Apple has been trying to update the Apple TV for years, and it was eagerly awaited by people convinced the Apple TV just needed to be re-engineered to crush its foes under its wheels. Well, we have that re-engineering and it’s… uh… not terribly impressive, to be honest.
The centerpiece of the new Apple TV is voice search, which is admittedly impressive on a technical basis. Apple has designed an interface that will let you search for, say, that one episode of Friends where Joey eats a whole turkey just by saying “Show me that episode of Friends where Joey eats a whole turkey.” That’s some deeply granular search. It will even let you search for unrelated stuff, like sports scores, while you’re watching Netflix.
As I said, it’s impressive on a technical level. On a practical one, Roku, Amazon, and others have all collectively come together and proven your average consumer feels no need or desire to yell at their remote, and it’s not really clear how explaining that yelling at your remote more is going to change that.
Oh, and now it has access to the wider app marketplace; in fact, if you buy an app for your iPhone or iPad, if it’s Apple TV compatible, you can put it on your Apple TV as well. Interestingly, the first one that came up was Guitar Hero Live, which immediately raises a bunch of questions, like how you’re going to get your old plastic instruments to work with your Apple TV. Apple showed off a lot of games while blatantly avoiding any discussion of whether or not it will be a gaming console, instead showing off what we’ve seen before: Mobile games on a TV screen.
The one place where Apple did have a impressive showing with the MLB app, where you could click on a game from a list of standing and watch it, or watch two on split screen. You can even pick up where you left off on your iDevice. Granted, the MLB is usually smart and open-minded as sports companies go with their apps and streaming, but if they can lead the way, and keep it exclusive, Apple might have an in with sports fans.
Beyond that, though, the main problem here I’m seeing is that Apple keeps showing off things people don’t actually want to do. Few families want to gather around the TV and buy clothes. Attempts to transition silly mobile games to TV screens have failed. Apple’s own claim that 50% of paid TV streaming “happens through an Apple device” is telling in that they don’t mention how they define either term. I’m sure it’s true, but I’ll bet most streaming to actual televisions doesn’t go through an Apple TV.
The main issue, though, will likely be the cost. At $149 for 32GB and $199 for 64GB, it’s bare minimum $50 more expensive than a Roku, and at least $100 more expensive than a Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick, and it doesn’t really offer any compelling reason to spend the money. Unless yelling at your remote catches on, don’t expect the Apple TV to break out of its niche.