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.

Wednesday, September 09
Monday, December 22

Waiting for Apple TV

The past few months, the primary feeling I associate with Apple TV is waiting: Waiting for it to come up when I turn it on; Waiting for content to load when I select an item (from the main menu or within an app); Waiting for new content or channels; and worst of all, waiting for new hardware.

When I piece together the various rumors and executive side-stepping over the last few years, I come to one clumsy conclusion: that Apple is, indeed, planning something revolutionary for the living room, but something is holding up that vision. The primary culprits are technology and content owners, and given Apple’s recent decade of success with hardware, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s the latter – difficulty working out deals with content owners and creators – that’s causing the Apple TV to languish.

That Apple is possibly shooting for the moon doesn’t bother me, but what does bother me is that they’re letting the moonshot play ground their otherwise serviceable and perfectly adequate existing technology. Recent hardware releases from competitors Google (Chromecast, Android TV) and Amazon (Fire TV, Fire Stick) aren’t revolutionary, but they are evolutionary enhancements over Apple TV and, by some accounts, they’re eating Apple TV’s lunch in the marketplace. Longtime contender Roku is also benefitting from the lull in Apple TV’s lifecycle.

My wife and I recently wanted to watch a Christmas movie that we only have on gasp DVD. My TV only has two HDMI ports, so I had to choose between temporarily disconnecting the FireTV or the Apple TV. The decision was harder than I thought. I’m an Apple loyalist, and I’m well entrenched in their eco-system, but I’m not an idiot. Apple TV works well-enough for me to get by, but in my recent experience, Amazon’s Fire TV works better and it feels faster – experiences I usually associate more with Apple products. I ultimately chose to disconnect the FireTV, a fortuitous decision because I ended up buying the movie we planned to watch on iTunes when the damage done to the DVD by our two-year old proved too much for the DVD player to overcome.

I am all in on the moonshot, but let’s not forget about what we already have and what it needs in order to maintain its place in the marketplace. Apple innovates most successfully when they iterate rather than leap. I wish they would apply that strategy to their hobbies as relentlessly as they do their core business.