Thursday, November 12

The New Apple TV

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I pre-ordered an Apple TV as soon as Apple began accepting orders and, yes, I paid extra for release day delivery.

Here are some quick thoughts after a few days of messing around with it:

Siri: Siri on Apple TV isn’t perfect or comprehensive yet, but it is pretty close to great. Search is awesome, asking about weather, sports scores, and stocks is nifty and useful, and playback tricks like “go back or skip ahead x seconds” and “what did he say” have already passed the inflection point from gimmick to standard usage pattern in my house. We’ve legitimately used “what did he say” several times while watching a quiet scene in a movie or TV show; and when the 10-second skip/go back feature on the standard touch interface doesn’t cut it, we use the Siri command “go back/skip ahead blank seconds” for more precise movement. Macworld has a great list of all the things Siri can do on the new Apple TV.

Siri / Touchpad Remote: I love the new remote. I do sometimes inadvertantly initiate scrubbing but I’d personally rather have that over what we previously had. I still use my Fire TV occasionally (primarily for Amazon Prime content) and I miss the touchpad interface when I do. Navigation feels more convenient with the added buttons, though it does take a bit of effort to acclimate and remember what is there and where. Understandable and probably almost unavoidable. There are some shortcuts that are nice, so take a moment to learn some of those. Like the rest of the tech press, I’m disappointed that the Apple TV Remote apps on iOS and Apple Watch weren’t upgraded to support the new Apple TV. Hopefully that is coming. I can live with only having the new remote, though, so it’s certainly not something that’s preventing me from enjoying the overall experience.

Apps: The App Store gets the nod for Most Important Underwhelming feature of the new Apple TV. Why? Because apps are old news both to smartphone users and owners of other streaming boxes (I see you Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku). But. BUT. While all of those platforms are perfectly capable, I think it’s only fair to tip your hat to the depth and breadth of Apple’s App Store, their developer tools and, most importantly, the creativity of the vastly diverse stable of developers already entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem1. If there is a future beyond the existing TV paradigm, I agree with Apple that it is in Apps.

Setup: The magical setup mostly worked for me – I did eventually have to enter my iTunes password and my 3 year old does like to play with the remote so I haven’t relaxed the password requirement for purchases yet. Adding an option to use an iPhone with Touch ID to authenticate purchases initiated in the TV would be awesome. I also had moments of uncertainy during the setup process about whether everything was working correctly – it was and did setup as easily as advertised, I just didn’t always know it was working, so the feedback loop could be better. Signing in to non-Apple apps is a pain, but for most users this is a process that shouldn’t be required frequently so it’s mostly bearable2.

Connectivity: New – a USB-C port for “diagnostics only”. Gone – optical audio out; which was a problem for me and my older TV. Solution? I bought a new TV.

Verdict: If you’ve been holding out for this new Apple TV, it is well worth it to make the plunge now, even at the higher price point. If you have an Apple TV right now, especially a 3rd generation, and you’re mostly happy with it, there’s probably not a compelling reason for you to upgrade unless any or all of the following is true:

  1. You’ve been dying to play Alto’s Adventure (or any other great iOS game that is compatible with Apple TV) on your big screen TV.
  2. You are very intrigued by the promise of Apps on your TV.
  3. It is worth $150-$200 to have a remote that doesn’t require line-of-sight (IR) to operate your Apple TV (if I was on the fence, this probably would have been enough to tip me over).
  4. You are a Siri pro on iOS devices and you’re eager to have the same experience with your TV.
  1. Michael Rockwell covers this point exquisitely in his guest post for Samantha Bielefeld.

  2. Or not, if your experience was anything like Jason Snell’s.

Sunday, October 11

Overcast 2: The Best Gets Better

Marco Arment earlier this week, announcing the release of Overcast 2.0:

After a year of work, Overcast 2 is now available as a free update for everyone. It’s mostly a major under-the-hood improvement, with relatively few user-facing changes. But they’re pretty good, I think.

And now, all features are free, and I’m trying a new business model.

Streaming, per-podcast storage details, and chapter support are the highlights of this release. For supported podcast feeds with show notes links, the chapter navigation even includes the show note link related to the current discussion. As always, just incredible attention to detail from Arment. And best of all, the entire app is completely free. So if you’re into podcasts at all, go download Overcast and give it a try. I think you’re going to love it.

If it becomes one of your essential apps like it has for me, consider becoming a patron so you can support an independent developer and so Marco can continue his great work on this app and whatever future apps may come.

Wednesday, September 09
Thursday, May 21

Automatic: The Next Generation of the Quantitative Car

Two years ago, I risked eventual ridicule from all my friends by pre-ordering Automatic, the automobile equivalent of quantitative self / fitness gamification gadgets like the Fitbit or the Misfit. It took a few months after my pre-order to ship, but when it finally did, I plugged it in to my car’s OBD port and started tracking. Some things I loved (trip logging, MPG estimates1, and gentle nudges for better driving habits) and some things I didn’t (notably, decreased connection consistency over time, less than illuminating statistics and scoring). In short, I loved the data the adapter and app collected, but I grew wary of the alerts2 and missing trip data. It’s the kind of thing where I existed happily before having all of that trip data at my fingertips, but quickly gained a low tolerance for missing data after experiencing driving data nirvana.

Earlier this week, Automatic announced their next generation adapter and accompanying app store and developer platform3. I unplugged my first generation adapter a few months ago, so I don’t know if I can bring myself to buy an entirely new adapter, but it does have some compelling features. First, the new adapter has its own GPS tracking capabilities, which means it can track and record trips without being connected to your phone. Second, the adapter supports dual Bluetooth streams, so it can send data to Automatic’s own app as well as other third-party apps simultaneously.

Even if I don’t upgrade, I’m happy to see this start-up seemingly doing well enough to support second generation product development and a burgeoning application development platform. Modern cars track some of this data, but the dysfunction of car and electronics industry partnerships4 means you rarely have an opportunity to carry this data with you and learn something from it. Automatic is changing that, and for those who care, this week’s announcement is sure to be a boon for a customer base that seems to be healthy enough to support this thriving company.

  1. My 2007 Mazda3 doesn’t track such things.  ↩

  2. My wife might identify this emotion as anger rather than fatigue.  ↩

  3. They’ve been talking developer platform for a long time, the app gallery is the culmination of that effort.  ↩

  4. Ahem … CarPlay.  ↩

Sunday, March 22