I was extremely excited when this fourth generation of Apple TV was finally available for order. My family had been using a 2nd gen Apple TV, the one limited to 720p and no software updates for some time. We liked it when we got it; by the time we sold it, I couldn’t wait to never see it again. It didn’t age well: constant crashes, poor wifi performance and buffering, and general slowness had gradually crept in over time.
I’m pretty sure a lot of the issues were simply due to insufficient memory and processing power as it tried to down-sample 1080p video and buffer content, but to be honest, I don’t really care what the cause was. It just wasn’t fun to use anymore. So when the new Apple TV was available for ordering on Apple.com, I didn’t waste any time.
One of the things that we were looking forward to the most, especially my daughter and I, was the gaming. We don’t have a PS4 or an Xbox, but we do play a lot of iOS games. The dual player Crossy Road demo is all they needed to show us to get us onboard immediately. It looked great.
And in fact, it IS great, for certain games. The aforementioned Crossy Road, Alto’s Adventure, Lumino, and even Rayman Adventures1 are all pretty good on it. We’re also getting my daughter the Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition with the Star Wars starter kit for Christmas, which was at the top of her wishlist.2 Time will tell how that lives up to expectations.
My major problem with gaming on the Apple TV so far, though, is Apple’s ludicrous requirement that all games, regardless of support for 3rd party controllers, must also be able to be played in full with the Apple TV controller. Oh, how that limits games. It’s fine for the games we already own that I mentioned above, but it kills the opportunity for developers to make more complex games that absolutely require something like the Steelseries Nimbus controller. And that means gaming on the Apple TV will always be a major second class citizen compared to gaming consoles, regardless of its potential. It’s like for a brief moment Apple had a beautiful vision of what gaming on Apple TV could be, and then snapped themselves out of it and became the Apple that doesn’t really understand games at all again.
Games aren’t the only disappointment. The Apple TV remote is called the Siri controller for a reason: you can press its microphone button and speak requests to Siri. It’s stupendously great for things it’s made to do: searching for tv shows or movies, rewinding the current video a specified amount of time, getting basic movie information, opening settings or launching games, and a few other capabilities. Again – quite good, you’ll love it, but ultimately limited.
Anyone with an iPhone knows that you can use Siri to ask questions, get directions, send text messages. You can also use the speech dictation capability to speak, rather than type, words into a text box in iOS, and it’s great (when it actually understands me). I use it quite a bit. On Apple TV, that capability doesn’t exist. You can’t, for example, enter the YouTube search box and use the Siri remote to speak your search keywords. It’s a glaring omission given the painful input method using the remote in standard swipe and click mode. This is exactly the type of thing that makes you wonder if anyone at Apple uses their own products.
The painful input using the Apple TV controller swipe and click method also leads me to my next two complaints: inputting any decent password3 and validating TV network apps with the cable provider. At least on my terrible old Apple TV 2, the iOS remote app would allow me to type them on my iPhone to enter them in on the Apple TV. This is simply faster and less painful, and it also allows for retrieving complex passwords from 1Password and pasting them in. With the new Apple TV, good luck – if you have a 26 character password, you’re swiping and tapping them all in, and heaven forbid you make a mistake and have to start all over.
Speaking of TV network app validation, is there any reason Apple can’t have you log in to your cable provider in settings and then just pass that information off to apps that require it? Having to painfully log into Comcast for each and every one of those apps seemed insane to me back in 2010, now it’s just a jab in the eye from Apple. It’s like walking around in a beautiful new modern house and finding out that the entire back half of the place is a cave, complete with neanderthal drawings scratched out on the walls. Being required to log in to your cable provider for every TV station is like being required to communicate via cave drawings in 2015.
My other disappointments with Apple TV are not directly related to the user experience, but more with the future of content on the device.
Firstly, there are now rumors that, just months after giving us the box we have now, Apple is already planning to rev it with more horsepower in Q1 2016. Yes, this is just a rumor, but if it does happen, I am not going to be pleased. At all. Usually I take upgrade cycles pretty calmly, buying at what I think is the right time, and if something new comes out immediately after, I don’t get too upset. It’s just how it is. But we used the old one for FIVE YEARS and delayed purchasing a more modern Apple TV because we knew, eventually, something would happen. It did, in October 2015. And now it’s going to be obsolete already?
Finally, and this is a real, rather than rumored, problem, Apple TV is a bit of a segregationist. This app gives you this, this other app gives you that, and on and on, ad nauseum. That’s not Apple’s fault per se, but it’s one that needs to be figured out at some point. This Apple TV is no better than the one introduced in 2010 in that regard. As Dan Moren so aptly puts it in his Macworld article:
The Apple TV, as it stands, feels like an incomplete product: a platform in need of a truly killer app. There are plenty of things to like about it: the Siri integration, a pretty nice remote, impressive horsepower for a set-top box. But it’s also become increasingly clear that it’s a modestly improved version of what we already had, and far from a televised revolution.
Yep. That’s pretty much how I feel about it too. Don’t get me wrong, I really like our Apple TV, but it honestly just feels like a newer version of the same thing we had before, with technology commensurate with the five year gap in release time, because in fact that is exactly what it is. I like it a lot – I just am not in love with it as it currently stands.