The hyperbole around the Apple TV’s importance going into this year’s marquee event for the fruit-named manufacturer was at times staggering. Analysts and journalists alike spilled seas of digital ink espousing the advances that Apple could showcase for a product that hadn’t been meaningfully enhanced for over three years. This was supposed to be the play that would change the living room in a way that only Apple could.
Were they correct? Yes. With some caveats.
Make no mistake, the final product is impressive. It looks to have fundamentally solved the two huge issues which have dogged tech companies eyeing to take over your big screen for years: ease of use and discoverability.
Ease of use. Remotes with over a hundred buttons. A constantly changing interface highlighting the platform owner’s insecurities. Clunky functionality that only works when your dog isn’t hungry. The list goes on and on. The new Apple TV flips the paradigm with aplomb, its advances centered around the central piece of the puzzle: the remote.
Think of the remote as your portal to the Apple TV experience. The touch pad extends people’s familiarity with their laptop trackpad to their big screen. No longer do you have to navigate a sea of buttons. A single interface controls your entire Apple TV experience, from Apple’s OS to a developer’s app.
Then you add Siri. Like its Cortana and Google Now counterparts, Siri is slowly becoming more capable, and its Apple TV iteration handles its assigned tasks impressively. Navigating is obviously a strength. It’s what Siri does within movies that adds a whole new meaning to the term “frictionless.”
Couldn’t catch what a character said a car horn honked nearby? Just naturally say, “Repeat that.” Need to pause, fast forward, or rewind? It’s all a voice command away.
Siri folds into the discoverability factor. Like many contemporary set top devices, the Apple TV allows you to sign on to your other video services (Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, etc.) and utilize them. It then goes the extra mile by showing your what services the movie you want to watch is available on.
The extra mile beyond the extra mile is reached by the search functionality. Say that you’re pining for some classic James Bond and Siri will oblige with Sean Connery’s repertoire.
Beyond that is the app model, allowing you to things such as check the weather, load up MLB and NHL statistics, etc. The Apple TV is the first product to bring a robust app store to the TV, so we’re likely to see some innovation here soon.
Apple’s Game Apathy
It’s on the gaming side where Apple doesn’t quite appear to possess the same relentless drive to innovate and differentiate. Yes, the touchpad on the remote easily translates the commands to your favorite iPhone games. Yes, you can wave your remote just like you once did while playing your Wii. It’s the content itself that shows Apple isn’t quite interested in invading traditional console turf.
To be fair, there are plenty of developers targeting games for the iOS platform, thanks to its sheer scale. But it is unclear whether these projects would translate to your big screen. Mobile games are predominantly designed to occupy your time as you stand on the bus or wait on line. These are minutes-long chunks of fun that have never quite translated to the “big leagues.” With Apple heavily leaning on these developers, are there going to be any projects that really grab and sustain attention before everybody just writes Apple TV games off?
There are technical limitations as well. With a 200 MB file size restriction, developers have to restrict their games to annoying chunks that download AFTER you initially run the app. For fun, let’s take a look at GTA V and how many of these chunks you would need to download on a theoretical Apple TV version. On PCs and current consoles, the game takes up a whopping 50 GB of space. That’s 249 additional theoretical chunks. Imagine the annoyance and technical challenges of building a game that has to linearly load such an archaic way.
The thing is, a game like GTA V just isn’t possible on the Apple TV. Off the bat, the only storage capacities are 32 and 64 GB, so you wouldn’t even be able to install it. Local file storage is also a no no, so many tricks of the trade, such as caching to reduce load times, wouldn’t be possible. The remote’s simplicity is a disadvantage in this case, as its range of inputs is even smaller than that of the Wii remote that struggled to keep up with the various controls of modern games.
But, you might say, at least Apple TV supports third party controllers for SOME games. While nice, developers can only build for the audience they are sure to have. To bet that a brand new platform is going to take off AND that enough people are going to buy a more “traditional” controller to sell to is a fool’s errand. Where would this audience come from? Oh right, they’re already perfectly happy with their Xbox and PlayStation’s more robust libraries.
As you might have surmised, my prognosis for the success of the Apple TV is a gaming platform isn’t very positive, not withstanding some major changes. Beyond that, however, the potential for the little box to make the big screen experience more than just palpable is within reach. It appears that Apple is inching closer and closer to finally “cracking” it, as Steve Jobs’ mythical TV was once supposed to.