The problem with Apple TV

I’ve been a long standing fan of Apple TV. The video quality has usually been excellent, and I’ve owned 3 small black hockey pucks that have slowly improved to be a good consumer of Apple content.

But therein lies a problem. It’s a good consumer of Apple content, but in the UK, it’s pretty horrific for anything else. It’s as though Apple have a solely US-centric vision for their small product and ignore everyone else outside (or everyone else ignores it).

Yes, it’s got BBC iPlayer and Netflix, and there is an app for Now TV. It’s now got an app store, so you should, by rights, be able to install apps for lots of stuff. And you can play Crossy Road on it, but there’s not a lot else. The app store is devoid of all the smart TV stuff you’d expect a Set-Top box to have in the UK.

All4, Demand5, ITV Hub, UKTV Play etc. are all hugely conspicuous by their absence. It’s not like Piksel (who are the ultimate developers behind at least a couple of those VOD platforms) couldn’t write an app or haven’t already written one for another customer – it’s not a huge amount of work to compile an iOS app into a tvOS app, and once it’s done you can keep a single codebase, and once published, updates will deliver for iOS and tvOS. But none of those apps exist and even with repeated asking, all you get from All4 or ITV is a non-commital stock answer along the lines of ‘Maybe. Can’t you use Airplay?…’

Also, Sky, with their Cisco OTT ‘Q’ service, could use the Cisco Apple TV app already developed to use Apple TV’s as Sky Q Mini devices, but are wanting to sell their Sky Q mini boxes, so rather than allowing other Apple TV’s to use the Sky Q service like an iPad can, they choose not to release one.

Then you have Amazon, who have allegedly already beta tested a tvOS Apple TV app, but won’t release it because it has it’s own product in the guise of the Fire TV, and as such, is hiding behind the argument that they don’t want to pay Apple’s cut of any subscription they have within the app on the device.

Sorry – I don’t buy that argument for two reasons – Kindle and Audible. If that argument were true, there would be no kindle app or Audible app on the iOS platform. But there is – both of them exist, and the way that Amazon get round the “Apple Tax” is that you’re not able to purchase any books from within the Kindle app or Audible app – you have to use a browser or go to a PC to do it.

So if that subscription were true, then Amazon could release an Amazon Prime app for Apple TV without the ability to subscribe within the app. After all, they have an Amazon Prime app for the iPhone and iPad.

With all this going on, who gets caught in the crossfire?

The consumer. Multiple devices just to watch services, and no single device that does everything.

For example. I have an Apple TV 4, an Xbox One and a Sky Q. I can watch the Sky Q content on the Sky Q and Q Mini boxes (when they’re not freezing up or freaking out because the bluetooth remote is stuck on fast forward – I’ve stopped using it altogether), and you can consume the content on an iOS or Android device, but not on an Apple TV in a different room.

If I want to watch Amazon Prime I either have to do it on my phone and AirPlay it to the TV (not ideal, even with 5Ghz wifi and sitting in front of the TV, AirPlay can be very flakey, not a great experience) or boot up the Xbox One and wait for it to install 4Gb of updates because I’ve not booted it up since I last wanted to watch Mr Robot. I eventually gave in and bought an Amazon Fire TV stick for amazon consumption on the big TV. For those times, the Apple TV HDMI gets unplugged and the Fire TV goes in it’s place.

Interestingly, and I don’t know why, Netflix via the Fire TV doesn’t have the quality of the Apple TV – the picture from the Apple TV is sharper and richer for identical content. I assume the CPU in the Apple TV is much better and the video rendering more refined. But it’s only time and I’m sure the Fire TV will eventually catch up.

I can watch Netflix on Apple TV which is great, but the stuff you add into your wishlist currently seems to have on and off days. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not, and it’s a pain to navigate – it’s really hard to find the things you want to watch.

‘You can use voice control….’

Well, you can use voice control when you can pick up the remote the right way. Jony Ive, some of the things you design are great, but why the hell would you design a remote control that’s symmetrical. The amount of times I pick it up and realise it’s upside down isn’t funny. (Actually, the Sky Q non-bluetooth remote also suffers from this).

Ideally there should be 1 box to rule them all, and the Apple TV could be that box, but with Apple not wanting to get the other 3rd party apps onto the device, it will always be a hobby rather than something serious.