Ease of Use
People hate cable. Ask anyone who shells out $150+ a month for hundreds of channels they don’t watch if they’d rather cut the cord and many of them would ask where to sign. The problem is, many people have the channels and content they really enjoy bundled into a much larger package. Channels like HBO and Showtime may have broken away from the traditional cable package mold, but smaller networks such as HGTV, Food Network and others don’t have the same privileges, yet. With the meteoric rise of services such as Netflix and Hulu, millions of people are inching ever closer to getting all of the content they want without the commitment of year-long contracts and triple digit cable bills. To fully escape, however, there needs to be an a la carte solution, and Apple’s latest Apple TV provides a path to this final destination.
Somewhere in Cupertino somebody got paid a lot of money to design the gorgeous box the Apple TV came packaged in. Like most of Apple’s creations, the packaging is very purposeful in its design, and right from the start you can appreciate the re-designed remote as it’s featured prominently right as you open the box. At the top of the remote is a sleek trackpad-like button that responds to swiping and also clicks down to confirm selections. Besides the staple Menu and Play/Pause button there is a volume control, which is linked directly to your TV via the HDMI connection for newer TVs, as well as a Siri and Sleep button.
The Apple TV box itself is largely similar to its predecessor, with the exception being it is noticeably wider and features a USB-C input on the back, in addition to the traditional HDMI, Ethernet and power inputs.
Once you’ve unboxed your new toy, the Apple TV is very easy to setup, even more so if you have an iPhone or mobile device that’s running iOS 9.1 or later. If you are, it will provide you with a “Setup with Device” option that will automatically import settings including your wi-fi network and password and Apple ID.
Manual setup isn’t too much of a chore either. You select the wi-fi network and use the new touch/clickpad to swipe and type in your Apple ID and password. Once you get to the main screen you’ll notice that it’s quite a bit emptier than what you’re probably used to if you’ve owned an Apple TV before, and that’s where the first major benefit of the new Apple TV comes in.
As Tim Cook declared at the September event, the future of TV is apps. Based on my experience in the last two days with the Apple TV, I’m inclined to agree. By integrating the App store in the new Apple TV, adding to its functionality has never been easier. You start off with a clean slate, which is a departure from previous generations of the Apple TV, which would come pre-loaded with channels including History channel, Youtube, etc. This clean slate is both a blessing and a curse: you can craft your experience any way you want it, but with the app store being so new and many consumers not knowing what might be out there, a lot of quality content could be missed if you don’t know what to look for. That being said, when content providers finally are able to construct their own channels, the App store is going to be the most accessible market for these networks to reach millions of people quickly and easily. That alone could make the Apple TV extremely competitive…however, it has a lot more to offer; besides providing a lot of familiar video content, the app store features a dramatic departure from previous Apple TVs with the introduction of games.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that mobile gaming isn’t really my favorite. Playing games on the DS or Vita is one thing, but I have yet to be captivated by a game of the same caliber on the iPhone or iPad. The App store on the Apple TV brings this marketplace to a whole new level. You may recall my Transistor review, which recently found its way to an iOS adaptation. I was ecstatic to see that it was one of the highlighted Apple TV games, and since I had already purchased it, I was able to download it and give it a spin. As skeptical as I was over controlling games with the newly-designed remote featuring a touch/clickpad, I was surprised at how smooth the controls were. When you throw in a well-designed bluetooth controller, the experience is elevated even further. Now, I’m not saying that Sony or Microsoft are going to be losing sleep over the arrival of this new device. However, I also wouldn’t discount its ability to provide an even wider market for indie games, and lead to further partnerships between Apple and some of the leading game developers in the industry to provide consumers with excellent gaming experiences in the future.
Between the extensive video content and the promising start to Apple TV’s game library, the App Store promises to be one of the game-changers for Apple’s home entertainment system.
So I get my Apple TV all fired up and one of the first things I’m eager to try out is the new Siri functionality. For those who aren’t familiar: Siri is Apple’s intelligent assistant software, built into the iPhone since the arrival of the iPhone 4s in 2011. It can perform tasks such as setting alarms and calendar events, making phone calls and writing text messages for you. Since its inception it has made its way to the iPod touch and iPad lineups, and now has found its voice on the Apple TV as well. Siri doesn’t have all of the same features on the Apple TV as it does on the other mobile devices. It can’t create a calendar appointment for you, for example. It also can’t search through the app store, or navigate all of the third party apps just yet. At the time of launch it seems to mainly work searching through the iTunes library, HBO, Hulu and Netflix, though future software updates could certainly improve its functionality.
While it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t work as widely as many would hope, when it does work, it works very well. Perhaps the most impressive element of the Siri search function is how intuitive the smart search is. For example, you press and hold the Siri button and say Show me action movies. Well, there’s an exhaustive list in front of you, so you want to make them more recent. Simply saying From the last 3 years instantly trims that list down for you. Furthermore, saying With Tom Cruise will responsively list only action movies from the last 3 years with Tom Cruise in it. If this level of intuition can be carried over to future smart searches in other 3rd party apps, I am confident in its ability to transform countless living rooms.
Missed Opportunity: 4k Video Out
While the Apple TV is a great piece of technology, there was one missing element that left me a bit disappointed: it doesn’t support 4k video output. For a company that makes 5k retina desktop displays and recently gave their phones the ability to record 4k video, not having 4k video output seems like a mistake. Sure the amount of 4k content is limited, but I would imagine Apple would want to stay ahead of the curve on this one. This was probably my biggest disappointment with the device during my interaction with it, besides the initial limitations of the Siri search.
Apple has made a great product with the 4th generation Apple TV. With an extensive library of video content already available, and the flexibility of the app store added in, the way that people enjoy their content will eventually change forever. While I would argue that it doesn’t deliver on its tagline of being “The Future of Television”, I would say that it’s getting pretty damn close, and we have Apple to thank for it.