Apple TV 2015 Review

 In Owyls News, Technology, Uncategorized

“Apple’s rejuvenated take on the future of television”

 

So we’re now heading into 2016, and Apple has decided to grace our presence with a fresh take on the Apple TV. “The Future of TV” is here or so Apple claims. It’s certainly not the most understated tagline used for modern television streaming products and it’s also one that Apple has used in the past. Rewind to 2007 when Steve Jobs first introduced the Apple TV to the world, claiming that they wanted to set out to create “an integrated television set that is completely easy to use”. Quite an ambitious claim to make even coming from the ranks of Apple; and also a claim that everyone seems to be chasing after. The market is certainly saturated from the likes of Roku, Amazon, and others standing right along side Apple trying to earn your buck.

The television is the one device that has made so many attempts at getting smarter, but in most cases it just falls flat. Confusing remotes, mountains of contextual menus to scroll through; no one has really seemed to have nailed it yet. Cable companies and television manufacturers alike have created this convoluted technological disaster that tech companies are claiming to “fix”. In order to truly fix these issues one must re-evaluate the basic fundamentals of television itself. Intuitive navigation and premium content are without a doubt at the top of that list, however it seems like we continue to go through the motions and are left dealing with a ton of broken promises.

Let’s see if Apple’s promise of “The Future of TV” is indeed finally here and most importantly, if it’s worth the investment.

 

Hardware

One thing that we can come to expect out of pretty much every streaming device out there is for it to come in two forms: A box or a stick. Apple TV continues Apples usual minimalistic take on hardware and gives you a simple yet slightly upscale feel on a plain yet functional box. Honestly why should it be anything else? The hardware is really meant to drift in the background and disappear behind the experience of the software, and that’s exactly what the Apple TV accomplishes. Price point for this years Apple TV starts at $149, compared to Roku 4 at $129, the Amazon Fire TV 2 at $99, and Google’s Nexus Player is also priced at $99.

This puts the Apple TV at the top of the pack price wise however you get a very well made box and a brand new remote which we’ll visit momentarily. For the set up process it’s the usual connecting to wi-fi networks, entering your passwords and iCloud account info…yada yada. New for this year you can actually take your iPhone (as long and it’s running iOS 9.1), turn your bluetooth on, and Apple TV will transfer all credentials that you need to get started. I found this to be a pretty nifty feature that made set up feel a bit more futuristic.

Speaking of futuristic let’s now talk about the remote. This is where the Apple TV makes its biggest leap forward and is likely the most compelling reason to consider purchasing the new Apple TV. It’s sleek, well-built, and extremely light weight. It features a glass trackpad which picks up swipes and clicks effortlessly and features an array of buttons: Menu, Home, a button for Siri, Play/Pause, and Volume Buttons. Yes, your read right volume buttons! You can finally control your televisions volume with the included remote. It also features dual mics for optimal voice recognition and a gyroscope for gaming. All of this charges via an included Lightning Cable (but no included charging brick…come on Apple!) Do not lose or misplace it, doing so will set you back $80 for a replacement! This means Apple values the remote at a higher price than the last generation Apple TV, currently priced at $69.

 

Software

In regards to the interface it really all revolves around how you can use Siri now that it’s baked into the heart of the new rebranded tvOS. I’ll elaborate more on Siri momentarily but let’s take a few moments to talk about the interface. It’s definitely a step up aesthetically with bright and bold coloring, translucency, and subtle touches of visual flair spread about the entire operating system. The logics and layout however remain intact which is not a bad thing considering that the Apple TV has always been very user friendly. It’s the usual grid system layout that we’re all too familiar with in iOS and it carries over well to the format of television. Navigation is very snappy thanks to thoughtful hardware and software optimization.

The experience overall comes across as very polished but there are definitely some head scratching omissions from this build of the OS. It’s understandable that as the OS matures it’ll get better with time, but Apple’s had plenty of time with earlier iterations of the Apple TV. The inability to organize apps into folders or arrange them alphabetically is very baffling, considering it’s more or less an endless list of apps. Speaking of those apps for now most of them are blown up versions of iPhone or iPad apps with very little of them that truly feel optimized for television. It’s definitely exciting to finally see the App Store come to Apple TV, but it’s a bit of a let down to see so many apps barely capable of utilizing all of the extra real estate space that you gain from a television screen. However, I am confident that we’ll see a turn around on this as developers get more comfortable with developing apps for tvOS.

 

Siri

Let’s talk about Siri’s capabilities and limitations. Siri can do quite a bit across the OS for both basic tasks and general inquiries. You can say “Siri open Netflix” and it’ll bring you straight into that app. You can also have it bring you to certain places in your settings, which can be a time saver. You can even ask Siri more robust questions like “Siri show me movies starring Meryl Steep” and it does so like magic. Afterwards when you then select a movie or television show, it then brings you to a landing page where you can select which streaming service that you would like to use based on your enrolled services (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc.). I think the moment that truly “wowed” me was watching a movie and having the capability to say “What did she just say?” and Siri then rewinded the movie by about 15 or so seconds and put subtitles on to ensure that I could catch it the second time around. All of these tricks make Siri an extremely useful guide in the world of digital video content.

Now for Siri’s limitations, and boy does it have a list of them. Currently, only a handful of the apps can actually make full utilization of Siri. Popular ones like YouTube and ESPN, Siri is completely MIA. Surprisingly, not all of Apple’s apps can utilize Siri either. It’s also completely dysfunctional in the App Store. Apple has said that a Siri search API will be available in the coming months but I’m really shocked that Apple hasn’t opened up the star child of it’s new Apple TV more even for it’s own apps. None of the apps you’re in feel woven together at all. If this is the future of TV why can’t Siri be mindful of what I like to watch in one app and make suggestions of new content across all of my other streaming services? Even a “most recently watched” for your services in some hub would be extremely useful. Apple TV never feels like it’s trying to help me discover new content, just the content that I specifically search for.

Most baffling of all though is the fact that when I am in an area where I can enter a query, you cannot use Siri. Your only option is a painfully slow horizontally laid out keyboard that makes the entire experience slow. I mean come on why can’t you speak your passwords for your accounts instead of typing them? Or at least they could have made the keyboard an abc or qwerty layout. The touchpad recognizes swipes in multiple directions so it makes absolutely no sense that you can only swipe left and right for the keyboard. It’s just not a practical or logical way to approach a software keyboard.

 

Gaming

I will admit at first I was very skeptical about how this could be a viable gaming solution for anyone, even a casual gamer. I will say that my time with the Apple TV has been surprisingly delightful for gaming. The remote works better than I expected for platformers, puzzle games, and for racing games with the built in gyroscope. For a person of light to casual gaming the remote is more than adequate for an enjoyable gaming experience. As for someone more serious about gaming you may want to definitely invest into one of the compatible bluetooth controllers. They can completely change the dynamics of playing a game altogether. For example, Rayman Adventures features a kind of hybrid running system that has Rayman and friends running in the direction that you choose automatically with swipes changing his/her direction. However, use a controller, and you’ve basically got full control of your character. From a graphics standpoint it’s definitely a very capable machine for the price point, which leads me into the next area of my review that I’m surprised I had to cover.

 

Lack of 4K… and other missed opportunities

So we’re going into 2016 and 4K TV’s are falling in price fast. We’re also getting native 4K Blu Rays as an option early next year and television providers seem to be in a frenzy to get 4K content to the masses. So Apple’s decision to leave out support for 4K, is almost to the point of being a laughable. They’ve recently released the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, both phones being capable of recording 4K video, yet you cannot enjoy it via AirPlay on your new 4K TV with this Apple TV. In fact, the only product that Apple makes where you can enjoy that video content that you’ve recorded with your new iPhone, is on the new iMacs. Even the new Roku features 4K and if Apple really believes that this is the future of television, it’s one that you’ll be replacing much sooner than you should have to with the omission of 4K. This is without a doubt the most disappointing aspect of the new Apple TV and one that may be a deal breaker for some. And no, I do not want to hear that the hardware isn’t capable of 4K. After seeing what it can do from a graphical standpoint now and taking into consideration the device is 3D capable out of the box there is no excuse at this point. Hopefully this can be changed with a future software update but let’s say that my optimism of that happening is not very high. This should have been the Apple TV to usher in 4K for Apple, not another upcoming version, especially for the price point.

This is probably going to come across as a personal gripe but I’m honestly let down that Apple has yet to bring Safari over to the Apple TV. Yes, I know that you can use AirPlay and use Safari on your iPhone…but why should you have to at this point? There’s a ton of video content to enjoy online and being limited to the apps available in the App Store just seems very, well limiting. I’m also aware that some of the video content out there is Flash based which Apple does not support but there’s still a ton of it that is available in HTML and other supported formats. Even if it was a “Safari Lite” that was a little less robust than Safari is on the phones, tablets, and computers it would still be nice to enjoy all of my video based content on a streaming box with the primary focus being on video no matter where the content comes from.

I feel like Apple is inching toward something really special with the navigation and interactivity of the Apple TV, but its still not a viable cable replacement yet. I’m really hoping that TV really does become an app centric world as it has become for the world of smartphones and tablets. Apple’s definitely got it’s work cut out when this happens, to tie it all together neatly where you’re not stuck just navigating through an array of menus from each app. We all know that a subscription service is in the works, but it’s going to take delivering digital content through the apps thoughtfully to make them stand out. Evolving those apps to become as simple as flipping channels on current cable options. Once in place television will feel new yet familiar to all. I’m hoping for a single sign on for all apps with an Apple provided cable subscription in the foreseeable future. It’s what everyone that loves Apple TV is waiting for.

 

Wrap Up

I’m definitely holding the Apple TV for 2015 to very high standards, because I feel like those are the standards that Apple creates for itself. To claim that “The Future of TV” is here multiple times, then not deliver on the expectancies of a proclaimed forward thinking product with a bold statement like that is definitely disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton to like about the new Apple TV. It’s very intuitive and simple to navigate and understand. It’s very quick overall and Siri, where it’s available, works extremely well. It makes for a surprisingly good time as a mild gaming device too. The remote puts the old version to utter shame in functionality. It’s the very best vision of televisions current capabilities brought to you by Apple. If you currently don’t own an Apple TV and you feel like you have to have one now, it’s definitely a more compelling product than it has been in the past. This new Apple TV makes many huge leaps forward.

However, most of those leaps are just potential at this point. The pressure is definitely there for Apple to deliver everything that you want, in one single place, and make everything that you enjoy seamless to find. The competition is steeper than ever from the likes of Roku, the Fire TV 2, and others and it’s time for Apple to deliver. As it stands right now it’s the best version of the most user friendly streaming device that’s available, with voice commands that can answer a wider range of questions than the rest can. It should have been more than it is, to really live up to the future of television. The lack of 4K support and a few other short-comings really hold this Apple TV back. This is not a product that anyone should feel like they have to run out and purchase for current owners of Apple TV. I would advise you to wait for one that is more future-proofed. While this is the best Apple TV so far, “The Future of TV” is certainly not here in this iteration. Apple’s got much work ahead of itself before it can live up to that claim.

 

Overall:

Pros:

-Very quick and easy to use.
-The new remote is fantastic.
-Siri works very well where it can be found.
-Gaming is very enjoyable.

Cons:

-Lack of 4K support.
-Siri should be more widely used.
-Terrible software keyboard.
-Overall it just feels incomplete.

 

Rating: Wait for the next version

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