The 4th Generation Apple TV was released this past Friday. I ordered a 32GB box for my living room and was able to setup the Apple TV after work Friday evening. As I write this, I’ve had about 24 hours to put the Apple TV through its paces. While that’s certainly not enough time to give comprehensive analysis, (stay turned, we’ll probably have a Mac Power Users episode soon) I can give you a few takeaways.
- Setting up the new Apple TV using bluetooth pairing to an iPhone was great. Simply enable Bluetooth on the iPhone (which you likely have on by default) and hold the iPhone in close proximity to the Apple TV. This will allow the iPhone to share relevant information with the Apple TV including your Wi-Fi network, iCloud and iTunes credentials. You authenticate by typing your password on the phone.
- Once you get past the initial setup you may be surprised at how little is on the Apple TV home screen. By default iTunes Movies, TV, App Store, Access to Home Sharing, Settings, Photos and Music. If you want anything else, you have to go to the App Store and download the App. It almost feels a little too sparse, though it’s probably the better approach compared to Apple’s previous policy of automatically showing all available apps and requiring the user to hide them. I’ve found I’ve installed significantly fewer Apps on the new Apple TV as a result of this policy. I’ll install them when I want them.
- Setting up Apps is a pain. Unfortunately none of your App login information transfers over to Apple TV so this all has to be manually entered using the on screen keyboard. There’s no way to store login credentials that can be shared between apps. This means a lot of authenticating for various services which is difficult because the redesigned on screen keyboard is ridiculous. If you thought the pervious “grid style” keyboard was a pain, the new keyboard layout is significantly worse. It’s so bad, I’ve actually turned off the requirement that I enter my password at all for purchases. I don’t recommend you do this - but the experience is that bad. Worse yet, Apple hasn’t updated their own remote App yet to support the new Apple TV.
- At launch, I found the App store lacking. Most of the Apple TV apps you’re familiar with from the previous version of the platform are available, and there are several games, but aside from that I had trouble finding much compelling to install. (I'm not a gamer.) The setup of the store doesn't help. There aren’t yet categories for different types of Apps so unless an App was featured or you knew what you were looking for it was difficult to discover new apps.
- Of the Apps that are available for Apple TV, there’s not much new in the way of features. some apps have been redesigned, a few chosen apps, like Netflix and Hulu can take advantage of Siri, but that’s about it. Most network apps still require a cable login to access content.
- There are a few notable apps missing from the new Apple TV. Amazon is probably the biggest omission. Apple says they’re welcome, but given the obvious contention between the Apple and Amazon I’m not sure we’ll see an Amazon App on Apple TV anytime soon. Plex wasn’t available on launch day, Plex says their App has been submitted but is still in review. Notably there’s no Podcast App. This opens up opportunities for third party developers.
- The new remote is growing on me. My first day with the Apple TV I didn’t like it at all. The remote is symmetrical which can make it difficult to tell how it was oriented. More than once I've picked it up in a dark room and found it didn't work because I was holding it upside down. I also had difficulty initially with the trackpad, finding it not as precise as the previous controller. After using the remote for several hours and adjusting the tracking speed of the trackpad from the default “medium” to “fast” I’ve found it much better.
- The ability of the remote to control volume and, if your TV supports HDMI-CEC (HDMI Consumer Electronics Control), switch HDMI ports and turn the TV on and off is great. Serenity Caldwell at iMore has a tutorial. I hope Apple will add the ability to set a sleep timer on the Apple TV so it could will stop streaming and turn off the TV after a certain amount of time so I don't have to worry about falling asleep with data streaming at night.
- Siri is difficult to judge, it really still feels like a novelty. Currently Siri only works with iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO. I don’t subscribe to any of those services so my use is limited. (I subscribe to Netflix, but usually only for a couple months during the summer.) Supposedly Apple is opening up the API, so we’ll have to see how this progresses. The accuracy of the voice recognition is very good, but the command set is limited.
- Despite being the 4th Generation of the Apple TV, this is version 1.0 of tvOS. As such there are some growing pains. I’ve had several instances already where Apps have crashed, frozen or the Apple TV has restarted. I suspect Apple will issue a software update to correct many of the issues. However, if you need to connect the Apple TV to a computer for restore or troubleshooting, note that you’ll need a USB C cable. I’d suggest you go ahead and proactively pickup a USB Type C to USB Type A data cable (about $7 on Amazon) so you can have this in your tool bag in the event you need it.
Overall, I like the new Apple TV, but this is not the revolutionary device I was hoping Apple would release. while there are a few new bells and whistles and the App platform is setting the stage for the future, not that much has changed…yet. We’ll really have to see what App developers and content providers do with the platform Apple has given them. It will take some time, but I think we’ll have a much better idea of Apple's future of TV in the coming months.