The 4th Generation AppleTV is a Flawed and Frustrating Device
*Disclaimer: Many of the problems of the 4th generation AppleTV are problems by the app creators for the device. Further, cable companies and content providers in many cases are likely disincentivized to make AppleTV a good or smooth experience. Cord cutting certainly hurts the profitability of cable companies and content providers are probably paid more by cable/satellite than AppleTV. I do understand that Comcast is directly responsible for much of what is broken on AppleTV. That said, I believe that Apple could do more to ensure that app creators fall into line. As the largest publicly traded company in the world, Apple has unique clout, an enormous amount of cash, and should bear more responsibility for a solid end user experience.
I purchased 4 new AppleTVs last year when Apple launched the new 4th generation AppleTV. I have also owned each previous generation of the device. With each release I’ve been hoping for something more and with each release I’ve been let down and disappointed by my experience with AppleTV. While AppleTV may offer the best solution available today, it’s a shame that it is still such a flawed and frustrating device.
1. My number one issue with AppleTV at present is that it feels like the content companies are at war with the device. Many of the content companies have created apps for the new AppleTV but these apps still require you to maintain a cable/satellite subscription. I am actually fine with this. I don’t mind paying the cable company to access content on my AppleTV. What annoys me though is what a miserable experience it is trying to actually consume your cable subscription content on AppleTV.
The basic way that content apps on the AppleTV allow you to access their content is by authenticating with your cable subscription. When you launch the app it asks you to go to a website with your phone or computer. Once you are there (each content app has it’s own unique approach) you are required to enter in your cable TV credentials and a code from your TV screen to “activate” that content. Having to do this multiple times for multiple apps on multiple AppleTVs is a drag. With my four AppleTVs it took me over an hour to authenticate all of the content on all of the devices. It should not be this difficult.
If consuming cable paid content on your AppleTV were as easy as spending an hour authenticating 50 times, even that might be ok. The problem with AppleTV though is that these content apps make you re-authenticate over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. When you are tired at the end of a day and just want to turn on HBO and watch Vinyl, it’s a drag to be jolted with the reauthentication screen yet again. It boggles my mind that my AppleTV and Comcast cannot find an easier way to verify that I indeed do pay and am entitled to consume the content. I’m sure Comcast makes it hard on purpose (it feels like you have to reauthenticate content every 48 hours or so), but Apple shouldn’t let them get away with that.
2. If the reauthentication were not bad enough, some of the content that I get through my cable provider that I want to watch the most is not even available. AMC is probably my favorite network for content right now (Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead) and there is no AMC app for the AppleTV.
3. Watching live TV is difficult. While there are apps (like CNN and CNBC) that let you watch live TV, it’s a pain to get to this content. With my Comcast X1 remote I just press and button and say “CNN” into the remote and instantly CNN comes on. When I press the mic button for Siri on my AppleTV app and say “CNN” I get a message on my screen that says “I’m sorry, I can’t do that here.” Even if I say “CNN Go” and get to the app, it still won’t let me watch live TV with Siri. I have to manually go through the menu process to watch TV (and many times once I go through all of this I’m just prompted with yet another requirement to reauthenticate for the 75th time).
4. Streaming content on AppleTV is a crappy experience. The other night I decided to watch a Bruce Springsteen documentary on the River on HBO on my AppleTV. While watching the show locked up at least 10 times. Sometimes it would take five minutes or more for content to resume streaming. While it’s tempting to blame my ISP for this issue, it should be noted that HBO plays flawlessly on my cable TV box and I have the fastest available internet speed available at present in my neighborhood. Content streams just fine to my computers, it only has freezing issues with my AppleTV.
5. Photos are boring on AppleTV. I have hundreds of thousands of photos that I’d like to consume on my AppleTV, but seeing the same photos over and over again gets boring very quickly. When you point AppleTV to a folder on your hard drive (through iTunes) of photos to share to the device, it will allow you to create a slideshow or use the screensaver for those photos. Unfortunately AppleTV only chooses about 100-200 random photos from the folder selected and just plays those photos over and over and over again. I would love to watch photos on my AppleTV but it needs to truly send me all of the photos randomized in a folder, not just 100 of them.
6. I was hopeful that Flickr would work better on the new AppleTV. On my 3rd generation AppleTV Flickr photos suffered the same limitation. If I had Flickr as my screensaver and pointed it to my 100 faves or more album, it would just recirculate 100 or so of the photos from that album. On the new AppleTV Flickr slide shows have the same limitations and Flickr screensaver does not even work at all.
7. I hate watching commercials. I love the Americans on FX and watch it each week. When I watch it on my Comcast box I just fast forward through all of the commercials with my DVR. When I watch it on AppleTV I can’t fast forward through the commercials, that’s a big drag. Also when commercials play on AppleTV it’s the exact same commercial over and over and over and over again. At least on real TV they mix up the commercials. Having to watch the exact same commercial 5 times in a show is dumb. It makes you hate the product being advertised even more.
For a 4th generation device I expect something better than what AppleTV offers up today. It’s easy to pass the buck and blame Comcast and the content providers for such a miserable experience on AppleTV, but I think that AppleTV also bears some responsibility for ensuring a better experience for their customers who purchase the device.