The fourth-generation Apple TV launched Friday, complete with promises to set the world on fire with a range of TV apps and games. The company's rumored streaming service is missing in action, and the system depends on the same cable authentication system as its predecessors to get a lot of the content on offer. But there's more serious flaws on display here that suggest Apple's latest TV box could have done with a little more time in the development oven.
One of the headline features of the new Apple TV is the App Store. Sound familiar? Although sharing its name with the iPhone's app downloading system, the Apple TV's app store lacks the same finesse that its portable relative is world-renowned for. No top app charts. No categories. No real discovery features, basically. All you get is a single "featured" page, from which you have to work out for yourself what's worth your time.
There Might Be An App For That
It's embarrassing to say the least. But it doesn't stop there. Developers, journalists, publicists and even the general public share apps by linking to their app store entry. "Click here to view in iTunes" has become so ubiquitous it's almost hard to picture a time when this wasn't an option. Well rest assured, the Apple TV has you covered. Not being able to hyperlink to the device's app store apps is such a major oversight it almost feels intentional. Why doesn't Apple want developers promoting their apps with links?
Even if you know the name of the app, your troubles aren't over. Despite being a feature of the older Apple TV, the new one doesn't support Bluetooth keyboards. That means having to hunt-and-peck with the new glass trackpad, which is only marginally less frustrating than the old system of finding the right letter with a directional pad. But older Apple TVs also had a second option. Unfortunately, Apple's iOS Remote app, which lets users control the Apple TV and input text through their phones, hasn't been updated to support the new model. That neither of these text input options are available on day one feels less like a statement about the trackpad's functionality, and more laziness on Apple's part to properly update all their products.
Not-So-Intelligent Voice Assistance
Siri is on the Apple TV, but you could be fooled into thinking that the Siri it ships with is fake. The voice-activated assistant may be able to tell you which films have Clint Eastwood in them, can rewind a film and tell you what the weather is, but it can't tell you what two plus two equals. Nor can it give you any other Wolfram-powered answers like its iPhone cousin can. But perhaps most shockingly, Siri can't control music like it can movies. This all-singing, all dancing voice assistant can tell you if the Giants lost, or suggest an animated film starring John Goodman, but it cannot navigate your Apple Music collection.
In all fairness, you can still use the remote to control music like before. That's more than can be said for podcasts, which shockingly hasn't made its way over from the previous generation. The older Apple TV retained the same familiar purple icon and could access all the same shows you knew and loved from iTunes. With the new app store, a developer could easily conjure up their own solution (Marco Arment's Overcast is particularly revered in the iOS community) but, really, they shouldn't have to. Apple prides itself on providing a basic entertainment experience out of the box.
There are some really nice improvements in the new Apple TV. Although the app store is rather thin, the games on offer show really well what Apple TV is capable of. Being able to search multiple video apps through a universal search is a killer feature, and a great way to break down the walls between each provider's offerings. But with some serious oversights and gaping holes in functionality, it's hard to sell consumers on the idea that they should buy a box based on the possibility that these flaws will be fixed in future updates.