Two Years Later, Apple Will Undo Its TV Embarrassments

Posted on August 7, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in iOS, Mobile, Music + Videos with 40 Comments

Two Years Later, Apple Will Undo Its TV Embarrassments

“I finally cracked it,” former Apple CEO Steve Jobs infamously told his biographer Walter Isaacson, referring to his plans for digital TV. But in the years since his death, Apple never released the “integrated television set” that Jobs envisioned. And Apple TV, once downplayed as a hobby, has stumbled along and has been consistently non-competitive.

That’s about to change. Finally.

No, Apple doesn’t seem to be on the verge of a long-rumored and all-inclusive digital TV subscription: Those plans were scuttled when it couldn’t get buy-in from enough of the key content providers. So we may have to wait an interminable time period before Apple can do to TV what it did to music.

Instead, Apple is about to right at least some of the many wrongs it inflicted on its customer base when it first shipped the still-current Apple TV back in 2015.

That device, you may recall, arrived with three major issues at a time when its competitors were racing ahead. It lacks 4K/UHD support, which was unforgivable two years ago, let alone today. It lacks HDR support, a failing tied to the lack of 4K/UHD capabilities that ensures that picture quality isn’t as good as it can be today on modern sets. And its remote, with its awkward swipe- and touch-based interface, is a user experience disaster of epic proportions. It’s so bad, it makes the previous Apple TV remote—once the worst remote ever made—seem decent by comparison.

I’ve not seen any news about an improvement to the remote, but there are at least workarounds: The Apple TV app for iPhone works OK, especially for text entry. And there are even third party remotes that work with the new Apple TV too.

But Apple is fixing what I consider to be the biggest issues with the Apple TV. And in doing so, it is taking a major, if belated step forward that could propel this device ahead of the competition. It is finally making a version of the Apple TV that supports 4K/UHD and various forms of HDR.

This is great news for TV and movie fans, and Apple is likewise going to offer 4K/UHD/HDR content through its iTunes content store, again, putting the firm back in the race. All of its major competitors are already offering this kind of content.

What’s interesting about Apple TV today, even with its 1080p limitations, is that the picture quality often surpasses that of other, 4K-based services on my 55-inch 4K/UHD/HDR Samsung Smart TV. And this is a phenomenon that everyone in my family, including my kids with their young eyes, agree on: For whatever reason, the interface and the content usually look better on Apple TV than elsewhere.

And, yes, to be clear, that means 4K/UHD content too. 4K movies and TV shows, for whatever reason, seem crisper and look better on the 1080p Apple TV than they do on the Smart TV’s native apps, on Roku 4K, on Amazon, on Chromecast Ultra, on whatever. Usually.

(HDR content is sometimes an exception, and 4K/UHD/HDR Blu-Ray discs via Xbox One S remain the visual champ. Though to be fair, some of these discs, like that for Deadpool, aren’t noticeably better in this format.)

And that’s why a 4K/UHD/HDR Apple TV is so enticing. If Apple is already delivering epic picture quality at 1080p, one naturally wonders how these new capabilities will make things better.

That said, there are other issues I’d like to see Apple address, and if the firm is able to capitalize on all of this, I could see moving to Apple TV as our primary TV interface now that our cable TV days are behind us.

First, is that aforementioned remote. It’s horrible.

Then, there’s the subscription TV service that Apple has been not-so-secretly planning for years. The issue there, I know, is that broadcasters and other content makers don’t trust Apple because the firm is too dominant, and because it appears to have marginalized music content creators. As a result, Apple has had to tread water here, and its current “TV” solution is a joke.

Finally, there is the lackluster Apple TV store, which has only slowly added useful new apps. PlayStation TV, a subscription TV service I’m currently testing is there now. But YouTube TV is not, nor are popular services like Spotify. (Yes, you can fall back to AirPlay beaming from your phone.) And Microsoft apps, like Groove and Movies & TV are nowhere to be seen, if you need such things.

Point is, Apple TV is so close. And I really hope the firm is able to put it over the top.


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