I got the new Apple TV a few weeks ago. This is my 3rd Apple TV, having only skipped the first generation because I didn’t own a TV at the time, and in many ways it is hands-down the best yet; save one big glaring problem that I’ll get to.
The basic setup and configuration was as much a dream as you might imagine. Simply turn on your Apple TV and sit your (unlocked) iPhone next to it and all your Apple ID and local Wifi credentials are synced over to get through the nitty-gritty. I needed to verify my Apple ID password on my phone to finish this, but hardly a show-stopper.
First impressions are important and despite the beautifully simple setup, mine had already been soured after hearing about the nightmare that is text input on the new tvOS and after discovering on my own (before my device arrived) that unlike it’s predecessors, the 4th gen Apple TV does not support bluetooth keyboards. This is all despite supporting many other bluetooth devices including the new “Siri remote”, the steelseries Nimbus game controller, and most bluetooth headphones.
Leading up to getting my device I was relishing the thought of having to input the account credentials for the various apps and services I needed to setup initially; Netflix, HBO, CBS, and whatever else I needed to. I almost opted to skip setting up my device until I heard word of Apple improving text input, but decided to just bite the bullet and get it all over with.
Low and behold, I managed to get through entering my Netflix credentials without severe personal or technological injury (although it took well over two minutes, I timed it). HBO and CBS were far easier since I was actually able to use the iTunes Restore Purchases option as I had signed up for them through iTunes on my older Apple TV. And the Watch ABC, YouTube, and Fusion apps all use the now-familiar website activation code login that forces you to use a web browser on another device to login and authenticate the app. Normally I despise that process, but in this case, it saved me probably 10 minutes altogether.
Suffice to say that I still hate the text input process, but I got through the setup well enough even if much slower than I would have liked. I’m still hoping that Apple fixes this in one of the first updates to tvOS.
Overall, it’s a very similar look and feel to the older Apple TVs, nothing hugely ground-breaking there. The UI is cleaned up and a little more modern and ‘glassy’ feeling. And something about the navigation sound-effects really reminds me of the Xbox, but I’m sure that’s a coincidence.
The tvOS App Store is another dark spot on an otherwise great performance. It’s got all the basics you’d expect, Featured, Top Charts, and Categories. What’s missing is any kind of ability to really dive deep into the available apps, if you’re app is not featured by Apple or somehow in the top charts despite not being so, you’re screwed. Several app developers have come out and said that unless you search for their apps by name, you can’t find them. Even Fusion’s app is pretty buried in there (it was only after I had searched for and installed it that I came across it at the bottom of the Top Free Apps section).
And in what I’m sure is probably just a bug, I only see two categories of apps under that section: Games and Entertainment (which holds many games). I can see many more categories of apps broken out in my Purchased apps section (which is actually a nice addition that the other app stores don’t have) thanks to many developers introducing Apple TV versions of apps I’ve already downloaded elsewhere, so this is likely just a glitch that will get fixed soon.
Missing from the tvOS store entirely is the ability to view apps from a specific developer, or even view any developer information. I often like to find a developer I recognize and browse through their other apps to see if I find something interesting. But I’ll have to wait for that I guess.
There’s also no way to view what apps are available for tvOS outside of the App Store app. For iOS you can at least browse using iTunes on desktop, but there’s no such portal for tvOS, so there’s no way around the browsing/searching limitations yet.
As for the apps available, well, it’s a new platform and a new store so it’s understandably a work in progress. If I had a dollar for every fireplace and weather app I’d … well, I’d be able to buy all of them and have enough money left over for another Apple TV. It seems those are the equivalent of the lighter apps when the iOS App Store first launched. There’s also a number of fitness related apps that let you follow along with on-screen trainers, but I’m holding out for Nike’s Training Club app to come to the new platform since I already use that on my iPhone.
You’ll recognize a lot of big names in media and news, all the major networks have apps available (including, as I’ve mentioned a few times, Fusion) and they’re all pretty standard. Many are similar to the apps that exist on the older generations of Apple TV, with maybe a slightly upgraded UI.
Netflix seems to have taken the opportunity to freshen things up a bit more and bring the experience a lot closer to that of their website and mobile apps, all welcome improvements. There’s some nice options when viewing a particular video’s information to resume or start from the beginning in one-click, rather than playing the video and opting for one or the other afterwards.
I’ll be interested to see how things look after tvOS has been available for a few months and some of the more creative developers have had a chance to really think outside the box. Apps I’d love to see that would probably be a great fit for a lean-back TV experience are Spotify, Foursquare, Instagram, Dropbox, Nest, Google Street View (and Maps), Fandango, and Mr. Chilly.
One of the biggest plays Apple is making with the new device is not-so-casual gaming. Previously gaming has been a hobby for Apple, a relatively big one, but still a hobby. Playing games on your phone or tablet and maybe one or two on the Mac is great, but the biggest gaming market is still TV based; an arena where Playstation, Microsoft/Xbox, and Nintendo have been duking it out for over a decade. It remains to be seen how successful Apple is at making in-roads here, and it will likely depend in large part on the big names Apple is able to bring to their platform likely through behind-close-doors offers of promotion, or just money.
I’m not a huge gamer. I owned a Nintendo 64 and a Game Cube way back in the day, a few Gameboys, and these days I play a lot of TwoDots and Duet (also now on Apple TV) on my iPhone. But I decided to pick up one of the new Nimbus controllers and see how some of the free games played. I’m pretty impressed with only a few hours of play time on a few games, and it seems to me there’s some serious potential there if a few big names drop some of their well-known titles on Apple TV and get people to switch.
Either way, making serious gains in console gaming should be a long-term play, since there’s less turn-over on consoles than with more mobile devices and gamers aren’t stereotypically known for taking kindly to change. But Apple has a great opportunity to capture a more casual gaming market with a device that does way more than just gaming, and maybe even make casual gamers like me slightly less so.
Most of all, I’m getting really excited about what’s coming in the future. I’ve been waiting a long time for Apple to move into the living room in a serious way, and this time they seem to really mean it. There’s definitely a few kinks (ok, potholes) they need to iron out, but there’s real promise here.