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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Where’s iCloud Keychain on the Apple TV?

Setting up the new Apple TV is a mix between a really clever experience and a really frustrating one. Being able to sync settings from your iPhone? That’s smart. Having to enter a ton of usernames and passwords? Not so much.

Type about-face

As a number of people have pointed out, text entry in tvOS is…not great. Unlike on the previous Apple TV, where text entry was in a two-dimensional grid, tvOS offers a single continuous line of the entire alphabet (with a separate lines for numbers and symbols). Skimming back and forth among them is imprecise at best—either you go so slow that you select one letter at a time, or so fast that you overshoot and have to back up.

Apple TV text entry
Linear text entry is decidedly frustrating.

Furthermore, there is, as has been remarked upon, no support for the Remote app. Which means if you were hoping to use your iPhone or iPad to enter text, you are out of luck. (At least for now.)

But even more befuddling is the lack of support for Bluetooth keyboards. The Apple TV has Bluetooth 4, which it uses to talk to your iPhone during the aforementioned setup process, and previous generations of Apple TV supported connecting a wireless keyboard for text entry. Admittedly it’s not the most elegant solution for dealing with a set-top box, but it worked just fine. Keyboard pairing is also a pretty basic feature of Bluetooth (and there’s a Bluetooth section in Settings on the Apple TV) so it’s a bit of a head scratcher that Apple didn’t add this.

Keys to the kingdom

If the only place that you had to deal with text entry was when searching for things on the Apple TV, that wouldn’t be so bad—especially now that Siri can handle most of your searching needs.

But it’s not. Because the Apple TV is app-based, and because so many apps—especially the Apple TV’s bread-and-butter video-streaming apps—rely on logging into an account of some sort, you end up entering a lot of usernames and passwords. Which, if you’ve been vigilant about keeping your accounts secure, are often long, unique, and full of cumbersome character combinations that are all too easy to mistype.

If only there were a way that the Apple TV could vacuum up our passwords as easily as it seems to jump on our Wi-Fi networks. Some sort of service that stored all of our passwords in a single location like, I dunno, a keychain or something. Sure would be nice, right?

Oh, wait.

iCloud Keychain
Hey, look, a service that syncs your passwords between your Apple devices!

Why Apple decided to forego support for iCloud Keychain on the Apple TV is a mystery, but let me tell you: it sure would be helpful after the fifth attempt to enter the right Hulu password. Given that all of my passwords are already stored in iCloud, why make me do the hard work of entering them all over again? This is the exact purpose for which that system was designed.

I’ve already logged in with my iCloud account during the Apple TV setup process (via my iPhone, no less), so it would seem a relatively simple matter to then approve access to iCloud Keychain via one of my other devices, just as I do when setting up a new iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Even entering a one-time security code would be less onerous by far.

If not iCloud Keychain, perhaps the open App Store means we’ll get third-party password managers like 1Password and LastPass on Apple TV to compensate. But I’m not optimistic, for a few reasons.

First, in order to make password storage apps useful, third-party apps would have to integrate support for them. There’s no copy-and-paste on the Apple TV either, which means there’s no lowest common denominator to fall back on. And all of that assumes that apps like 1Password are even feasible on tvOS in the first place.

Second, for some of the apps on the Apple TV, Apple already provides an alternative: you can already buy a Hulu, Netflix, or CBS All Access subscription directly through iTunes, which means skipping right over the whole “logging in” fiasco. At worst it involves restoring a purchase, a far smoother experience than the alternative.

iTunes purchase

Thirdly, as I suggested in my universal watchlist piece, Apple is likely still planning on releasing its own subscription TV service. Since such a service would certainly be linked to your existing iTunes account/Apple ID, à la Apple Music, you could once again be spared having to worry about entering additional login credentials. Which is a far better experience, and provides a pretty good differentiator when it comes to the competition.

So perhaps Apple is holding this back as a competitive advantage. Or maybe the feature will make the cut in time for tvOS 2, sometime next year. Or maybe Apple doesn’t think it’s worth the time for a setup procedure you don’t need to do very often. But, if nothing else, the lack of full integration into a convenient part of Apple’s ecosystem makes the Apple TV feel a bit like a second-class citizen.

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[Get much more Apple TV-related stuff on our Apple TV page.]

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]