Apple TV got a software update last week that didn't exactly blow our hair back--the icons got a new, flat, iOS 7-and-8-ish look, and we got Family Sharing support, a new Beats Music channel, and that's about it. The new icons are pretty and all, but the experience of actually using the Apple TV didn't noticeably improve. Here are five suggestions for Apple to make the next Apple TV update a real upgrade.
The most frustrating thing about the Apple TV is how each channel that requires a pay TV provider description makes you log in separately--and they don't all support the same roster of providers. If you have Time Warner Cable, there's no way of knowing which channels that works with without having to check each channel individually, hunting around for the login screen, since they don't all have it in the same place. It's maddening.
There needs to be one place you log in with whatever credentials you have, and you're signed in across the whole suite of channels, like the OS-level Twitter sign-in on iPhones and iPads. Or at least let me indicate which pay TV provider I use, and tell me which channels are supported. And give me a little notification message (even an email) when new channels are added that I can actually use.
This is a tall order--being able to search for content across every channel is basically the holy grail of settop boxes. But Apple's competitors are at least trying. Roku and Amazon's Fire TV are way ahead, and Apple needs to catch up.
Speaking of Fire TV, Apple TV should let me search and navigate with my voice. Ideally this would be built in--Fire TV has a microphone built right into the remote, along with a button you press before speaking so it knows to listen up. But I'd also accept having to use Siri on an iOS device as the go-between.
Today when I say, "Siri, I want to watch John Candy films on my Apple TV," I only get results for movies playing at nearby theaters. C'mon Apple, you should know by now I only watch movies at home...
Safari plug-in for queueing videos
My favorite way to watch YouTube on my TV is to queue up videos in my web browser or YouTube apps to play on my Chromecast. The YouTube experience on the Apple TV is pretty bad in comparison. Navigating the channel with the Apple Remote is clunky, and using AirPlay to send one video at a time from the YouTube iOS app to the Apple TV works all right, but needs a better queing feature.
But Apple shouldn't even stop there. I would love to be able to surf around with Safari and right-click videos around the web to add them to a "watch later" list that's synced through iCloud to my Apple TV. The "share sheet" in iOS could have the same "watch later on Apple TV" option for videos I find in Mobile Safari and iOS apps. Finding videos online or on your phone is much easier than finding them on the Apple TV itself, but watching them on the big TV is the best experience--Apple could do a lot more to bridge that gap.
Open SDK and a channel store
Fire TV and Roku make it easy to browse the channel offerings and add new channels to your lineup. Apple just shoves every new channel at you by default, and makes you dig into the settings to hide the ones you don't want. A more organized channel store would be a huge help. It could filter the offerings by subject (sports, news, kids programming), by supported cable providers (show me just the channels that I can log into with Comcast), or even by which have free and a la carte offerings for cord-cutters.
Once Apple a more organized way to present you the channels and let you opt in to the best ones for you, the company could greatly expand the channel offerings through an open SDK without users becoming overwhelmed by screen after screen of icons.
What else should Apple fix in the Apple TV? Let us know in the comments.