Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wishlist: Apple TV system-wide watchlist

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

Hulu Watchlist

Having had the Apple TV for less than a week, I figured it was about time for the first of what are sure to be many thoughts about what I’d like to eventually see on the set-top box.

As I was navigating through app after app, entering my login credentials and cursing the lack of a better text input method, I found myself thinking about this app-based future Tim Cook has painted. By nature, it’s highly decentralized, and while I think that approach works well enough on a device like the iPhone or iPad, the Apple TV would seem to have a much narrower area of responsibility. Though it’s certainly capable of handling many different tasks, it seems clear that the Apple TV is mostly positioned as a way to consume streaming media.

As such, that decentralized approach is also a weakness. Apple’s tipped its hat to that problem with the addition of universal search, one of the very best features of the Apple TV, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Because it means that a lot of the apps end up reinventing the wheel, creating the same features over and over again.

Take, for example, the watchlist. Almost every video streaming app on the Apple TV has some form of this, and while implementation details differ, the premise is the same: a place where you can add videos you want to watch at some point. That’s great…but on a device that’s focused on video consumption it’s also hugely inefficient.

What I’d like to see is Apple offer a systemwide watchlist on the Apple TV. Let me add all the shows, movies, or videos that I want to watch, no matter which app I need to watch them. Break them down by those categories, so I can browse what I’m in the mood for, and let me subscribe to shows that I watch regularly, so I have a central clearing house to see what I want to watch next.1

Universal Search

The way I imagine it, this list would, like universal search, give you the option of watching in whichever apps are available. So if I subscribed, for example, to Arrow, I would be notified when a new episode becomes available, and given the option to buy it on iTunes, stream it on Hulu, and so on.

An app accessible from the home screen (or Siri) would just list the shows I subscribe to, along with any videos or movies that I’d added. That’d certainly be an improvement over checking six different apps to see if there are new episodes to any of my shows.

One reason I’d guess that Apple hasn’t already implemented something like this is that we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop: the much-rumored Apple TV subscription service. I’m sure Apple would like to collect content from all these disparate apps and offer a unifying interface that is more elegant and easy-to-use than the fragmented approach available now, and I also imagine the company would be all too happy to use that as a selling point.

While it would be great to see Apple build a feature like this directly into the Apple TV, perhaps a third-party developer can create a solution that gets us most of the way there.

  1. This is related, philosophically, to my comments about the Plex app the other day; that it shows you the content you want to watch instead of what the app wants you to watch. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]

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