Having had three generations of Apple TV, I’ve been able to closely follow the progress of the system and predict some of the trends. When the second generation Apple TV launched, there wasn’t support for 1080p, 802.11n, bluetooth keyboards, and it really didn’t have that many channels. The third generation product saw significant improvement adding all of the above and improving upon the channel ecosystem with each update. It also brought support for Airplay mirroring alongside OS X Mountain Lion. The device was, alas, plagued by seemingly random buffer issues, total signal drops until the device was restarted, a nonintuitive remote, poor navigation, and a remote that only functioned when pointed directly at the device.
We’re now on generation four of the company’s proclaimed television replacement and there are a few gripes, but they’ve definitely improved the device tremendously.
When I first opened my Apple TV, it prompted me to set my phone on the top of the box and setup was instant. It pulled the wifi, my Apple ID, and purchased apps onto the device. I’ve never had a more pleasant setup experience, including setting up my new iPhone.
First up, the issue of connectivity is resolved with 802.11ac support. When the device first arrived, I noticed that loading screens would hang as content loaded, but after the first minor update was pushed out, I didn’t have that issue anymore. The Reuters TV app does seem to display images in glorious high resolution, but their videos are coming in at almost 480p. I believe that’s a problem exclusive to that app, as I have not experienced it in any of the other apps, but I’d be remiss not to include it in the review.
The new Siri remote controlled my volume without any additional set necessary. Then I noticed the apps.
I mean, how could I not? Big, beautiful, parallax icons greeted me with sweeping complementary headers to truly showcase the screen real estate.
So how impactful are apps, really? The competitors offer their own apps under various guises; Roku has channels and while Amazon has apps, they’re underemphasized.
Apple places apps front and center with an App Store redesigned for the big screen featuring shopping, gaming, and, of course, video content apps. All-in-all, I use my Apple TV for the video content apps and, in that respect, the device is nothing more than a TV with a much better UI. There are a few applications that I can see making the device much more useful; the shopping apps are currently just mobile experiences that are stretched to fill a larger screen. The Apple TV’s simple navigation begs for a look book experience that suggests appropriate garment wear for the weather conditions, upcoming events, etc., as the television affords an experience that is much more visually based than the smaller screen iPhone.
Zillow offers a watered down real estate app that should be taking full advantage of that screen real estate; this was very disappointing. Houzz does a great job of featuring home options, though. It’s really hit or miss in these early days, as developers and designers struggle to keep up with the new medium.
There’s no mistaking — the television is for images and video, so many text based content apps will have to adapt to the platform, but this is a great step in the right direction for tighter second screen integration. Reading a Medium article on the television might be an uncomfortable experience; however, beautiful headers and imagery can leave an organic reading experience on the phone while allowing the television to augment with visual aids. This would prevent images from being cropped and taking up half of a page in portrait, where the full impact isn’t absorbed in context to the writing as it might be on a desktop screen.
The new Siri remote is pretty intuitive, with a large trackpad on the top similar to the trackpad on a MacBook. There are 6 total buttons (including the trackpad) which are: trackpad click, Menu, Home, Volume cradle, Siri, and pause play.
Somewhat unintuitively, though it makes a lot of sense, to use Siri, you have to hold down the Siri button; I spent the first few minutes just tapping Siri and wondering why it was not searching. The trackpad is very good for scrolling through content and the speed of the swipe is very similar to scrubbing QuickTime on your Mac. I do think this could have benefited from Force Touch because of the sheer minimalism of the remote.
I didn’t get the chance to test any of the 3rd party game controllers, but I’ll have a lot more to say on that when the opportunity presents itself.
Searching with Siri often yielded something akin to the above image. It’s interesting how they feature the content over the source, but just as interesting is that Apple is somehow always the default, when available. If you pay for Hulu, Netflix, HBO, those won’t be displayed as prominently — it’s more imperative that you purchase from iTunes and that does demonstrate Apple’s priority.
The Apple TV is certain to be useful for shopping, casual media consumption, and gaming once developers and designers catch up to the new medium, but for right now, while I think Apple has created an amazing platform, I’d have to rank the experience at a C. If you’re like me and willing to get your hands on an early device with potential, I strongly recommend buying. For just $149, it’s not a huge expense and it could make a great holiday gift to yourself.
By: Marlon Stevenson