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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Joe Rosensteel

Up Next? Disappointment.

Today I fired up my Apple TV and opened the Apple TV app to be greeted with a revised Watch Now tab. Much to my shock and horror, they made it worse than it was before! I hopped online and came across Chance Miller’s post for 9to5 Mac, and Jason Snell’s post, where he reacted as negatively as I have. This is not what I had pitched at all when I wrote a few months ago about how Apple TV, the device and the app, needed a revised and unified home screen experience!

This new development is bad for a few reasons, starting with the fact that the Up Next list was the only part of the TV app interface that a user could really customize or control to plan their viewing experience—everything from being aware of the latest episode popping up online, to deciding you weren’t that interested in a show any longer. That personalization is important because the act of viewing TV is a personal experience in your living room.

This change pushes that off of the screen so the information isn’t even available to them at a glance without moving the interface down. This is another hostile layer, because remember that if you don’t subscribe to Apple TV+, the app will load with a splash screen telling you to subscribe to Apple TV+, and when that is dismissed it will deposit you on the Apple TV+ tab of the Apple TV app interface which you need to navigate away from to Watch Now. Now you need to go down, too. Obviously, Apple TV+ subscribers have fewer layers to get through because they don’t need the sales pitch, but they’re still getting the other shows pitched to them whether they like it or not.

What is featured?

The editorial layer Apple adds to their interfaces, across all their operating systems and services, leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t reject efforts to be told about other content that exists outside of my personal bubble—but what Apple provides is usually irrelevant to me, either because I don’t want to watch it or because I’ve already seen it!

Right now, for example, the list of titles in the Featured row that takes up most of this interface is almost entirely made up of things I’ve already seen. Some of them are, in fact, in the Up Next view right below it—but the view of the title in the “Featured” row is the same view everyone gets, whether or not they’ve ever seen the show. For shows that I’m watching, it doesn’t even offer me my next episode. There’s literally no personalization.

If Apple has a list of titles they want in Featured and a list of titles they want in Up Next, am I to believe that they lack the raw computing horsepower to remove duplicates from those lists? Or to override the unpersonalized button with a more personalized one?

How does any of this benefit me as a user? You’re going to take the brave, bold stance of recommending “Ted Lasso”—a show I’ve seen all of and which isn’t going to a have third season until some indeterminate time next year, maybe? What brain trust thought that the cultural zeitgeist around Ted Lasso was so strong right now in November of 2022 that it merited a featured position?

For Apple

For a long time, the Watch Now page has had a very, very, very bad For You row. Whatever logic is running behind the scenes seems to just make random associations out of a grab bag of anything I’ve ever seen. To solve this problem, as Apple often does in the Apple TV interface, they just push it further down. It’s now the 12th row down on the Watch Now screen, effectively about 4 “pages” of stuff away from the top.

That means that we’ve got Featured taking up that first page, the top sliver of the second page being Up Next, and then a bunch of other suggestions for things that some human being picked out of a hat for all users to see. It can be anything from sports, to suggestions for other things I can pay for, to Apple TV content (which is promoted in a thousand other places) and then the height of machine learning has a list of shows and movies I might like which starts with the critically panned TV adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Again, what benefit is there to browsing any of this material that has been put together without care or respect for me? If you want to take control of my TV from me, then it better be for a good reason, and not just because you’re oblivious to what I want.

What’s good for… Apple?

What this really comes down to is respect. I do not feel respected as a customer when I see my Apple TV autoplaying an ad for Abbott Elementary in general when it knows exactly which episode is next for me in the series.

If Apple wants to say that the Apple TV device, and the Apple TV app, are worth the money because they provide a premium experience, then they can’t keep sliding down into the same mediocre moves as any other platform owner.

The Apple TV in my living room isn’t Apple’s electronic billboard. If I wanted to own one of those, I’d have saved some money and just bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick.

[Joe Rosensteel is a VFX artist, writer, and co-host of the Defocused and Unhelpful Suggestions podcasts.]

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