Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple TV: Nice box, bad unboxing

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

I was really impressed with the very beginning of the new Apple TV setup process, where I was instructed to hold my iPhone near the Apple TV and enter my Apple ID and password. The device was paired with my account and hopped on my home wi-fi network without any trouble. “How great is it,” I thought to myself, “that Apple is taking advantage of the fact that most Apple TV users will have an iPhone?”

Oh, but then things didn’t go so well.

At Apple’s big media event back in September, I asked an Apple employee at one of the Apple TV demo stands if there would be an update to the iOS Remote app to support the new Apple TV. I expected him to either hedge, because he didn’t know, or give me a fun tidbit about how since the iPhone has all the same sensors that are in the new remote, the new Remote app can emulate it, plus do fun stuff like provide a keyboard so you can type in all your passwords and stuff.

Instead, this is what he said: “No.”

And he wasn’t wrong. The Remote app doesn’t work with this new Apple TV, not even a little bit. So when the Apple TV suddenly asked me for my iCloud user name and password—which it already knew, by the way, because of that fancy pairing feature at the start—I got to laboriously peck it out, character by character, including all those special characters that require toggling to the symbols keyboard1.

I repeated this step for my Netflix user name and password. For other video services, the apps punted entirely, having me load a web page on a different device, authenticate with my cable TV provider, and then enter a code displayed on the screen to connect my device. This was actually less painful than entering my user name and password one character at a time, but sending me to another device doesn’t seem like the right approach. (And with so many apps these days requiring a cable TV user name and password, shouldn’t Apple have integrated that login information right into tvOS?)

Then I tried to download the Madefire digital comics app, and I was prompted for my iTunes user name and password again. I groaned, I might’ve said some inappropriate words (fortunately, my kids weren’t around and my dog didn’t seem to be offended by them), and I pecked out the same characters one at a time.

And that’s when the Apple TV said: To activate this device to make purchases, go to your account page in iTunes.

Now, it seems that most people haven’t seen this particular alert. I have no idea what it was about my account that required this, but I had to go to my Mac, open iTunes, and click on my account name to open the account page. At which point I spied this small line of text toward the top of the screen:

Before you can complete the purchase you started on your Apple TV, you must click Edit next to your Billing Address and verify your payment information.

Whenever I try to make a purchase on a new Apple device, I am forced to verify that it’s legit, usually by entering in the security code from the back of my credit card. I expected to need to do that on the Apple TV. But being forced to switch to my Mac, click into my account settings, click on my billing address, and re-enter the code there? That seems… a bit out of the way.

But I did it! And then I turned back around to the Apple TV, only to discover it was once again asking me to input my Apple ID and password.

Did you know the trackpad on the top of the new Apple TV remote is partially made of glass? It is. And that’s why I didn’t chuck it across the room at that moment.

Given the number of times I am asked to input my Apple ID password on my iPhone and iPad, it’s clear to me that Apple needs to do a better job of authorizing devices across all its services and then getting out of the way. But at least on my iPhone and iPad, I can type that password quickly.

On the Apple TV, there’s no recourse but to tap it out one character at a time. The device doesn’t support a Remote app to make it easier, nor does it support external Bluetooth keyboards! (Maybe the Siri Remote should have a password dictation mode so I can read my password out a character at a time.)

Once I got my Apple TV up and running, I was impressed with it. It’s fast, the new interface design is beautiful, and I’m excited about how native apps will improve the Apple TV experience. I’ll write more about all that in due time.

But as frustrated as I was in September by how many steps I needed to go through to upgrade to a new iPhone, I was even more frustrated by the Apple TV setup. When it comes to buying a new Apple product, Apple does so many things right. Apple’s packaging and out-of-box experience are second to none. The hardware design is beautiful.

Unfortunately, Apple’s hardware and packaging are being let down by its software and services. The unboxing experience doesn’t end when the device is pulled out of the box—it ends when it’s set up and running smoothly. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done.

  1. Also unfortunately, Apple has decided that the on-screen keyboard on the new Apple TV should be a single long row, rather than stacking a series of rows, so if you need to type an a followed by a y, it’s an exciting left-to-right journey. 

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