‘The future of TV is apps’
– Tim Cook (CEO, Apple Inc.)
Last Friday, Apple released the long-awaited fourth iteration of Apple TV (Apple TV 4) in select countries. Initial reviews have mostly been positive, in spite of a few points of debate about certain aspects of the significantly revamped digital media player. We will here highlight certain key features of Apple TV 4, and show how its good features are easily more in number and importance than the iffy ones:
- Size – For starters, the new version is noticeably larger than its predecessor, the Apple TV 3. The physical dimensions of the gadget are 35mmx98mmx98mm – and at 15 ounces, the TV is fairly lightweight as well. The impressive new remote (we will discuss more about it later) weighs just a shade over 1.65 ounces.
- Playback control with Siri – Software and app developers have been excited by the nature and extent of Siri integration in Apple TV 4. There are dual microphones, and users can simply tell Siri to ‘find’ a show – to watch it on the screen of the device (that’s right, you no longer have to manually search for content). Apple has done a great job with the voice control features of the TV remote. Clearly, user-convenience has been a critical factor.
- App Store for Apple TV – Apple TV 4 has its very own operating system – tvOS – which has a strong resemblance to the iOS platform (which is, of course, a good thing). What’s more, TV-optimized versions of several popular iPhone/iPad applications, like Airbnb and Gilt, have also arrived in the all-new app store for Apple TV. According to official announcements, a fairly large number of games and video streaming services are have already arrived at the store. While Roku is still ahead in terms of number of channels (2500+), it won’t be a major surprise if the new Apple TV manages to catch up with it over time. Third-party app developers have got a lot to be excited about.
- Closed caption subtitles and updates via Siri – For users, one of the best new features of Apple TV 4 is the option to simply say ‘What’s he just say?’ directly to the TV. Doing so will trigger a rewind for a few seconds, along with closed captions subtitles, if required. Updates on sports and weather, and things like details regarding movies and tv shows, can be obtained from Siri. Minimum of fuss, loads of information!
- The new TV remote – Definitely one of the most-talked about accessories of the latest version of Apple’s media-playing device. The remote is a lot like the one available to Mac-users, and packs in plenty of interesting features – right from the glass touchpad (the accuracy of which is very accurate) and lightning conductor charging options, to excellent Siri support, IR transmissions, and complete Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility. The absence of fast-forward/rewind option might seem a glitch at first – but these tasks can be performed simply by sliding a finger on the remote trackpad. The battery performance of the remote has also received the thumbs-up from testers and Apple app developers.
- Processor and video/audio support – Powered by the 64-bit A8 processor, the new Apple TV supports a truly vast range of audio formats. In the former category, MP3, MP3 VBR, AAC, WAV and Dolby Digital 5.1/7.1 audio files can be seamlessly played on the device – along with, of course, Apple Lossless sounds. The video support for Apple TV 4 includes MPEG4 files (30 fps, 250 Mbps, 640×480 pixels). H.264 videos (60 fps) and H.264 Baseline Profile Level files (48 kHz; 160 Kbps) can be played on Apple TV 4 as well.
- Games come to Apple TV in a big way – Over the next few months, it will be fascinating to find out whether Apple TV 4 can challenge gaming consoles like Xbox One. The Siri Remote itself doubles up as the game controller, with the wrist loop ensuring problem-free gameplay (for instance, the wrist loop ensures that the controller does not, in any way, hamper viewing of the screen). External third-party controllers are also supported – something that sounds promising for hardware developers and iOS game developers.
- Top-notch accessibility features – The enhanced usability features of the new Apple TV digital media player has been unanimously praised by early adopters and professional Apple development experts alike. Increase Contrast, Voice Over and Bold Text are some of the features that make using the device easier than ever – while there are zooming options and a ‘Reduce Motion’ feature as well. Users with specific problems (for instance, people with auditory challenges) can easily enjoy all the features of the new and revamped Apple TV.
- The price factor – The million dollar question (yes, metaphorically!) is whether the array of new features of Apple TV 4 justifies its rather high price tag. The 32GB model costs $149 (which is more than double of the $69 Apple TV 3), while power gamers and heavy users can opt for the 64GB version, which is available at $199. Chromecast and Roku provides, in essence, the same services as the new offering from Apple – and it remains to be seen whether people indeed go for the more expensive device.
- Absence of Siri search on the app store – On the tvOS platform, the app store does not have Siri search compatibility. This, in all likelihood, will emerge as a problem – as the app-count for Apple TV grows (navigation, in particular, will become an issue). Reports and opinions from online mobile app development forums suggest that the Cupertino tech giant missed a trick by not extending Siri search to the TV app store. Maybe this will be added in a later upgrade.
- 4K Videos? Not Yet! – Amazon Fire TV has it, Roku 4 has it (both of which are, incidentally, cheaper than Apple TV 4) – and the latest Apple TV does not. We are talking about support for the latest video standard – 4K videos. This factor is somewhat offset by the fact that there are not many 4K videos available anyway at present, but that is likely to change over time and Apple TV will have to up its game.
- Not a standalone device – Unlike almost all other successful Apple devices (think: iPhone, iPad, Mac), the Apple TV 4 is not a standalone gadget. Users will still need to have their good old traditional television sets, to avail Apple’s streaming services. While this is not a glitch per se, there will be a significant section of people who will stick to watching tv the old-fashioned way. With watchOS 2, Apple is trying to reduce the reliance of Apple Watch on the iPhone – and a similar attempt is required to make Apple TV more of a standalone gadget.
- Restoring settings and apps – Apple TV 4 is the only iOS device with a certain feature – and it’s not something that works in its favour. Users cannot restore apps from their older models of Apple TV to the new one. The same goes for settings. What they have to do is find the applications in the app store, and get them all over again. The most likely reason for this is that there is no backup option till date for TV (Apple TV 4 is the first model to be included in the app ecosystem of Apple). There are suggestions that the option to restore settings and apps will arrive in future iterations.
Users have been given the option to personalize Apple TV 4 by renaming the device (from Settings → AirPlay → Apple TV Name). AirPlay is also available for apps that do not have built-in support, although the quality and range of entertainment apps do leave a lot to be desired. Via iCloud Photo Library, images can be customized and viewed on the HDTV as well. Apple TV 4 is not a flawless new device, and it is certainly not a cheap one either. However, it has a lot going for it – and tech analysts and app developers feel that it will emerge a winner.
What do you think of the Apple TV 4?