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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Six Colors Staff

WWDC 2016 Wish List: Apple TV

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

The fourth-generation Apple TV is a frustrating device. That’s because it’s a good device—good enough to wrest my TV watching habits away from the Fire TV for the most part—but it’s not a great device. Despite its much-welcomed addition of an App Store and third-party apps, the set-top box has largely proved to be a case of “meet the new Apple TV…same as the old Apple TV.”

While I doubt that Apple has any major overhaul plans for the box at WWDC, given that it hasn’t even been on the market for a full year yet, I’m hopeful that it will show the same dedication to detail and attention that it has to its other platforms, like the Mac and iOS.

Our good friend Joe Steel has produced an excellent wish list of items for tvOS, and I don’t want to spend too much time repeating what he said—I agree with pretty much all of it.

But there are a few other things I’d like to see Apple take into account in a tvOS update. In particular, along Joe’s line of an interactive programming guide, I’d like to see a Watchlist application that I can use to track which shows I’m following, and get alerted to new episodes when they’re available, as well as tracking where I am in a show. Right now I use Television Time to track my (many and varied) TV series, but having a feature like that integrated into the Apple TV experience would be a big improvement.1

I’d also like to see better use of the top marquee section of the Apple TV’s interface, though this is more up to developers. Plex does a great job actually showing you content you might want to see when it’s in the top row of apps; Netflix and Hulu could both learn a lot from that, rather than simply trying to push me on what’s popular.

Speaking of apps, there’s also no earthly reason I should have to log in to each individually, using the cumbersome process of tapping out my username and password on the remote. (I don’t even bother with the Remote app anymore, because finding it, launching the app, connecting to my Apple TV, and so on…well, it’s actually faster to use the remote, a lot of times.) Dictation is an improvement, but this all just seems so antiquated when we’ve got iCloud Keychain—why are we still entering passwords?2

My fingers are crossed that the rumored focus on Siri will bleed over to the Apple TV. As it is, I rarely use the voice-activated search right now (in large part because I use a universal remote that has no microphone on it). Offering an API that allows third-party developers to hook into it and potentially provide deeper functionality would be welcome. For example, I could say “play the next episode of Deadwood” and have Siri know that I was watching the show on HBO and can automatically cue up where I was.

Overall, though, if I have one wish for the Apple TV it’s this: that Apple start treating tvOS like its own thing, instead of just a different flavor of iOS. The way we interact with a set-top box is different from what we do on our smartphone or tablet, and shoehorning it into the same interaction model feels incongruent at best. The Apple TV doesn’t have to do everything that an iPhone or an iPad does. There was a time when Apple was comfortable making a device that did one thing, but did it exceedingly well. Perhaps the Apple TV should take a cue from the iPod of yesteryear and focus on making its set-top box the best entertainment device it can be.—Dan Moren

Jason’s take

After Dan and Joe have had their say, there’s not a lot left for me to do but agree with them. I will, however, reinforce the point that’s been made a few times already: The Apple TV should know things about your current television status. If you’re a cable TV subscriber, you should be able to log in with your cable information and then never, ever get stopped by a cable login screen again. If you’re a cable cutter, you should be able to specify that and then not be bothered by stuff that requires a cable subscription.

And I’ll also second Dan’s championing of a watchlist. If my Apple TV could keep track of what I wanted to watch across various services, that would make me more likely to stick with the Apple TV for viewing shows. I realize individual services offer their own watch-list features, but they’re scattered—and it should be the job of tvOS to aggregate all of that information in one convenient place.—Jason Snell

  1. Failing that, if the Television Time folks want to make a tvOS version, that would also be pretty sweet. 
  2. If security is really an issue—and I don’t think it is in this case—I think a remote with Touch ID on it would be cool, but probably not worth it in the long run. 

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