As Not Yet Seen On TV

31 October 2015

Apple TV is a really great product, truly. I think the App Store has launched with a solid library of stuff, more than disproportionate to the number of units Apple will ship in the near term. The Siri Remote touchpad is a great idea and reminds me a lot of the iPod clickwheel: eschewing D-Pad Controls for a digital surface that can flick between a series of list items very quickly.

The touchpad is perhaps even more adaptable than the clickwheel innovation, because if you want to use it like the old remote, you can. Just tap in the corners to move in that direction one item. The tap/click discrepancy is a significant barrier but the interactions make a lot of sense once its ingrained into muscle memory. The tactile response of the remote is fantastic, allowing you to get physical confirmation of actions without having to look down.

tvOS is a great platform too. The appearance is fantastic and once again highlights the embarrassing shortcuts Apple took with the iOS ‘flat’ redesign in large part because of the legacy. The parallax iconography and movie art adds a nice cool factor to sweeten the experience. Whilst these effects are three-dimensional, it is not a flat reinterpretation of a skeuomorphic concept. I also like how tvOS offers some very direct cues to help direct people to learn the ‘new’ touchpad gestures. There are clear arrow indicators signifying where a swipe can do something special, as well as guiding text labels in many places to signpost actions that are non-obvious, like “Slide down for info” or “Press Play/Pause to delete”. There isn’t much ‘mystery meat’ here to trip up on.

There are some odd omissions including a few regressions from the third-gen box. These issues aren’t technical challenges, they just aren’t included in the 1.0 for unknown reasons. Things like no Bluetooth keyboard support, lack of a dictation option for entering text, no Remote app support, no Apple Podcasts app, gimped Siri.

These features are the lowest of low-hanging fruit. I’m sure they will get added in time, however you can only make a first impression once and the damage by not having a few of these things has already been done. Twitter was flooded with complaints about the pains of entering account logins without a Remote app or Bluetooth keyboard pairing.

The lack of a working iOS Remote app is inexcusable; Apple hasn’t even said that an update is coming soon. Whilst it isn’t a feature of the Apple TV itself per se, having a working iPhone Remote app available is a critical feature of the product. If it was a matter of prioritising resources, then the allocation of resources was bad. Shipping features of the fourth-gem Apple TV are less important than the need for a usable Remote app. Password entry is a massive painpoint that everyone who bought an Apple TV on day one has now had to endure. Fixing this a week later does not remove the sour taste of those experiences.

No Siri dictation support for text boxes in tvOS is a stinker too. It’s the most obvious use case in the world that QA and engineers working on the new software must have ran into in testing and yet it ships without it. The frustrating element is the problem is already solved: Apple TV has a mic, Apple TV has Siri1, every other iOS device has dictation for text input. Join the dots, dramatically improve the usability of any Apple TV app with a search experience. It’s mind-boggling that it isn’t included.

1 Note, Siri has to use dictation to know what you are asking it, so the speech-to-text system exists in tvOS. It simply needs to be exposed in the keyboard UI somehow.