New Apple TV now in SA
Ahead of the consumer launch, I spent one long night with the Apple TV provided by the company for review - simulating the many nights I’ve spent staying up late and bingeing on video until my eyelids slammed shut of their own accord. It was, in some ways, the ultimate stress test: I learnt how to use Apple TV when I was at my fuzziest and least forgiving.
Apple TV passed with flying colours. Apple is hawking the new device with the tagline “the future of television is apps”. Whether Apple can revolutionise “television” - meaning the entertainment industry - is still up for debate. But Apple is certainly making some headway with changing the way consumers can interact with their TV sets.
In some ways, in fact, video streaming apps such as Netflix or Hulu (not available in SA) were the least exciting part of the device. They didn’t look much different from what I’ve seen before. I was far more intrigued by the other apps in the new Apple TV store, which made me realise that my television was a much more versatile device than I thought.
That really surprised me. When Apple was going over the non-video apps in its presentation in September, I admit I wasn’t that excited about the idea. In theory, I didn’t understand why you’d shop from your television. But in practice? Well, the upgrade to the quality of window-shopping apps alone explains why Apple and its partners thinks this is a good idea.
Maybe I’m just very susceptible to the polish and presentation of these apps. But all I have to say is this - impulse buyers, beware.
Similarly, I’ve never thought of my television as a screen for reading anything. Yet the clever, lightly animated app from digital comics company Madefire has me excited about the possibilities for television-sized graphic novels or kids’ books down the line. It will also be interesting to see how gaming evolves on the TV, as developers play around more with the capabilities of the new remote, which has a touchpad, gyroscope and accelerometer.
The TV can pair with a more serious game controller, but it seems like Apple’s niche, at least for now, will be for more casual games that work with the iPhone. So there is no need for alarm bells to ring for the makers of the Xbox One or Playstation 4. But the folks over at Nintendo might be sweating a little.
Of course, video is still the centrepiece of the device. Apple has built in some clever features that make this more than just a catch-up device for the company. One way it stands out is in the consistency of design across apps. That sounds like a boring perk, but it’s so much simpler for users to know that the way the remote works for iTunes is the way it works across every other app. Video playback was crisp, solid and very fast - basically everything you’d want from a playback device. And while the lack of an app for Amazon Video left a noticeable hole in the content line-up, there’s still plenty to choose from.
There are some features of the new Apple TV that still do seem like early plans for the future. One thing that may turn off users is the fact that the TV does not yet support 4K video. If you’re like me and haven’t quite put enough in the rainy day fund for a 4K television, that omission won’t bother you - the Apple TV does play videos in HD - but if you have an eye to future-proofing, that may be a drawback. Also, while Apple’s touch-enabled remote is leaps and bounds ahead of its old design, it’s still a pain to have to type using its touchpad. There’s already a lot of clever integration with the iPhone built into Apple TV; it would be very helpful to be able to use a smartphone keyboard in more apps as well.
And then there’s the Siri-powered voice search. When it works, it is excellent. It’s great to be able to tell your television to “skip to the next chapter” or “jump ahead 10 minutes” and have it do that seamlessly. Even though the search is currently limited to a handful of prominent apps - iTunes, of course - it’s easy to see how much a universal search would simplify the process of sitting down to watch something.
Yet, in some ways, the voice search is almost too good; it’s easy to overestimate what the TV can do after it tackles some more complex queries. For example, you can look up videos from certain apps by cast member, so asking for “that Friends episode with Brad Pitt” pulls up the right episode immediately. That’s a nifty and useful feature, to be sure. But that’s not necessarily how you remember episodes. Yet asking for “the Friends episode where Monica and Chandler get married” gets you nothing.
That’s not the fault of Apple or any video app developer - making a database of plot points would be incredibly complicated, after all - but this limitation does highlight the fact that the Apple TV has to train you as much as you have to train it.
Overall, the Apple TV is still probably the most appealing to Apple fans who have a lot of content in iTunes and want to pull their stuff together on to one device. The price tag might be a bit too much for those who aren’t that plugged into the Apple ecosystem, but the latest version of the TV does show this product has officially graduated from the “hobby” designation it held within Apple for many years - and lays out an exciting vision for the largest screen in your home. - The Washington Post
Recommended retail prices
New Apple TV 32GBR2,499
New Apple TV 64GBR3,499
Apple TV RemoteR1,299
Do you have an HD TV and wi-fi network at home and an iTunes account? Then you could give yourself or a family member a marvellous Christmas present. Apple TV went on sale in South Africa this month. Hayley Tsukayama reviews it