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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Comments (40)

40 responses to “Two Years Later, Apple Will Undo Its TV Embarrassments”

  1. BigM72

    I really wish they would make a "stick" for travellers to use on the go. Apple TV is fine as a stationary device in the home.

    Many travellers would enjoy being able to airplay to their hotel room TVs in the evening if only they could release a stick version.

  2. Angusmatheson

    Apple has had a huge lead in the internet connected device, and has absolutely blown their lead. Over the last few years each one of Chromecast, Commected TVs, and Roku has blown past it, because Apple TV has had barely any growth at all. And the 4th generation Apple TV, is worse than the 3rd generation. It lacks 4K, but its problems are much worse. 1) remote is terrible. You really need a keyboard. Can't tell which way is up. The controls on the touchpad aren't intuitive. Siri don't seems to work well for me. 2) as a gaming device, it is only OK. And my kids prefer the console. It never seemed with it to buy a controller, so we play a lot of altos adventure on it which is pretty great. But that is not a gaming system. 3) we've tried PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, Hulu, even just signing up to cable to stream (before the current one sign on), and it wasn't worth it. Everything other than Netflix was too much trouble no one in my household went to it, 4) no easy way to watch a smattering of sports. Amazing if you are really into one sport with specific apps and the big games even if free have been problematic to watch. 5) why can you FaceTime from your TV? Seems like such a no brained. 6) when you use airplay, while doing it your device is not usable. There aught to be a way for things like Netflix to just have the Apple TV take over and get it from the net (like chromecast does). 7) tonise Siri for voice control you need to find the remote and activate it. Why not put a microphone in and let you talk to the thing like Xbox does? Apple TV has huge potential. It is funny to see Apple doing it differently, experimenting with different designs and models as products where they lead (led - now are behind). I hate tradition TV (cord cut 10 years ago, with various options for content) and think the streaming revolution is great. Apple TV needs to have a place there - in an Apple way. Not the cheapest, not for everyone. But for what it does it need to be the best and do it seamlessly...and by that measure the current Apple TV falls quite short. I hope they can make it a lot better.

    • toukale

      In reply to Angusmatheson:

      What you, Paul and a lot of folks fail to understand is that's not a markets Apple seems to care much about since they can't get the content provider on board. The only boxes that are growing are the cheap under $50 ones, a market I doubt Apple cared to compete in. The Appletv box has lots of potential that could put a scared into the ps4 or xboxone if Apple really cared to take advantage of those things. Fortunately for those companies, that market is not worth it for a company the size of Apple.

      If anything, that's the problem I have with the current Apple. They are so big, they operate on such a scale that a lot of things are not worth it for them to invest their time and energy. iOS is the leader in mobile gaming by any measures, it happened by accident, as a result of the iPhone and iOS success and Apple doesn't seem to care about taken advantage of it, and that pisses me off. Another company not the size of Apple would kill for that opportunity, but at Apple, something like that won't move the needle for them so no one takes advantage of it.

      So, to me the Appletv is there to give their users a way to stream Apple bought contents, nothing more, since they won't allow other boxes to connect to it. That's the role the Appletv seems to be doing these days, and I am not sure it needs to do more than that from their point of view. Unless they want to roll out a competing streaming service like a Netfilx to increase their services revenue to shut wall streets.

  3. Nick Costides

    Paul has hit on something that I've been talking about elsewhere, but no other site seems to hit on:

    The PQ on the Apple TV is much better than anything else including Amazon Fire TV, Roku Ultra, Nvidia Shield TV, Samsung TV apps and others.

    I don't know why. I know that the Roku and Shield's up scaling to 4k is horrible. It's blurry. I hope the new Apple TV either looks fantastic in 4k (displaying 1080p content) or auto switches between resolutions.

  4. HachingMonkey

    In addition to the Jobs quote, Tim Cook said in 2014 that TV was "stuck back in the 70s".

  5. johnbaxter

    For me the AppleTV remote works OK, but...

    I’m the only one using it and I sit one place and there’s a handy table where it sits always facing the same way.

  6. Brandon Mills

    Netflix and Hulu are already solid and integrated into most devices you already use. Why do I need AppleTV again? If anything, I expect TV OSes to handle apps without additional boxes attached, and last I checked, Apple wasn't making TV sets, and you couldn't buy TVs with AppleTV integrated in them.

  7. SvenJ

    Sort of on topic, but why isn't the TV app on my iPhone and iPad not just a small version of the Apple TV interface with all the options thereof? Why is it something altogether different. Why does it require me to download a service app to use the service in the TV app? What's the point of it and why did they call it TV? I like my Apple TV. Why can't I get that functionality on my iPad/iPhone, or Mac for that matter.

  8. MikeGalos

    So let's sum up.

    Two years ago Apple released a product that wasn't up to 2015 standards with

    No support for 4K

    No support for HDR

    The worst remote in the industry

    A "lackluster" store

    Additionally they lacked support for physical media and DVR capabilities

    Apple are now rumored to have fixed two of those problems in a new version.

    That brings them up to still being behind where the industry was two years ago and that is supposed to make them competitive and maybe even a leader?

    Hardly. It means they're partly up to where they needed to be in 2015. And that's at a time when the TV sets that support 4K and HDR are increasingly including either their own intelligence or have licensed some other vendor's equivalent making all these plug-ins redundant.

    And the game boxes already attached to the 4K/HDR TVs also duplicate that functionality making Apple doubly redundant.

    And if the customer has a cable/satellite box with DVR or TiVo they're now triply redundant.

    Face it. The Internet streaming plug-in is a shrinking niche and even if these rumors are true, Apple is not even up to where they needed to be two years ago to compete in that shrinking market.

    • Darmok N Jalad

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      A set top box can be quite valuable to a cord cutter. I've not had cable for over 10 years, and I started with an HTPC with DVR for OTA, and it works but it can be a bit of overkill to use a Bluetooth keyboard for a remote.

      Game consoles can do the streaming services as well, but that can be clunky if you only use the controller for a remote. Sure, you can go buy the dedicated media remote, but at additional cost, and often with limited functionality (I didn't care much for the XboxOne remote). Throw in that modern consoles allow game suspend, and now you have to trade one feature for another if you want the console to serve both gaming and streaming duties.

      Smart TVs are a possible option, but they don't always get the support they need or have all options available.

      At least for me, I don't think any one option has stood out. I've yet to try an Apple TV. I kinda wish they had a BluRay drive.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

        If you have a 4K/HDR TV it already IS a Smart TV. So for a "cord cutter" using 4K (which really means somebody who is using an Internet provider for TV rather than a Cable TV provider for Internet) they already have what they need for connectivity. The Apple TV adds nothing for them.

        If they have a 4K capable game console they now have TWO Internet TV devices.

        If they aren't "cutting the cord" they likely have a tuner with a DVR that also has Internet TV.

        So, once again, what do they gain from Apple TV.

        Yes, it's one of many ways to get Internet TV to somebody with an old "dumb TV" that doesn't support 4K/HDR and who have no 4K capable game console and no DVR. And it's not even up to current standards for those devices.

  9. obarthelemy

    Isn't Apple simply managing the product cycle to make sure its very locked-in consumer base has to upgrade and replace regularly ?

    Or is it a side effect of developing their own chips ?

  10. asarathy

    I purchased and Xbox One S for my 4K TV once The XBox One X pricing was announced. While I would like 4K gaming, it's not really worth 200 more at this time, as Upscaling on the TV looks pretty damn good as it is, and I can wait to get the X when it drops in price. My 4K tv has a chromecast built in and if Amazon and played nice with google, I probably could have just made do with my XBox one. I don't think Apple Content is a compelling reason for me. Like everything with Apple if you accept the lockin it's probably great, but it's too high a price for me (having to wait what features Apple decides to bless us with)

  11. Daekar

    I never thought the Apple TV remote was bad. Seemed intuitive and easy every time I've used one. I still can't imagine why you would get an Apple TV when you can get a better experience with a Chromecast, though.

  12. pwrof3

    Until these boxes become more than just another way to hook up to your cable or satellite provider, they will stay as a niche product.

    I used to have them all to see which one I liked the best. Fire TV won for me because I use Amazon's digital services for everything. In the end, I got rid of all of them because I went back to cable and Comcast offers on demand streaming of everything I need, including Netflix.

  13. glenn8878

    Apple is late with 4K, but Microsoft is later with USB C. Almost embarrassing.

  14. nbplopes

    Has far as i am concerned if PQ for Videos in the Apple TV is better than in other devices, including the ones with 4K and HDR capabilities, than in my book they are doing the right thing better than anyone else.

    Apple is not in the Demo and prodotype business. That seams to be less unflicting to consumers than companies that are.

    I think is more embarrassing to 4K and HDR capable devices to have worst PQ in day to day use than a device that does not have those capabilities than the other way around has pointed by Paul. I think this reveals more the differences of focus between Apple and the rest than its unabilities.

    PS: This is why it is coming now, not before:

    Only December 2016 was considered a standard:

    You need this to efficiently transmit over the internet high quality 4K and HDR content.

    Your thousand dollar Telly 4K / HDR will not have the processor to decode this so it needs to be done in software and .... well you know software. Neither do the current gen 4K Chromecast.!topic/chromecast/qvaO4sVFtPc;context-place=topicsearchin/chromecast/dolby$20vision

    This is managing technical advancements at its best. Apple in spite its flaws does this brilliantly (not as well as before ... but still)

  15. Minok

    Meh. Features that might bring some new folks to ATV but I'm not changing my display any time soon so adding features that are useless to my display means nothing. Better would be fixing the issues the atv devices have with poor podcast video streaming and the awful connectivity dropping issues with airplay. 4K will never be a thing for me as vision only gets worse with age and not better. 4K may be a 20-30-something persons game.

  16. Patrick3D

    When combined with a silicone case ("glove"), the Siri Remote is the best remote I have ever used. The old metal and white plastic remotes had a horrible rubber membrane click to their buttons that never felt comfortable. I have the AppleTV in my bedroom and it's crazy how easy it is to use with a single Siri remote compared to the minimum of 2, massive, remotes it takes to use anything hooked up in the living room.

  17. wocowboy

    I had a 55" Samsung Smart HDTV for years, and the apps in that thing were horrible. Operationally they were awful and the picture quality was terrible when compared to my TV. I have read on some Apple-related websites that when you watch Netflix, HULU, and other video streaming services that the streams pass through Apple's servers on the way to your device in order to provide a better experience. This may be the reason those services look better on TV than on other sets.

    I have since switched to a 55" LG OLED UHD set and the app experience on this thing is wonderful. 4k HDR content looks amazing and the performance of the apps is worlds better than what it was on the Samsung. So I think you are experiencing two things, bad Samsung apps and better-managed streaming from Apple to your TV.

  18. Darmok N Jalad

    So basically, Apple lacks 4K/HDR, but still offers the best picture quality anyway. Sounds to me like the real problem is that other services aren't providing the experience they are making people pay for. Apple has often been late to the party for things, but at least when they arrive, they deliver.

    • toukale

      In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

      What some, including Paul usually missed about Apple is that unlike a lot of their competitors, they like to offer a complete solution to their users whenever possible. Which is why they don't usually talk about specs of their devices. You do that when it's your main or only selling point, which is the case for most of their competitors. Paul even admitted in this article while the Appletv box lacks 4k, it delivers better pictures then it's 4k competitors, what does that tell us about their competitors? It's either Apple is doing a great job delivering it's contents or their competitors or not delivering what they are charging us for? Which is it?

      4K contents these days are like the megapixel race of the past few years where most manufacturer tried to sell us on the idea that higher pixels means better pictures (boy, am I glad we finally stopped that non-sense). I mean, I understand why most manufacturers do it, it's easier to add more pixel than to actually do the hard work for something you can't put a higher number on for your marketing team to sell. Which is what I've witnessing with those 4K devices. 4K contents is still lacking big time, outside of a few documentary from Netflix and services like it, it is by all account not available to the masses. You have to really go hunting to find some.

      I feel that Paul is upset with Apple because he feels that Apple is the one holding the advancement of 4k contents widely available. I think Apple did the ground work and realize that 4k contents was years away and decided not to include it in their previous box. Remember, that box was schedule to be released way back in 2013, they finally launched it in 2015 when they could not get the contents providers on board. It is a good thing they are launching this box, since it seems we will get a ton more of 4k contents coming with it.

      • PeteB

        In reply to toukale:

        There are ways of moving these stories along.

      • Stooks

        In reply to toukale:

        "Apple is that unlike a lot of their competitors, they like to offer a complete solution to their users whenever possible"

        Apple does offer a complete, often very limited, solution for a fantastically higher price.

        Paul quoted his Samsung TV as the other device that had lesser quality. I have both a LG and and a Samsung 4K TV's. That app quality, speed picture etc is way better on the LG.....way better. So much so we never use the built in Samsung apps but we do on the LG.

        Also bandwidth/streaming could be the issue. His current Apple TV only has to stream 1080p content. It is much easier to stream 1080p content vs 4K content. His apps will try to pull 4K if the provider has it (Netflix/Amazon etc), but it will vary based on bandwidth, so you get 4K ish, massively compressed and it can drop down if his Internet pipe is busy with other stuff at his house. He also stated that his Xbox One S is better when the content is good on a UHD disk.

        • lvthunder

          In reply to Stooks:

          So what's the point of 4k streaming if 1080p provides a better picture? Just a check mark on the box.

          • toukale

            In reply to lvthunder:

            Currently it is just that, since 4K contents and the bandwidth to stream it is not readily available. You have to understand 99% of those manufacturers are not content or platform providers so they just ship a box with the basic hardware included and that's it. It's up to the users to go find or hunt for the 4k contents. Which is a half-ass solution if you ask me. It is too hard to do the heavy lifting, so they do the bare minimum.

            • MikeGalos

              In reply to toukale:

              Of course that was also true when 1080p TVs shipped. The content providers and data pipe providers caught up.

              • toukale

                In reply to MikeGalos:

                In what world have they caught up? Most of my cable channels are still broadcast in 720p, not 1080p and you think they are going to push 4k contents when the current infrastructure can't even do 1080p across the the board? I would much rather getting great 1080p contents than the current over compressed 4k crap we are getting. Even Paul admitted as much in this article.

  19. BrianEricFord

    Oh, thank God!

    When Apple didn't release a 4K capable Apple TV 2 years ago, I was horrified that I'd not be able to watch the 3 or 4 4K demo reels of waterfalls that were available and now it's just sickening that they're forcing me to miss out on the enormous handful of 4K content that has burst onto the scene since.

    Also, the remote works fine and if it doesn't float your boat there are easy alternatives that work really well.

    The only real omission for me has been Amazon Prime Video and that appears to finally be on the way, though I'm not sure what the holdup could possibly be given that it was announced in June.

  20. Delmont

    Apple TV? Too late...

    Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu already exist. We have Amazon Prime and the Fire Stick. From that we have Netflix and Hulu. Why would I pay for yet another service? Apple TV who?

    Seriously, if you already pay for Amazon Prime... why would you pay again for Apple TV?

  21. jdmp10

    I've used Roku, Fire Stick, also Nexus Player running the latest Android O DP, none possess the smooth operation I get using an ATV. I can't say if that is down to the iOS based Apple TV OS or some sort of witchcraft at play but it's definitely noticeable between the various streaming box solutions. Using the age-old Android vs. iOS comparison, using a Pixel compared to my wife's iPhone 7, program transitions, going from one screen to the next, as good as Android has gotten in that department still it feels behind iOS. I definitely agree about the remote but with many of these streaming boxes, their remotes are easily one of my biggest gripes, FireStick isn't great, Nexus Player sucks worse, Roku's is a bit better but still not ideal. Basically if you've been a long time customer of any cable/satellite service provider for years and now have to resort to one of these solutions, you will sorely be missing the remote for that box with a dedicated button for most functions.

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