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  • About Apple TV

    May 6th, 2015

    There are new rumors about the form and function of the next Apple TV. Without doubt, Apple TV is long in the tooth and then some. The current version was released in 2012, although there was a minor parts revision the following year to a different version of the A5 chip that performed no differently. The sole new feature added at the time was support for 1080p video. That seems just so ancient nowadays with the arrival of 4K or Ultra HD.

    Now the key changes listed in the current crop of rumors mention using the A8 chip, same as the current iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. But why not the A8X from the iPad Air 2? Why not an A9 chip, which one presumes will arrive this fall with the next iPhone refresh?

    Other changes include more storage — it’s 8GB now — though it would continue to be used to buffer content and not for permanence.

    This week, yet another rumor has been added. That the Apple Remote would be replaced with one that includes a touchpad, to provide functionality similar to what you see on an iOS device or perhaps the Apple Watch. Now the current remote was once touted as the solution to switchers with loads of buttons that you often had to think about before you used them. Simplicity was good, I suppose, except that, without dedicated buttons for different functions, there was lots of menu clicking, something that makes Apple TV a little uncomfortable to use.

    This is particularly true when you just want to return to a service and programming you’re already watching; Netflix’s “Daredevil” super hero show is a recent example. Worse, the remote — or perhaps the RF sensor on the Apple TV — has a narrow range of sensitivity. So there’s not much wiggle room in pointing it at the right spot, and it’s not just uncomfortable but the source of irritation when I have to click and click again while lying in bed. This is Apple. The remote should just work.

    So if Apple went to a touchpad, with perhaps more functionality, that would only be part of the solution? Perhaps they’ll use a Wi-Fi interface, or offer it as an alternative for people who stuck with RF if they’re using a third-party universal remote, such as the Logitech Harmony.

    The other rumored enhancements include an App Store, so you can confuse the interface even more with more channels, and Siri support. The latter might be useful if the remote does the pickup, I suppose, so you don’t have to yell across the room at the Apple TV box. But imagine a family fighting to have the system switch to the show they want. Some fascinating opportunities for arguments there.

    In any case, that would seem to be a decent number of enhancements to the Apple TV. Other than the remote, assuming it receives the changes suggested, I suppose the actual streamer could use the same form factor as the current model. Or Apple could make it smaller and cuter, since black squares aren’t so unique anymore. But it would be window dressing.

    Except that there is one key feature that isn’t being mentioned very often, or at least not lately, and that’s 4K. While sales of 4K sets are still relatively low, you can stream 4K video from such services as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, though the offerings are slim. There’s also the problem of needing faster Internet, and don’t forget the dreaded bandwidth cap.

    But since Apple has added 4K support for second displays on recent Macs — and don’t forget the 5K iMac — I assume they expect to fully support the new standard even if only a small number of customers are using Ultra HD sets right now.

    I would also hope the next Apple TV would get a major interface overhaul. Right now, if you don’t hide most of the channels — and the roster grows every month or so — you can end up with lots of clutter and lots of potential confusion if you’re trying to find something to watch. This is one of the key shortcomings of streamers. Imagine wanting to have over 1,000 channels on your Roku there at your beck and call.

    So does Apple abstract the individual channels so you can focus more on the content rather than the source? I suppose, although I can’t imagine Netflix, as a key example, wouldn’t want to have their interface take over when you are using that service. But this is an area where the current layouts of these products fall short. As much as you want a lot to choose from, imagine having one interface — however flawed — on a cable or satellite service. Now consider having a few dozen separate services with separate interfaces and perhaps separate login needs.

    Aside from iTunes and Netflix, I seldom explore the other options on my Apple TV. If I did, I’d chafe even more over its limitations. I’m real curious to see how Apple fixes what’s wrong, and I remain curious about this alleged TV subscription service that’s also being talked about.



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