Apple TV is Too App-Focused

| Editorial

Lately I’ve found myself gravitating away from using the Apple TV to watch content, and it’s due entirely to the device’s user interface: Apps get higher billing than they deserve.

Don’t get me wrong, the ability to add apps to the Apple TV is one of the platform’s greatest strengths, not to mention that its app market – and development – fully leverages the relative maturity of iOS.

A view of the Apple TV home screen with apps

Umm.. Where are my shows?

On the iPhone it makes sense that the user interface has all your applications front-and-center. There are so many different things you can do with an iPhone that it’s smart to start with the app that will get the job done.

On the Apple TV, though, that makes a lot less sense. The vast majority of user interaction with the Apple TV is focused on consuming content. A distant second to that would be playing games. Even further down the line would be using utilities like speed tests and such. Why, then, does my speed test app get equal billing to Netflix?

Hey, Siri! I don’t care what app has my favorite shows!

Certainly Apple TV needs some way of allowing users to launch a specific app, but that shouldn’t be its home screen. The home screen should highlight and list my favorite content, regardless of which app delivers it. When it’s time to watch House of Cards, I shouldn’t have to stop first and think about what application delivers that content to me. I just want to power up my Apple TV, click “House of Cards” and start watching.

Yes, Siri universal search is a step in this direction, but it’s not nearly enough. I have to remember what I want to watch and then convince Siri to bring it to me. What if my wife and I watch five shows and I can’t remember the name of that one about a hospital? If I watched it last week – and in 15 weeks of the last year – it should simply show up on a list, visible when I turn on my Apple TV.

Voice isn’t everything

I like that Apple is dedicating brainpower and elbow grease towards the concept of a screen-less user interface. Amazon’s Alexa has proven that voice control works. But when you’re about to watch your favorite show on a 60-inch display, it’s pretty safe to assume that you’re going to be OK interacting with the screen.

There’s no argument here: a screen is much more efficient at displaying lists to humans than a voice interface ever could be.

Steal, Apple. Steal away.

The good news is that TiVo has already solved this problem. TiVo’s “My Shows” interface gives me exactly this, and is the reason I gravitate towards using TiVo to watch content instead of using my Apple TV. I use my TiVo remote to select the show I want to watch and it presents me a list of all the services where I can get it. Once I choose that the first time, I can add a “OnePass” to add to My Shows. That’s it. After that it’s always there in My Shows, front-and-center.

TiVo’s promo video for OnePass showcases this perfectly.

Never once in this process do I have to launch Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, anything. I just live in the TiVo interface and it hands me off to the in-app page that lets me start playing the specific episode I have chosen. It’s sublime and, frankly, how it should work everywhere.

Roku’s “My Feed” does something similar, showing you personalized content inside the Roku interface without having to launch an app.

Where’s the Friction?

Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and countless other providers are just fine with TiVo and Roku doing this, so there’s no reason they wouldn’t be fine with Apple doing it, too. In fact, Apple could enhance the process by reminding you, “hey, don’t let your Netflix subscription lapse. You watch three shows via that service.” So much opportunity here, and I hope Apple follows in the footsteps of the more mature platforms that exist today.

Until then, I highly recommend getting a TiVo. As fun as it is to be a geek and think about apps and all that, when it’s time to be a couch potato I prefer to just think about what I want to watch.

15 Comments Add a comment

  1. par7667

    Totally agree, my daughter wanted to upgrade to the latest hardware but after 1 day decided it wasn’t worth the effort (nothing intuitive about it) and had me put back the original hardware. $200 paperweight is now in a closet.

  2. You want an interface that shows you your favorite shows on the main screen, and not have to 1) remember your favorite shows and 2) go into Netflix or Hulu where you will see your recently watched shows? You want a combined list on the main screen?

  3. It is a first world problem, atv. So is virtually every other aspect of consumer technology, presumably with some form of which you posted your comment. 😉

    I agree, too. The new tvOS interface is a pain to navigate, SO very unintuitive, and frankly, un-Apple-like, and Siri is so awkwardly integrated I just ignore it. Don’t get me started on the crappy remote! The ignored potential of taking gaming seriously is a head scratcher, too.

    I actually suspect that apps may have been what Steve Jobs was referring to when claimed Apple had finally ‘cracked it’ (television) – I doubt the current iteration is what they had in mind back then.

  4. atvrules

    You missed the point, Jamie. This post spends 700+ words milking a single — criticism? annoyance? existential crisis? — that the commenter above you summarized in less than 50. Your own comments on the interface are more expansive, yet more concise, than all this.

    And consumer technology is what you choose to make of it: don’t you think mobile tech, and things like encryption, are having a global impact? Saving a couple of clicks and a couple of seconds for “couch potatoes,” not so much.

  5. Dave Hamilton

    @JustCause: “So basically you want under Search app, Recently Watched.”

    Not at all. That would keep the same home screen paradigm alive, and I don’t think that’s best. I want a favorites (and/or Recently Watched) list as my home screen. No clicks. Just right there when I activate my Apple TV.

    I get it: it’s tough to imagine something different, but anyone who has used TiVo has experienced this. It’s sublime.

  6. Hopefully the author is aware that he can move the Apps around on his screen to give top billing to his favorites, and that he can relegate Apps to folders if he wants to group them. Goes a long way to alleviating his complaints. Siri does the rest. I agree that a “recently watched” might help.

  7. Hiram wrote: “Siri does the rest.”

    Not quite! I’ve bought a few movies/music from Apple, but still 97% of my movies/music/tv shows are ones that I’ve ripped into iTunes. WHY CAN’T I SEARCH FOR THESE AT ALL, Apple? This is my beef, you can’t frickin’ search your entire iTunes Library from the Apple TV interface. And then the search should take my right to the item, instead of the endless scrolling to find it alphabetically. Is this database magic?

    The Xfinity X1 software isn’t bad enough to make me want to check out TIVO (since you have to pay for it anyway)! I save Favorite channels, and save any content as a Favorite in my personal list for easy access.

  8. Roku’s “My Feed” does something similar, showing you personalized content inside the Roku interface without having to launch an app.

    I have a Roku3 in addition to an ATV4. I had tried using Roku’s “My Feed” and don’t recall having the ability to add my Netflix shows to the feed for quick access. I was limited to choosing from selections that were presented to you. Maybe I need to look at it again.

    That said I still prefer Apple TV’s current UI vs Roku. I do agree that we should have a Favorites or Recently Watched section or screen so we can quickly get to our shows without having to go to Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc. Also, I’m not entirely sure that Apple has free reign to do what they want with the various providers content. I hope someone can confirm this.

  9. Dave Hamilton

    TV app coming soon 🙂

    Indeed. The odd part is that it’s still an app. Definitely a huge step in the right direction, but it should be the home screen of the device when you launch it.

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