The Ins and Outs of the Latest Apple TV Upgrade [UPDATED]

Apple recently released an Apple TV upgrade, version 5.2. For most customers, it's a profitable and painless upgrade. But for a few users, it could present a problem. John Martellaro explains.


On November 29, 2011, Apple released update 5.1.1 for second and third generation Apple TVs. Unfortunately, a few customers reported problems conducting the upgrade over Ethernet. TMO's Jim Tanous explained in early December. The update fails leaving the user up in the air about what to do. For some, the Apple TV was bricked, requiring that it be removed from the TV, connected to iTunes and restored.

Some users may have decided to wait until the next major upgrade, assuming Apple would fix the problem then. Apparently, however, Apple slipped in a fix around January 1st, 2013 that solved the problem with the 5.1.1 upgrade over Ethernet. That's reflected in Apple's version notes. [UPDATE: Jim Tanous and I noticed that Apple appears to have backdated its release notes to finally, properly reflect just exactly when the Ethernet bug was fixed.] This may have gone unnoticed by a few, and it certainly slipped by me. And that's what caused me to write this note.

In any case, the solid working strategy back in December, for users with version 5.1, was to disconnect the Ethernet cable, if used, and do the 5.1.1 update over Wi-Fi. So far, so good.

Then, with a solid update to 5.1.1, customers could be confident that they could conduct the recent update to 5.2 on January 28th without a problem on either Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

A Possible Problem

For those users who use an Ethernet cable and overlooked the slipstream fix for 5.1.1, they may have been waiting for Apple to make the fix in the next version -- which turned out to be 5.2.

All along, Apple TV customers who delayed the update, waiting for 5.2, have been confronted with an update message at boot. That message on January 28 is exactly the same because no version number for the currently active update is provided. That could have left some customers wondering whether the latest 5.2 update had propagated completely. (Apple pushes the updates incrementally, so some may not get the newest update right away.)

That's what happend to me on January 28th. If I left the Ethernet connected and tried the update, and 5.2 was not the active update, I might have ended up getting 5.1.1. That's quite okay because Apple slipstreamed a fix for 5.1.1 on Ethernet. But I didn't know that at the time, and so it concerned me.

Of course, a good workaround and strategy would have been just to unplug the Ethernet cable, and I would have had a successful update from 5.1 to any version: 5.1.1 (old), 5.1.1 (fixed) or 5.2.

Apple's Strategy

I can't fault Apple for its progress in fixing the 5.1.1 update to work properly on Ethernet. But it does annoy me that, when presented with an update notice, no version number is displayed. (Samsung does this for its Blu-ray players, and I haven't heard of any resulting suicides as the result of an exposed version number.) It also annoys me that during that time when the original 5.1.1 update was available, Apple didn't have the OS check to see if Ethernet was connected, then suppress notices to update until a fix was in place.

I know that Apple wants to keep the version numbers suppressed because they might worry or confuse some users. A simple notice that an update us available and should be applied is deep enough for most people. (And for those very few who ended up with an inoperable device, a connection to iTunes for a restore or a trip to an Apple genius solved the problem.  Even so, is that a better, simpler path than explicit version numbers?)

However, if there's any story at all to be told here, it's that it can be frustrating for customers who are trying their best to apply what they've learned on the Internet to be confronted with excessive, infuriating simplicity. Of course, as soon as you dig a little deeper, as I did,  it all sorts out.

I wouldn't object to a "More Info" box on these updates so Apple can post short status notes and supply the version number. For those who aren't interested, it can be ignored. It seems like the adult thing to do.

The Good News

With all that, it's safe to say that any Apple TV (2G/3G) customer, no matter where they started, can safely upgrade to version 5.2 now.

[UPDATE: After I did my own update, via Ethernet, from 5.1 to 5.2, I found that I could not access Apple's movies and TV shows. Nor my iCloud music.  But Netflix worked fine, so I knew the connection was good.  I guessed that I needed to logout of my iTunes account and login again. (Settings -> iTunes Store -> Accounts.)  That solved the problem.]