Apple’s Tradition of Always Building the Best Doesn’t Fit with Current Apple TV

2 minute read
| Editorial

Apple was, it seemed, somewhat late with the 4th generation 1080p Apple TV that shipped in October of 2015. Not delivering at 4K device at that time could be forgiven because High Dynamic Range (HDR) specs hadn’t been formalized during its development. But for the holidays of 2016, most all the 4K/UHD TVs have HDR. The new Roku Ultra has HDR. So what is Apple thinking?


Apple, according to CEO Tim Cook, has an intense interest in TV. To quote Mr. Cook:

“I would confirm that television has intense interest with me and many other people here.

Apple, by the way, always builds the best product it can. So when I think about Apple having an intense interest in something, I tend to think about both accomplishment and joyful products that amaze and delight.

4th gen Apple TV with Siri

An often frustrating Siri and remote are Apple’s plan for the “best” Apple TV


What I keep coming back to is that Apple has involved itself in what I would call Imperial Entanglements. By that I mean that the TV industry is complex. There are many players who all protect their IP and have strong agendas. And so, when Apple plays in in this arena, it’s pitting itself against the vested interests of many entities, all with seasoned executives who know how to maximize revenues and look out for themselves. Is that a place where Apple can flourish?

Remember when Apple tried to develop a subscription service? It would have undercut the interests of networks, but Apple felt that its impressive stature would convince others to go along with them. Apple TV would be the wave of the future.

Except it hasn’t been.

The result has been a new TV app that doesn’t support Netflix. Plus, we have an Apple TV that doesn’t have the Amazon Prime movie app, presumably because Amazon and Apple aren’t getting along well enough to strike a beneficial deal for both parties.

Amidst all that, Apple isn’t exactly threatening to put Roku out of business with a world-class set-top-box with 4K/UHD, HDR10, perhaps Dolby Vision, optical audio and a stunning industrial design. Roku is the market share leader amongst these devices, and by necessity, always has the best and latest in technology. They have to. Roku acts like a company that’s hungry and works hard to maintain its position. Its customers a loyal and love them for that. As Lily Tomlin once said, Apple is the phone company. It doesn’t have to care.

In TV, the Best is Advanced, Flexible, Expandable, Competitive

In fact, Apple seems totally disinterested in building fabulous hardware that fits in with lots of different kinds of home systems and has the capacity to get us excited.

Apparently, another year will pass as millions of customers upgrade to 4K/UHD, and one of the first accessories they’ll buy is a 4K/UHD/HDR Roku player.

Meanwhile, Apple always seems to be struggling to get its act together on the app side and has to settle for incomplete, less than thrilling content deals and technical arrangements.

A healthy part of me wishes Apple would just build the coolest, best TV hardware on the planet—an impressive and attractive platform on which other content providers want to play.

Right now, I don’t see how Apple’s “intense interest in TV” and its legacy of always building the best is being achieved.

8 Comments Add a comment

  1. pjs_boston

    There is only a vanishingly small amount of 4K content available on streaming services, even less HDR 4K content. In addition, there is no dominant standard for HDR content. Only videophiles and über-geeks are currently able to wade through the confusion and can actually find the correct content for their equipment.

    Apple is not late to the party. The party hasn’t started yet….

  2. MarcusNewton

    I totally agree with everything in the article. It is painful to watch this opportunity pass by Apple. Did the car project zap that much out of Apple that all the other projects fell by the wayside and are now in disarray?

    The 4K Roku seems really nice. Another thing I will point out is that the TV manufactures themselves are building up an immunity to external smart TV devices. For example, my Samsung 4K HDR TV has apps built right into it; along with wifi ac and ethernet. (My router and TV are in the same spot, so I connected the TV over ethernet, which has turned out great for streaming 4K content.)

    I can use Netflix (in 4K), Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and HBO Now without ever leaving the Samsung TV. Even though I do have an Apple TV 4 attached to the Samsung TV, it now remains off most of the time.

    Not only does Apple need to put 4K into the Apple TV, but the bar has been raised to the point where Apple TV has to offer enough that it is worth even turning it on versus using what is built right into a person’s TV. There is no difference in Netflix on Apple TV and Netflix on the Samsung TV, except I can stream 4K content directly with the Samsung TV.

    For Apple to say that the future of TV is apps, they better be some pretty outstanding apps that significantly offer something different other then just another version of the same app on another platform.

    On another note, I complained a few days ago about trying to type in a strong password like “cx7RTZKJnEfMJ_fM?3\” into an Apple TV because of the silly on-screen keyboard. I tried out using Siri to speak the strong password in and the results were not too bad.

    I had to speak slowly and say things like “capital R, capital T”, but it mostly worked. It took about the same amount of time to slowly speak the password as it does to type it in, so I am not sure if it is worth it in the end. Also, when speaking in the password it remains in complete clear-text until a person is finished and releases the button on the remote, and then it applies the password masking.

    I also wanted to say thank you John for keeping us informed about 4K TV and HDR. I had no idea the TV industry had gotten so confusing, and continues to get even more confusing ( … cough, cough, dolby vision). I would not have been able to get the 4K HDR TV that I did if it was not for your excellent and informative articles. Thank you for sorting through all of this for us.

  3. MarcusNewton

    I don’t think that is true. I have a 4K HDR TV, and I do not consider myself a videophile. I have had no problems finding 4K content for anything released this year.

    For example, Netflix does not show the 4K content option unless a person is on the $11.99 streaming plan, and have a 4K TV. When I am on Netflix on my regular Sony HD TV there is no 4K content listed, only regular HD.

    But when I am on my Samsung 4K HDR TV, the Netflix app has an entire row labeled “4K” to let people know which shows and movies are available in 4K as well.

    Pretty much anything Netflix released this year is available in 4K. For example, their new TV show “The Crown” is in 4K with HDR and it is stunning how rich the colors are and the level of detail is; even in the smallest thing.

    Even if something is only available in regular HD, the TVs have built in graphics cards that upscales the picture to near 4K. The upscaling is actually really good, it is nothing like when DVDs tried to upscale analog videos and there where all kinds of weird artifacts. The near 4K upscaling makes any digital content look really good.

  4. John Martellaro


    I also wanted to say thank you John for keeping us informed about 4K TV and HDR. I had no idea the TV industry had gotten so confusing

    ::blush:: I’m trying! Thanks.

    The problem with smart TV’s is that some contain dubious OSs. Sony, for example, uses Android. There’s just too much temptation to pry into your affairs, and that Ethernet or Wi-Fi link is the gateway. It’s also a possible entry point into your home network. My plan is to connect the Apple TV and Roku Ultra into the A/V receiver (HDMI), pass along the selected video to the 4KTV, and never have the TV on the Internet. That’s sometimes hard to do because of how some remotes work or constant software updates. For example,

    So, another complexity to deal with is engineering a fairly secure system!

  5. MarcusNewton

    Your welcome John.

    I agree about the OSs. I think my Samsung is using Android as well, so that is something to keep an eye on. Also, Samsung wants people to have Samsung accounts and remain logged-in while using the TV. They even want people to enter their zip-code for the alleged purpose of getting extra information about local TV. It is all very suspicious. So it is both privacy scary and bot-net scary.

    My 2-year-old Yamaha audio receiver has two 4K pass-throughs, and before I bought the 4K TV, I ran my Apple TV and everything else through the audio receiver to my older Sony regular HD TV, for the same security reasons you mentioned. I don’t think my audio receiver has ARC or HDR, so I may have to look into whether that will affect the 4K TV. I would like to eventually get back to running everything into the audio receiver and be assured that the TV is not at risk because it is not even connected.

    The Netflix app seems to know that the Apple TV cannot display 4K content, so it doesn’t even give it the option of forwarding the signal on to a 4K TV. The only way for me to stream 4K at the moment is to directly connect the TV through wifi or ethernet and risk my TV joining a bot-net chain-gang.

    I think Apple is seriously underestimating how many people will choose convenience over security when it comes to TV. After someone buys a new 4K TV with wifi and all their desired apps already in it, how likely are they also going to spend an additional $149 on an Apple TV to get the perceived same apps?

    In my opinion I don’t think it is likely, so this is why I keep saying Apple needs to have a very competitive Apple TV to convince people to flat out skip over whatever comes with their smart TV and use only Apple TV. Otherwise the TV manufacturers are going to blow past Apple TV and make it look like a toy.

    Experience wise there is no difference between my Samsung (Android) TV apps and Apple TV apps of the same thing (except the 4K aspect). It is actually a better experience sticking with just the TV because my Samsung remote controls everything: cable-box, all the stream apps, and the audio receiver; along with easily switching between apps and cable-box. With the Apple TV connected directly to the Samsung TV, the Samsung remote can control the Apple TV too. The remote is not big either, I think it has a total of just 6 buttons.

    The TV manufacturers are working extra hard to convince potential buyers that everything they need is in the box with the smart TV. I bought my TV from Costco, and every TV box is plastered with big stickers on what apps are included with each TV, so people are being directed away from extras like Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku.

    The TV manufacturers have a great marketing message: “get this smart TV and matching sound-bar, and that is everything a person needs to watch or stream the latest content”. It is a simple message that is easy to understand, and it basically comes all in one package.

    Streaming quality content use to mean an Apple TV was required. Now, Apple TV is an optional extra, and that is not a good spot for it to be in.

  6. pjs_boston

    @MarcusNewton, here are a few points to consider:

    1) While Netflix and others have some 4K content, the bulk of available programming is still HD and none of the streaming services offer HDR content. For that, you need a BluRay player and a BluRay disc which both support the specific HDR format of your TV. It’s like HD-DVD versus BluRay all over again. HDR is still a Wild West.

    2) 4K TV’s upscale all HD content to pseudo-4K. This includes output from from the Apple TV. As a result, content from the Apple TV looks just as good as HD content from any other source. When the HDR 4K standards are worked out and the content is there, Apple will be ready with a new Apple TV.

    3) I do agree that by building in support for NetFlix, HULU, etc. into their TV’s, Samsung and others are trying to stem the tide of streaming boxes. However, this most hurts brands like Roku which don’t offer exclusive content such as iTunes or Amazon Prime.

    Apple’s success in set-top boxes and streaming is far from assured, but I don’t think the lack of a 4K Apple TV is a problem – yet.

  7. paikinho

    I have been waiting for the 5 generation Apple TV with 4K HDR. I won’t buy until I get that.
    I was hoping that it would be available for this holiday, but will have to wait.

    Why would I want it now?
    There is 4k content available even though it isn’t the bulk, that will quickly change.
    Future proofing. ….I want to have the system that supports what the future standard will be over the next few years.

    Until then, I am sticking with my 3rd generation.

    Perhaps Apple knows this and is working hard to make the 5th gen really really nice.
    I hope so.

    Also I could use the 2nd generation Large iPad Pro. Kids were wanting one for this holiday for their artwork, but I won’t buy the current generation version.
    So for a while I will be hunkered down waiting it seems.

  8. John Martellaro

    MarcusNewton: Things may have changed since I checked, but I believe Samsung TVs use the Tizen OS. From my records:

    LG — webOS
    Panasonic – Firefox OS
    Samsung – Tizen
    Sharp Android
    Sony – Android
    Vizio – Vizio uses a custom made OS by them.

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