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Jason Snell for Macworld
December 5, 2018 9:59 AM PT
Just how big is Amazon’s announcement last week that Apple Music is coming to echo devices? It all depends on if you see it as saying something larger about how Apple is prioritizing its subscription services compared to its traditional focus on making money by selling hardware.
The cold war between Amazon and Apple seems to be thawing at last. Amazon’s Prime Video app finally arrived on Apple TV late last year. Apple devices are widely available on Amazon thanks to a new deal between the two companies. And now there’s this new wrinkle, in which Amazon will become the second third-party speaker vendor (after Sonos) to offer support for Apple Music.
The potentially larger wrinkle is the idea that Apple’s stated quest to rapidly grow its Services revenue line—encompassing the App Store, iCloud, Apple Music, and more, it’s been growing every quarter for the last few years—might finally have overridden its decades-long focus on making money by selling hardware with large profit margins.
Jason Snell for Macworld
November 29, 2018 9:19 AM PT
You might have missed it between all the turkey brining and Black Friday sales, but last week The Information reported that Apple has considered making a tiny AppleTV “stick” similar to those made by competitors like Amazon and Roku.
Up to now, Apple has been steadfast in holding the line on Apple TV pricing. When the company introduced the Apple TV 4K, it didn’t even drop the price on the fourth-generation model—they’re still both for sale, at starting prices of $149 and $179 respectively.
Compare that to the competition: You can buy a Fire TV Stick for $40 and a 4K version for $50, and comparable devices from Roku cost $30 and $40, respectively. Yes, these sticks are underpowered compared to Apple’s box—Roku’s Apple TV equivalent box is $100—but no matter how you measure it, Apple’s not competitive in the TV box market when it comes to price.
That’s Apple for you. It’s never been the low price leader. The difference is that in 2019 Apple’s going to be launching a new video streaming service, featuring more than a billion dollars in content that it’s been buying for more than a year now. And while people will be able to watch that stuff on their iPads and iPhones and Macs, it won’t be easily accessible on a TV without an Apple TV.
We are in an era where Apple is trying very hard to grow its services revenue, from the App Store to iCloud to Apple Music to, yes, this new video service. The question is, is the growth of Apple’s video service important enough to abandon high margins and prices of hardware products like Apple TV? According to The Information, Apple has at least thought about it.
Dan Moren for Macworld
June 29, 2018 5:07 AM PT
The iPhone, Apple Watch, and Mac all got some love from Apple at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, but the fourth of Apple’s platforms was largely left out in the cold: the Apple TV.
Indeed, the newest version of tvOS doesn’t even get its own page on Apple’s site—clicking links about it will simply take you to an updated page for the Apple TV 4K, released last September.
On the face of it, sure, it’s understandable why the Apple TV and tvOS didn’t get a lot of attention: the set-top box is arguably the least ambitious of Apple’s products, and many of the roadblocks that the company has run into in terms of improving it have been stymied by the need to work with partners.
But that’s not to say that there aren’t still substantial changes that could be made to the platform. Here are just a couple of suggestions of things that Apple could improve.
Dan Moren for Macworld
July 28, 2017 6:55 AM PT
Those interested in the Apple TV have thus resorted to pulling meager information from the company’s tvOS 11 beta. And even what changes have been uncovered there have been pretty meager: home screen syncing, Night-Shift-esque automatic light/dark mode switching, and improvements to notifications. Meanwhile, even some of the major improvements promised by Apple during last year’s September event have yet to come to fruition: single sign-on, for example, continues to lack support from the major cable companies.
As the fourth-generation Apple TV approaches the two-year mark, perhaps it’s time for Apple to take another look at its set-top box.
Dan Moren for Macworld
March 31, 2017 5:07 AM PT
Among the many things I find frustrating about the Apple TV experience—and yes, there are more than a few—the Siri Remote is near the top of the list. The small slab of metal, glass, and plastic was billed as one of the marquee features of the new set-top box when it debuted back in fall 2015, but my experience with it has been largely underwhelming.
I was, at the time of its introduction, hopeful about the Siri Remote’s potential. Apple went so far as to call it “the only remote you’ll need.”
After using it—or mostly not using it—for the last two years, I feel pretty confident in saying that it most emphatically is not.
By Six Colors Staff
June 10, 2016 10:52 AM PT
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
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
By Dan Moren
April 20, 2016 3:08 PM PT
I’ve been using Comcast’s Stream TV service for a few months now, but it’ll really start earning its keep this weekend when Game of Thrones returns.
On the whole it’s fine. There’s a decent selection of channels to stream live, integration with some third-party apps, On Demand content, and a cloud DVR feature that’s nifty. Plus, I get access to HBO Go. And it costs the same $15 per month that HBO Go would cost on its own. Not too bad a deal. 1
But. My chief frustration—and what keeps me from using more of the service’s functionality—is that the only way to get at the features is via my computer or iOS apps. I can’t stream any of this content where I watch most things: my TV.
That may be changing, though. Earlier this year, the FCC approved a proposal that would open up the set-top box market—a move that Comcast and other cable companies are understandably worried about. That move might, for example, let you use an Xbox or Apple TV to receive your cable content.
So Comcast has decided to try and get ahead of the curve by today launching its Xfinity TV Partner Program:
Through this new program, we will expand the range of retail devices our customers can use to access Xfinity TV cable service without the need to lease a set-top box. By leveraging the open HTML5 standard that has been widely adopted across the industry, we are providing a common framework to make it easy for TV and other device manufacturers to bring our Xfinity TV Partner App to customers on their devices.
Sooooo, basically more app platforms. Comcast says it’s launching later this year with Samsung Smart TVs and will also be available via the Roku. No news about the Apple TV or Fire TV, though I’d assume those will end on the list as well. 2
In other words: no need to harsh our mellow, FCC!
In light of the success of the apps-based model in the marketplace, the far-reaching government technical mandate being currently proposed by the FCC is unnecessary. The FCC’s proposed set-top box mandate threatens to undermine this highly-dynamic marketplace, create substantial costs and consumer harms, and will take years to develop — only to be likely outdated by the time it reaches the marketplace - all in an effort to achieve what apps are already delivering for consumers.
Unsurprisingly, the FCC isn’t convinced. Here’s what an agency official told The Verge:
In a statement to The Verge, an FCC official said that Comcast’s app is still too locked down to be a true solution to the cable box issue. ”While we do not know all of the details of this announcement, it appears to offer only a proprietary, Comcast-controlled user interface and seems to allow only Comcast content on different devices, rather than allowing those devices to integrate or search across Comcast content as well as other content consumers subscribe to,” the official stated.
Apple and Amazon both support a universal search feature that should allow users of those set-top boxes to search Comcast and other services, assuming Comcast builds a half-decent app that will allow it.
So, I guess the good news is that I will eventually be able to watch TV on my TV? But there are currently still plenty of restrictions in place to bar cord-cutters, including availability windows and per-device content licensing (i.e. letting you watch a program via your browser, but not in an app or on a set-top box).
The cable companies and content providers have been resistant to the march towards cord-cutting and Internet-based television, but frankly they’re not going to be able to hold out much longer. This might be another small drift in that direction, but it’s part of an overwhelming tide that’s going to be hard to reverse.
The channel selection is pretty limited. I get broadcast—in HD and SD—all of HBO’s channels, a local cable news channel, and C-SPAN. If I want to watch outside of my house, it’s HBO and C-SPAN. That’s it. ↩
You’ve got an—admittedly kind of weak—iOS app already. Porting that sucker to Apple TV probably wouldn’t take long. ↩
By Jason Snell
December 9, 2015 12:43 PM PT
So tvOS 9.1 came out yesterday, adding support for the old Apple Remote app. As someone who criticized the Apple TV set-up process, I was happy to see support for the Remote app come to the new Apple TV box.
Then today we got the news from Eddy Cue that Apple is working on “the full functionality of the Siri Remote on the iPhone,” and that’s coming next year.
I don’t know what it all means, but I’ve got a couple of guesses.
First, there’s plenty that the iPhone app could emulate that the Remote app doesn’t. Finger swipes on the Remote app are emulating a simple d-button layout, so there’s no support for the finer control that the Siri Remote can provide. The Siri Remote also has an accelerometer and gyroscope, which can be useful in games—and the iPhone has those sensors, too. And the Siri remote has several hardware buttons, while the Remote app only emulates the Menu and Play/Pause buttons.
So there’s plenty of room for improvement in how the iPhone emulates the Siri remote. Ideally, it would support everything the Siri remote does, essentially turning your iPhone into a second Siri remote for the Apple TV.
Now this next part is just speculation on my part, but bear with me: Once the iPhone can emulate a Siri remote, it might be the perfect time for a tvOS update that enables support for multiple Siri or iPhone remotes at once 1. Right now, multiplayer gaming requires a paired iPhone running a specific app as a counterpart for the on-screen Apple TV app. Imagine a future software update where you could play a two-player game on an Apple TV with two Siri remotes, or a single remote and an iPhone running the remote app, rather than a specific app counterpart.
A lot of Apple TV games remind me of nothing more than the Nintendo Wii. The Wii handles four controllers (the Wii U, eight) with aplomb. Adding support for even a second generic controller would be a big boost to the Apple TV gaming experience. Here’s hoping that we’ll get that in 2016.
If you buy Bluetooth remote gamepads you can use several at once, which is nice, but that seems like a bigger investment than a casual game player would make. Lots of people have iPhones. ↩
By Jason Snell
December 8, 2015 11:16 AM PT
Apple rolled out a bunch of software updates today, including tvOS 9.1, which adds a few key features to the product that were missing at launch: the ability to use an iPhone as a remote, and extended Siri support.
Apple TVs running tvOS 9.1 are detected by the same old Apple Remote app that hasn’t been updated in months—it just works, as if it was an older, previously-compatible Apple TV model. I was able to connect to my fourth-generation Apple TV and use my iPhone as a trackpad to navigate through the menus, tapping on the screen to emulate a click on the Siri Remote. When a text-entry area appeared, the iPhone vibrated and an on-screen keyboard slid up, allowing me to type the text rather than pecking it out using the keyboard on the TV set.
Music search has arrived for the Siri Remote, too. It works, but my results were mixed. When I said, “shuffle my ‘Latter Day Bob Mould’ playlist”, it starting playing from the playlist and displayed a button so I could choose whether I wanted to switch to the Music app or remain where I was. When I said “show me the album ‘Hamilton’,” rather than showing me the only album containing that string in my library or doing a search on the word in Apple Music, it showed me a single album by an artist named Hamilton.
Similarly, when I said “show me the musical artist Randy Newman,” the Music app launched and showed me a Pixar soundtrack by Randy Newman. Apple Music has an artist page for Randy Newman, and when I typed “Randy Newman” into the Music app’s search field, it was the first item offered to me. Seems like Siri’s music search results should err on being a bit more expansive—showing results that might match—rather than jumping straight to a questionable result.
Still, I use my Apple TV’s Music app more than any other—owing to the fact that it’s currently the only device that’ll play Apple Music on my living-room speakers—and I’m glad that I can use voice search to access it. It’s a great step forward, as is the addition of Apple Remote app support. Just in time for the holidays, the Apple TV is noticeably improved from its original release software.
By Six Colors Staff
December 7, 2015 10:24 AM PT
Welcome back to the Six Colors gift guide, in which Dan and Jason tell you about of a bunch of stuff we liked in the past year. You might like them too!
Frankly, there are so many games on iOS it’s hard to know what to recommend: do you like action? Adventure? Puzzles? Strategy? We could go on all day. So here are a few of the games we’ve been playing the most in the past year, which might appeal to you or someone for whom you still need the perfect gift. And if this isn’t enough for you, we’ll remind you that the apps on last year’s list are still available, too.
Dan Moren for Macworld
December 7, 2015 5:35 AM PT
Having spent a little more than a month with the Apple TV now, is it everything I hoped it would be?
Frankly, I’m a little underwhelmed. To me, the Apple TV feels a bit like the Wild West: an unregulated free-for-all where you’re as likely to strike it rich as you are to wind up in the town jail. I want to love the new Apple TV—I’ve been waiting for it long enough—but it turns out that I only like it. And I know much less about what it thinks of me.
The more I think about it, the more I conclude that the Apple TV lies all the way at the other end of the spectrum from the other new Apple product released this year. Tim Cook has called the Apple Watch “the most personal device we’ve ever created,” but the Apple TV may very well be the least personal.
By Dan Moren
December 2, 2015 2:35 PM PT
Last week, Facebook announced a beta of its SDK for tvOS, which, among other things, aimed to simplify logging in to apps on the Apple TV:
Facebook Login: A fast and easy way for people to log into your app and for you to provide rich, personalized experiences. To log into an app with their Facebook account, people can simply enter a confirmation code displayed on the TV into their smartphone or computer, rather than entering their username and password with the remote.
Now, Twitter has made a similar announcement with Digits for tvOS:
Using Digits’ device authorization, your app on the Apple TV will show a short alphanumeric code. Your user then simply enters the code on digits.com/appletv via their laptop or smartphone to authorize the device to their account. Once that’s done, the TV device receives a Digits session for the user’s account which you can use to instantly identify your user and personalize their experience. [emphasis theirs]
Apple’s left a pretty big gap in its armor by not coming up with a better way to handle logins, and Twitter and Facebook are tripping over themselves to graciously offer their services to developers.
Even more eyebrow-raising, in both of those cases notice the phrase “personalized experiences.” That could be innocuous, but let’s consider that these are social networks that stand to gain by learning more about users’ likes, dislikes, and so on. That’s potentially a big opportunity for Twitter and Facebook, which explains why they’ve been so quick to leap into the fray.
It’s unlike Apple to leave a major functional opening for other companies to swoop in like this, especially when we’re talking about something tied this tightly to users. Frankly, I wouldn’t think Apple would want Facebook or Twitter anywhere near this.
By Dan Moren
November 30, 2015 9:07 AM PT
Speaking of Amazon, it seems like the company will in fact be bringing its video-streaming app to tvOS, if this tweet by developer Dan Bostonweeks is any indication:
I sent feedback to Amazon via the Amazon Instant Video iOS app about supporting tvOS. They say it’s in development. pic.twitter.com/52fYUgtgNs— Dan Bostonweeks (@danimal) November 28, 2015
At this point, access to the Amazon video library is the only reason I still have my Fire TV plugged in, and based on this it probably won’t be there much longer. 1 As I wrote earlier this fall, when Amazon pulled competing streaming devices from its shelves, it makes sense for Amazon, as a company that sells content, to be on as many platforms as possible. By having an app on the Apple TV, Amazon not only increases the value for those customers shelling out for Prime memberships, but potentially also—if they allow playback of purchased titles, as they do on the iOS app—position themselves as a viable (if not particularly convenient) competitor to the iTunes Store. 2
End of the day, it lets Amazon address more potential customers, which is what it should be focusing on. Most of these people probably weren’t going to buy Fire TVs anyway—they’d have just continued watching on their iOS devices and computers, or AirPlaying to their Apple TVs.
By Dan Moren
November 17, 2015 6:03 AM PT
The new Apple TV’s Aerial screensavers are mesmerizing, but I sometimes find myself wondering exactly where in the world I’m looking at. (I had a similar annoyance with the Fire TV’s beautiful photos screensaver.)
Fortunately, Benjamin Mayo has assembled a page that not only lets you identify the location, but also allows you to watch all of the screensavers. According to Mayo, since that page is pulling from Apple’s own feed, it should continue to update as Apple adds more screensavers.
I’ve heard from several folks that have only seen one. To them I suggest firing up the Settings app on the Apple TV and going to General > Screensaver > Download New Videos and choose Daily or Weekly. As Apple will warn you, the screensavers are pretty hefty—about 600MB apiece—so if you’re on a data-limited stream, you might want to think twice. Even after you select Daily, it might take a while before you see a new one, since, as Mayo points out, the Apple TV seems to pick one at random.
All of that said, I still think it would be cool if Apple offered an optional overlay telling you what you’re looking at. Major cities are obvious enough, but some of the wilderness shots look so beautiful I want to add them to my list of vacation destinations. 1 Alternatively, as Ross Rubin suggests, being able to ask Siri “Where is this?” would also be a great way to handle this feature.
Fortunately, I’m going to Hawaii in January, so that’s already checked off. ↩
Jason Snell for Macworld
November 13, 2015 11:47 AM PT
The fourth-generation Apple TV has a lot going for it. In the past couple of weeks I’ve used the Plex app to view video encoded in a format never before playable on Apple TV, had a Wii-style experience swinging along with Beat Sports, and enjoyed a lot of laughs with my family while playing several rounds of SketchParty TV.
Most of the complaints I’ve seen about the device have had more to do with setup in general, and the input of text like email addresses and passwords in particular, than with the rest of the device experience. My setup process was pretty rocky, for sure. And the shame is, it could’ve all been mitigated with the addition of one thing: my iPhone.
By Dan Moren
November 10, 2015 6:54 AM PT
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.
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.
By Dan Moren
November 5, 2015 7:05 AM PT
Good news, Apple TV owners: you can now move past looking at featured apps or slowly searching based on app names. In the past couple days, Apple’s added both Top Charts and Categories to the Apple TV’s App Store, bringing it more in line with its counterparts on iOS and the Mac. 1
Which isn’t to say that the Apple TV’s App Store couldn’t use a little more work. Right now, Categories offers an almost Henry-Fordesque level of simplicity: you can have whichever category of app you want, as long as it’s “Games” or “Entertainment.” (Are all apps that aren’t games entertaining? And aren’t games themselves entertainment? Oh, the humanity!)
Granted, those are likely to be the two most popular categories of apps on the Apple TV. But it also means that a lot of potentially interesting apps are falling through the cracks. Fortunately, it’s not hard for Apple to add more categories in the future—the web-based nature of the App Store means that they can roll them out without having to issue a software update. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more categories spring up in the near future.
Meanwhile, it would be great if Apple also expanded Siri’s capabilities to let the virtual assistant search the App Store for you. At least then we’d have one more place where you wouldn’t have to use the frustrating onscreen keyboard.
Insert pithy comment about how it may have already surpassed the Mac App Store here. ↩
By Dan Moren
November 4, 2015 1:11 PM PT
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
By Dan Moren
November 4, 2015 7:17 AM PT
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
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.
By Dan Moren
November 3, 2015 10:15 AM PT
So far a lot of the Apple TV apps I’ve installed have been underwhelming: many of them are warmed-over versions of iOS apps or suitable only for bare-bones streaming. But the app that I’ve been waiting for perhaps longer than any other may actually be the best of the bunch, and that’s Plex.
If you’re not familiar with Plex, it’s a combination of software and service that lets you stream media from a server—generally your Mac, PC, or Network Attached Storage box—to a client device, including your iPhone, iPad, another Mac or PC, or some set-top boxes like the Fire TV. On the server, Plex catalogs and organizes your content, pulling down metadata where appropriate. You can also build playlists, search, and quickly filter for certain types of content. Plus a whole lot more. Honestly, it’s more or less a wholesale replacement for the media library features of iTunes.
I’ve been using the Plex server for years now. For a long time, I watched via a Mac mini hooked up to my HDTV, but the interface was often cumbersome, requiring the use of an iOS app to navigate the front-end on the Mac. 1 When I picked up an Amazon Fire TV last year, support for Plex was the number one reason my Apple TV ended up relegated to second-best. 2
But the new Plex app for Apple TV has reversed that trend, possibly once and for all. Perhaps most importantly, the Apple TV version beats the Fire TV’s on interface and aesthetics hands down. Plex has done an admirable job of using the interface conventions laid out by Apple to provide an easy to navigate, very responsive application. Netflix and Hulu? You guys should be taking notes here.
In particular, I’d call out Plex’s Top Shelf option in its Settings. When you put an app on the Apple TV in the top row of the home screen, the top banner displays related media. On many of the other apps I’ve installed—like Hulu or Netflix—those titles seem to be more or less random. By default, Plex just shows a banner, but if you enable the Top Shelf option, it shows actual titles from your On Deck list (Plex’s version of a queue). This is what that space should be used for frankly, and I hope more apps follow suit.
Plex’s developers have used a mix of two different approaches in creating the app—the simpler TVML markup language that Apple provides along with some native code—and the result is an app that is fast, elegant, and powerful, without sacrificing on functionality. If you’re a longtime Plex user, you’ll want this for sure, and if you’re not, well, it still might be worth checking out.
By Jason Snell
November 3, 2015 9:46 AM PT
I was really impressed with the very beginning of the new Apple TV setup process, where I was instructed to hold my iPhone near the Apple TV and enter my Apple ID and password. The device was paired with my account and hopped on my home wi-fi network without any trouble. “How great is it,” I thought to myself, “that Apple is taking advantage of the fact that most Apple TV users will have an iPhone?”
Oh, but then things didn’t go so well.
At Apple’s big media event back in September, I asked an Apple employee at one of the Apple TV demo stands if there would be an update to the iOS Remote app to support the new Apple TV. I expected him to either hedge, because he didn’t know, or give me a fun tidbit about how since the iPhone has all the same sensors that are in the new remote, the new Remote app can emulate it, plus do fun stuff like provide a keyboard so you can type in all your passwords and stuff.
Instead, this is what he said: “No.”
And he wasn’t wrong. The Remote app doesn’t work with this new Apple TV, not even a little bit. So when the Apple TV suddenly asked me for my iCloud user name and password—which it already knew, by the way, because of that fancy pairing feature at the start—I got to laboriously peck it out, character by character, including all those special characters that require toggling to the symbols keyboard 1.
I repeated this step for my Netflix user name and password. For other video services, the apps punted entirely, having me load a web page on a different device, authenticate with my cable TV provider, and then enter a code displayed on the screen to connect my device. This was actually less painful than entering my user name and password one character at a time, but sending me to another device doesn’t seem like the right approach. (And with so many apps these days requiring a cable TV user name and password, shouldn’t Apple have integrated that login information right into tvOS?)
Then I tried to download the Madefire digital comics app, and I was prompted for my iTunes user name and password again. I groaned, I might’ve said some inappropriate words (fortunately, my kids weren’t around and my dog didn’t seem to be offended by them), and I pecked out the same characters one at a time.
And that’s when the Apple TV said: To activate this device to make purchases, go to your account page in iTunes.
Now, it seems that most people haven’t seen this particular alert. I have no idea what it was about my account that required this, but I had to go to my Mac, open iTunes, and click on my account name to open the account page. At which point I spied this small line of text toward the top of the screen:
Before you can complete the purchase you started on your Apple TV, you must click Edit next to your Billing Address and verify your payment information.
Whenever I try to make a purchase on a new Apple device, I am forced to verify that it’s legit, usually by entering in the security code from the back of my credit card. I expected to need to do that on the Apple TV. But being forced to switch to my Mac, click into my account settings, click on my billing address, and re-enter the code there? That seems… a bit out of the way.
But I did it! And then I turned back around to the Apple TV, only to discover it was once again asking me to input my Apple ID and password.
Did you know the trackpad on the top of the new Apple TV remote is partially made of glass? It is. And that’s why I didn’t chuck it across the room at that moment.
Given the number of times I am asked to input my Apple ID password on my iPhone and iPad, it’s clear to me that Apple needs to do a better job of authorizing devices across all its services and then getting out of the way. But at least on my iPhone and iPad, I can type that password quickly.
On the Apple TV, there’s no recourse but to tap it out one character at a time. The device doesn’t support a Remote app to make it easier, nor does it support external Bluetooth keyboards! (Maybe the Siri Remote should have a password dictation mode so I can read my password out a character at a time.)
Once I got my Apple TV up and running, I was impressed with it. It’s fast, the new interface design is beautiful, and I’m excited about how native apps will improve the Apple TV experience. I’ll write more about all that in due time.
But as frustrated as I was in September by how many steps I needed to go through to upgrade to a new iPhone, I was even more frustrated by the Apple TV setup. When it comes to buying a new Apple product, Apple does so many things right. Apple’s packaging and out-of-box experience are second to none. The hardware design is beautiful.
Unfortunately, Apple’s hardware and packaging are being let down by its software and services. The unboxing experience doesn’t end when the device is pulled out of the box—it ends when it’s set up and running smoothly. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done.
Also unfortunately, Apple has decided that the on-screen keyboard on the new Apple TV should be a single long row, rather than stacking a series of rows, so if you need to type an
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y, it’s an exciting left-to-right journey. ↩
Jason Snell for iMore
November 3, 2015 8:27 AM PT
As of Friday, we’re living in the fourth-generation Apple TV era. Apple’s famous “hobby” of the past eight years might finally be something more than that, thanks to a Siri-enabled remote, support for third-party apps, and more. As this moment, it’s worth considering how Apple TV got to this point—and where it might go from here.
By Dan Moren
October 29, 2015 7:43 AM PT
BBC iPlayer will be coming to the new Apple TV in the coming months…— BBC iPlayer (@BBCiPlayer) October 29, 2015
About time. More to the point, a few months back, the BBC also said that it would be rolling out a U.S. version of iPlayer sometime in 2016. The caveat: it probably won’t include BBC shows that already have American homes, such as Dr. Who.
There are a number of British shows that I enjoy, most of which are difficult to find in the U.S.—and an increasing number of which come from BBC’s competitors, like ITV—but we still seem stuck in a 20th century mentality when it comes to international borders. There are licensing restrictions, sure enough, but with so much television shifting to an online medium—the app future of TV, as Tim Cook puts it—it seems anachronistic that we should be separated by mere borders. 1
My Canadian friends are picking up what I’m putting down here, eh? ↩