Last week I wrote a “State of the iPad” article that I received some great feedback from throughout the following days. I thought I’d take the time to write a similar article about Apple TV. The Apple TV was first announced as iTV back in 2006. Steve said the goal of it was to enjoy your iTunes media on your flat screen TV. While Apple TV has undoubtedly evolved over the last 12 years regarding scope, hardware, and features, the original goal is still pretty close. It aims to let you enjoy your digital content (not just iTunes) on your TV. How well is the Apple TV doing? Is the Apple TV better than Amazon Fire Stick and Roku?
Apple TV Hardware
The physical hardware of the Apple TV is a modest size and still has a similar look compared to the 2nd generation model that came out in 2010. From a top-level view, you actually cannot tell them apart. While I’d love for Apple to release a “stick” model that is lower cost, I think they’ve really nailed the form factor here. The Apple TV includes wired ethernet in a box that doesn’t include an audible fan (something I am passionate about when it comes to TV boxes).
The physical ports have evolved over the years. While the original model included component video, the only ports to stay the same in all of the versions are HDMI, ethernet, and power.
I appreciate that Apple has kept the ethernet port on the Apple TV despite removing ethernet from many of its products. My house has wired ethernet to all of our TVs, and I prefer to keep them hardwired. One noticeable thing that is lacking on the 4K Apple TV is a USB-C port. If you have to restore it, you’ll have to contact Apple to have it swapped out (similar to how the Apple Watch works). That is a poor decision on Apple’s part.
The Siri remote is something Apple should revisit in the next version. While the white ring menu button on the 4th generation model has made it easier to use in the dark, it’s still thinner than it needs to be. My family loses remotes on a weekly basis, and I have considered attaching a tile tracker to the back so I can locate it. In my opinion, the Roku remote is much better. It contains a similar button layout, but it’s slightly thicker.
Overall, the Apple TV hardware is fantastic. I’d love to see it evolve in the future. While Roku and Amazon are putting out multiple models (boxes and sticks), I’d like to see Apple develop its hardware as well. I think there is room for an “Apple TV Stick” in the lineup at a lower cost.
Apple TV Software
tvOS is the software that runs on Apple TV. For most people, the software is the only part of the Apple TV they notice. The software is made up of grid icons that can be rearranged using the Siri remote. The Apple TV comes pre-loaded with apps from Apple like Apple Music, iCloud Photos, the TV app, etc.
You can install apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube TV, etc. The TV app landscape has evolved similarly to smartphones. Between Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV, they pretty much have the same collection of apps. If you run into a situation where you are missing an app that you’ve purchased content from (Google Movies on Apple TV as an example), you can use Movies Anywhere to keep them in sync.
Gaming on Apple TV is a big let down. There is no other way to say it. Hardware wise, it’s no slouch, but the software (games) just hasn’t arrived. There is no Fortnite, and developers have expressed concerns in the future of the platform.
Lastly, developer Patrick Hogan told Ars that there are three things Apple must do to revitalize Apple TV gaming: included an Apple-branded and “full-featured” controller with the device, market it as a gaming platform, and “spend a lot of money on funding platform exclusives, ports, and presence at every major gaming expo and conference to break the chicken-egg problem of getting customers to make it viable to devs.”
If Apple wants to sell more Apple TVs, having top-tier games (and exclusive ones) is a natural market to go after.
The TV app and Apple’s original content
The TV app from Apple is marketed as a way to quickly find new content to watch.
Continue to watch your favorite shows and movies, discover new content, and find new video apps. With the Apple TV App, you can do it all from a single location.
I’ve tried it a few times, but it’s just never stuck for me. It doesn’t include all of the apps we subscribe to, so it ends up being another place to check. It’s clear that this app will become more critical in the future, though.
We’ve seen information about Apple’s original content plans for a while, and you’d think it would all come to fruition at some point. Will we see a big announcement with ten new shows beginning at the same time, or will be it a slow trickle? It’s clear Apple has big plans with original programming, so I am curious to how this shakes out.
Is the Apple TV better than Amazon Fire Stick and Roku?
My house has five Apple TVs (all 4th generation models), so we indeed are heavy users. I think it has the cleanest interface of any of the connected TV boxes. The remote is passable but could be a lot better. I do believe Apple has a lot of risk in this area. Roku and Amazon Fire have models that are 1/3rd the cost, and built-in Smart TV software keeps getting better. Apple’s unique advantage right now is iTunes content, Apple Music integration, and iCloud Photo support. If you aren’t in the Apple ecosystem, there isn’t a lot you’ll find with the Apple TV that you can’t get elsewhere.
Going forward, Apple’s original content plans will change the trajectory of the device. If it flounders, Apple TV will be just another connected TV box for Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. If they end up creating the next Westworld, competitors will be left in the dust as the only way to get it will be on Apple’s platform.