The Apple TV is a mess — and hardly the ‘future of TV’ Apple advertised

Apple tv

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
I’ve owned the fourth-generation Apple TV for over a year now. But while the hardware is capable for streaming all your favourite shows and movies, the software — and the overall experience — is muddy, confusing, and, well, bad.


The Apple TV isn’t ALL bad:

The new remote control has a microphone, which is very useful. You can ask Siri to rewind, fast forward, or search for stuff to watch. You can even use it to enter passwords, which is a huge time-saver.

The user interface, which has hardly changed since the very first Apple TV boxes, is still simple and intuitive: Apps are arranged in a grid, but thanks to the new App Store in the latest hardware, you can download more apps to add to your grid. You can even organise your apps into folders now, like you do on your iPhone or iPad.

Multimedia loads and buffers quickly, and it all looks great, which is pretty close to a cable TV experience in terms of image quality and responsiveness.

As you might have noticed, these positive attributes are relatively basic.

Apple should be nailing the Apple TV experience in these respects. If Apple released a giant box that didn’t play your multimedia quickly and well, or was confusing to use, it would be an abject failure.

That said, despite the few important things the Apple TV does right, there are just too many things it does wrong.


The remote control. From the design to the touchpad to the buttons themselves, Apple’s “Siri” remote for the fourth-generation Apple TV might be the worst piece of hardware Apple has ever produced.

Apple tv
The new, 4th-generation Apple TV (left), and the 3rd-generation Apple TV. The box itself is now bigger, and the remote is now… worse. Apple

The remote itself is tiny and slick, therefore extremely easy to lose — in a couch cushion, or anywhere else for that matter.

The remote’s touchpad is overly sensitive, which means it will turn on your Apple TV if you just graze it accidentally (or, y’know, your couch cushion turns it on).

You can’t pick up the remote in the dark and know its orientation, since the buttons and layout are near-symmetrical from every angle — as a result, I’ve had countless occasions where I try pausing a show or movie only to return to the main menu, because I pressed the wrong button. Yes, that is technically my fault, but it’s Apple’s design.

Apple tv iphone app
This is the Apple TV app for iPhone (not to be confused with the ‘TV’ app). ‘Minimalist’ is one word for it. Apple

If you don’t like the “Siri” remote, you can use Apple’s Apple TV app — but you shouldn’t. Apple previously made a “Remote” app to control your Apple TV, but the new “Apple TV Remote” app lacks so many of those important features — things like volume controls, and settings within the app. And while the app connects to the TV just fine, sometimes pressing buttons just doesn’t work — and there’s no way to troubleshoot from within the app. Again, it’s hard to imagine this getting through Apple’s design lab, but it did!

Apple’s new “TV” app is not at all useful, and you can’t get rid of it. Not to be confused with the remote app, Apple’s new “TV” app scans the apps you use (Netflix, HBO Now, etc.) and immediately adds the shows and movies you’re watching — and others you might like — into one app. Sounds clever, right? But like so many other aspects of the Apple TV, the concept is better than the execution. I don’t like using the app: It doesn’t source content from all the apps I use, so it really isn’t a complete solution; my partner and I prefer visiting each app and browsing our selections there.

The worst part about Apple’s “TV” app? It’s unavoidable. The Apple TV’s remote control has a physical button with a TV icon on it — in the past, you’d push it to visit the main menu. But now, it brings you to the TV app; pressing it again brings you to the main menu, but you literally can’t go to the main menu without visiting the TV app. There seems to be no way around this, and no setting to turn this off. There’s also no way to hide or delete the TV app. Honestly, if Apple wanted to suggest shows you’re watching or other shows you might like, I’d rather those things be advertised in the carousel at the top of the main menu, which is also relatively useless in its current incarnation.

The App Store is a mess to navigate. The App Store has hardly changed at all since 2008; and yet, Apple made zero adjustments when deciding to launch a store on the Apple TV in 2015. It’s the same old thing: A giant grid organised by what’s being downloaded the most, what’s selling the most, and what Apple “editors” recommend. But there is zero personalisation to it; it’s amazing that in 2017, Apple still doesn’t recommend certain apps based on apps you’ve already downloaded.

Where does Apple go from here?

It’s naive to think the Apple TV is at the top of Apple’s priority list — the company has so many issues with so many other products, and the Apple TV is probably in that “good enough” category. Sure, it has its flaws, but it’s still functional.

That said, Apple shouldn’t be striving for “good enough.”

Apple event Apple TV

At one point, the Apple TV sounded like one of the most ambitious Apple projects in the company’s history. For years, Apple reportedly wanted to revolutionise TV like it had with music via the iPod and iTunes; the company held discussions with networks like 21st Century Fox, CBS and Disney to licence their programming for a live TV service that would be delivered over the internet. But those talks stalled, and while other internet-TV options are taking off — like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and Hulu’s upcoming service, to name a few — Apple’s own project appears to be nowhere in sight.

Yet, even without a live TV service, Apple still considers the Apple TV to be “the future of television.” At the unveiling of the latest Apple TV, CEO Tim Cook proclaimed “the future of TV is apps.” The company believes additions of Siri and the App Store will unlock the true potential of the television.

But that hasn’t happened yet. And both Siri and the App Store need vast improvements before they can reach their full potential on the TV.

Apple Event Apple TV

In 2017, the Apple TV is still the same old box as it was for years: It still plays your multimedia, and it’s added some features like Siri to make the experience better, but other newer features, like the touchpad on the remote control, have created more problems than solutions.

It would be great to see Apple release a fifth-generation Apple TV later this year. I’d cross my fingers for a redesigned remote, a redesigned App Store for the TV, and a redesigned TV app, above all. Heck, I’ll hold out hope that Apple can make its live TV ambitions happen, too. Whether or not that happens, though, is up in the air; Apple will neither confirm nor deny that a new TV product is coming, and considering all the other Apple products that desperately need attention, like iTunes or the ailing Mac line — not to mention the futuristic products allegedly in the works, like its self-driving car tech and its augmented-reality glasses — I’m not feeling terribly optimistic about the Apple TV.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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