Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Apple TV

Apple’s “hobby”, the Apple TV, has always been something of a mixed-bag experiment for the company. It was formally launched alongside the iPhone at Macworld 2007, only to have its UI completely redesigned just a year later, and entirely re-thought as a tiny black box in September 2010.

The latest iteration, the fourth generation model, is the first to have a publicly-accessible API, App Store, and the new trackpad-based remote. In many ways, it’s far more capable than the outgoing models, but it has its drawbacks, starting with that remote. Ken Segall:

The Siri Remote is a gorgeously designed object — it’s just a terribly designed remote.

It’s a thin slab that feels like, well, a thin slab. Its shape doesn’t contribute one iota to ease of use. There are a number of remotes out there that fit the human hand nicely, and put the most-used buttons at one’s fingertips. The Tivo remote is a good example, as are a few presentation clickers.

Lapses of this type make it difficult to defend Apple when it is accused of favoring design over function. It’s hard to think of the Siri Remote as anything but design run amok. It’s beautifully annoying.

Anecdotally, every time I’ve plopped the remote down beside me on the couch, it’s thin and light enough that it will slide next to my thigh at some point and cause whatever I’m watching to jump around.

Despite reported setbacks, Apple is rapidly pushing forward their vision of TV. For a start, I’ve heard that they’re working on an updated remote, and they previewed last week a new app — called simply “TV” — that will launch in December in the United States. John Vorhees, MacStories:

During the event in Cupertino, Apple said that the TV app will recommend content across apps installed on customers’ Apple TVs based on the apps a customer has downloaded as well as media watched, purchased, and rented. TV will also be available on iOS devices, unifying TV and movie watching across iOS and tvOS. In addition, TV will include curated suggestions based on user’s watching habits.

I think this app raises more questions than it answers. For one, why is it an app at all? Joe Rosensteel:

Why is TV the app an app and not the Home screen on the device? It’s obviously modeled after the same ideas that go into other streaming devices that expose content rather than app icons, so why is this a siloed launcher I have to navigate into and out of? Why is this bolted on to the bizarre springboard-like interface of tvOS when it reproduces so much of it?

You could argue that people want to have access to apps that are not for movies or TV shows, but I would suggest that that probably occurs less often and would be satisfied by a button in the TV app that showed you the inane grid of application tiles if you wanted to get at something else.

This was the first thing that sprung to my mind when I was watching the live stream of the event. I understand the familiarity of the app tiles on the existing home screen, but the TV app uses a similar grid of tiles in a more visual interpretation that feels at home on the television.

I get the sense that Apple is in a greater state of flux and transition than it has been for a while. They’ve got two new platforms — tvOS and WatchOS — to work with, a bunch of major hardware changes to the iPhone and MacBook lineups, and a greater reliance upon cloud services than ever before. I’m not sure if there’s actually a greater amount of turbulence than there usually is, but it feels a bit like that.