screens at a time instead of three. But the ad-free tier used to get you 4K and HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio, and they’re now blocked by the more expensive $19.99 Ultimate plan (which also gives you two more simultaneous streams and a total of 100 downloads).
Anyone who already has an ad-free HBO Max subscription is six months out of date, but after that you’ll have to pay $4 more per month for the same audio and video quality.
Apparently someone from Warner Bros. Discovery wants Max to be the new Netflix, a video streaming service with tons of content you can’t seem to live without and are willing to pay a fortune for. And if Netflix can avoid all tvOS standards, why can’t they? But Warner Bros. Discovery doesn’t have a first-mover advantage, and the streaming market is more competitive than ever.
“Something went wrong,” indeed. This $6.99/month Apple TV+ subscription gets better every day.