The Apple TV Angst

This week, Apple spent 85 percent of its time during its Spring Forward press conference on the Apple Watch and how it works, what it’s priced at and what it actually looks like. And, I will likely pre-order — no, I will pre-order — the Apple Sport Watch on April 10th, the first day they allow for orders. I have a Garmin GPS watch now and I hate it. And, I have yet to see Apple not build something that works well and as advertised — they also do a good job of under-promising and over-delivering.

Except with the Apple TV.

Apple has long labeled the Apple TV as a “hobby” product, but that changed this week. Although no one has exact numbers, it’s rumored that Apple TV has passed the 40 million number mark worldwide. And, that makes it, BY FAR, the market leader of ALL the streaming video set-top boxes.

But this current model debuted back in 2012 and, although it’s just now being discovered by some 10 million buyers this year, it’s been around for a while and is sorely missing a few key features that everyone who uses it knows it’s missing. So, what is the deal? Why hasn’t Apple done any sort of update?

I personally think it’s a “good-enough” strategy, that Apple is thinking that the Apple TV is good enough for what most people use it for and will wait until they’ve got more smart home apps (what Apple calls HomeKit) and a live streaming TV service for all the major networks before doing a hardware update.

hbonow-0315Yesterday, Apple announced the beginning of that with HBO and the new HBO NOW service. HBO NOW starts April 10th and, for $15 a month, you get to see HBO live in a TV without a cable or satellite set-top box — exactly what every twenty-something Millennial has been asking for — the ability to watch TV in sort of an a la carte fashion, with only the channels they want. And, I think 30-somethings, 40-somethings and 50-somethings would appreciate this too, but they can’t even imagine it as their entire life of TV has been driven by a cable TV box or by an antenna in an all-or-nothing packaged mentality.

So, when Apple has shown ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN, etc. that HBO NOW is a huge hit, then those networks will do the same. I think it’ll be within 12 months too. I think this will be big, fast.

I think that after that, we’ll get a new Apple TV. And, when we do, I think it needs three simple new features. So I will end this blog with an open letter to the people in charge of Apple TV.

apple-hdmi-0315Dear People In Charge of Apple TV,

For your next hardware update, I’d like to request the following, on behalf of all the loyal but often neglected Apple TV lovers out there:

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1. An HDMI IN and OUT: Right now, the Apple TV represents what nearly every other box you connect to a TV (e.g., a video game player, a Blu-ray player, a DVD player, a camera): COMPLEXITY. Yes, the Apple TV is easy to use, but it’s hard-as-heck for anyone to figure out how to get the Apple TV’s image on their own TV. You see, nearly everyone’s “default” position for their TV is the cable TV or satellite TV box. So, when the TV starts up, the first thing you see is whatever the last channel you wanted was — or, what your DVR has recorded for you to watch. So, when you decide to use your Apple TV to watch a movie or even the HBO NOW service, you have to know how to switch inputs on your TV. Sure, we know that, and we see this as simple. But for the average consumer (our kids, our spouses, our babysitters) this is all-but-impossible. Not logical. Some TV remotes call inputs “inputs” and some call them “sources” and others call them “image.” It’s messy and stupid, switching back and forth, making consumers bypass a plethora of inputs that aren’t even being used. And, worse yet are the TVs without custom labeling — so you have no idea which input is the Apple TV and which one is the cable box and so on. So, Apple, PLEASE put an HDMI IN and OUT connector on the Apple TV so that, when we want to watch Apple TV, we just turn it on and it auto-switches. Please!

appletv-hdmi-03152. Apps: We need apps — oh, and a better menu. Apple keeps adding services to the Apple TV. That’s great, but obviously, there are no user-interface engineers assigned to “hobby” products within Apple, because you can’t pick and choose which ones you want. The remote is genius — simple, easy and elegant. But if you’re one of the services at the bottom of the Apple TV menu, you’re lost. (Technically, yes, I know you can “hide” services you don’t use as much, and re-order them, but it’s hard to figure out how to do that in the menu.) Please redesign the user-interface into categories or folders the users can label, just like on iOS devices. I’d make folders like “Watch a Movie, Watch LIVE TV, Watch Old TV, Listen to Music, etc.” Then, add apps!

3. Gaming: There’s a huge market out there for the plethora of games you have for the iPad and iPhone to be added to the Apple TV. Please consider this, dear Apple. I am confident you’d quickly attract a lot of XBoxers and PlayStation-lovers. And gain new watchers!

Thanks for your consideration.