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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

The Apple TV’s other shoe

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

Jason’s post about the intuitive/unintuitive nature of the Apple Remote got me thinking. Over the weekend, I packed up my old second-generation Apple TV and took it to my parents’ house. Though they still don’t have an HDTV in the living room, they have a small one in their bedroom, so I hooked it up in there, and gave them both a quick run-through on how to use it. Even the old silver remote with physical buttons was a little bit of a learning curve for both of them, but consider that though they both now have iPhones, neither owned an iPod, which was clearly the basis for the old Apple TV’s hierarchical menu interface.

Apple TV Activation

It also impressed on me how difficult the Apple TV—both old and new—setup process is. What I think of as the cumbersome but straightforward process of visiting an activation URL on a provider’s site and logging in with my cable provider’s credentials has enough steps to make their eyes glaze over. The only way it could be worse is if it involved scanning QR codes. (It’s no wonder to me that Hulu, HBO, Netflix, and so on are providing options to buy their subscriptions via iTunes—it is definitely a far and away simpler experience.) I set up many of the services I thought they might be interested in, but I doubt that they’ll try their hands too much at adding new ones.

This is the big challenge that Apple still has to overcome. We the tech-savvy all recognize how inelegant the process is right now, but until you sit down with someone who’s not as well-versed in the vagaries of technology, you don’t realize just how much of a barrier it is to actually using the device. And as complicated as the cable process has gotten, it’s still fundamentally about turning the device on and navigating channels.

To me, the newest Apple TV reeks of a half-product. Rumors were it was held back from its original launch earlier this year to try and coincide with the announcement of an Apple TV subscription service, and when it became apparent that negotiations with the content providers weren’t going to bear fruit anytime soon, Apple decided to go ahead and release what it had anyway. It’s not hard to imagine a different world where Apple could point out how much it had simplified the process of subscribing to and watching TV. Right now, though, it feels like we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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