Who says the next Apple TV will be a screen?
Together with the German tech-log www.curved.de I worked out an upgrade to the current Apple TV, the box that is.
These sorts of things are fun, but I can’t see Apple really doing much of it. We’ll almost certainly see a new Apple TV this year (or maybe next depending on how overwhelmed Apple’s hardware team are feeling this year), but I expect it to be a more conservative update.
But let’s take a look at some of the pictures in the linked article (be sure to visit the link for all the images), and I’ll talk about some of my thoughts regarding all this.
Let’s talk about this remote first. This is essentially a skinny iPhone or iPod Touch. Apple already sells those items and they are not inexpensive to manufacture. And of course there is already a remote app for said devices. I have that app, of course. In some ways it is indeed better than the standard IR remote that comes with the Apple TV, and in some ways it’s worse. For text entry, it is a life-saver. Navigating an on-screen keyboard with the standard remote’s four way button is the type of thing those in hell will be required to do forever and ever and ever.
However, for all other types of navigation and interaction with the Apple TV it is considerably worse — at least in the Apple TV’s current form. The problem is trying to interact with a screen that is up in front at eye level while using buttons on the touch sreen that have no tactile surface, raised bumps, or indented channels. The result is that I often get lost and can’t find exactly what I’m looking for or hit the wrong “button” and take the wrong action. Or often I will flick the swipe area a little too hard and scroll the selection way too far. It’s just not precise enough.
I think a lot of this could be mitigated by moving the navigation interface in some way to the remote or having it somehow represent the state of where you are at, but that does not solve all the problems. At this point I would rather have a physical device with physical buttons, but I will try to remain open to the possibilities.
But the main problem is cost, in my estimation. The Apple TV currently costs $99. There’s no way Apple can include what is essentially an iPod Touch and keep the price there. But at the same time, I think anything over $99 will effectively raise the barrier to entry beyond what many are willing to pay. I know that $99 was right on my threshold. I went ahead and got it and I’m glad I did. A $99 Apple TV is light years ahead of the “Media Center” PC I had hooked up to my TV before but I don’t think I would have felt that way at, say, $150. I might if I had gone ahead and gotten it, but I don’t think I would have gone ahead with the purchase.
They could possibly make this hypothetical high-end remote optional, but that would substantially degrade the experience for a large number of users and I don’t think Apple is very interested in segmenting their users in that way.
And let’s not even talk about having to charge the silly thing. It would always be dead, and that’s not good. I can barely remember to keep my Wii remotes and pads and other Wii garbage charged, and I don’t use those things regularly the way I use the Apple TV and its remote.
All this is to say that I think there are significant problems with a touch screen remote for the Apple TV. Now, Apple may well do it because they are infatuated with touch screens. But at the moment I remain completely unconvinced that this is the right direction.
This does feel very much like something that would come out of the current design esthetic of Apple. But again I think the problem is cost. While this looks like a beautiful device, I don’t think they could manufacture and sell something like this for $99. I do agree that 4K would be nice so they could be ahead of that curve (elsewhere, Martin talked about it being 4K), but that is, again, a huge cost at the moment since the technology is new. Also, getting rid of the Optical Audio out and the Ethernet port is not a great idea. Unfortunately, I do think those two things are the most likely for the next generation Apple TV because Apple does have a tendency to slightly over-simplify, which actually slightly complicates things.
Despite what many analysts and even the average person may think, I believe a connected set-top box is the way to continue forward for Apple. So many analysts and average consumers think they want Apple to manufacture a whole TV, but stop and think about that for a moment. That just won’t work on so many levels. This market is pretty much at rock bottom. You can buy TVs that work just fine (for most people) for under $1,000.00. There’s no way Apple could meet their own design expectations at that price and produce something with Apple-like quality. Plus people tend to buy a TV and hang on to it for years and years and years. This would prevent Apple from properly innovating in the hardware and resolution areas and otherwise, and easily get it to the people. Hardware running advanced and modern software can quickly become outpaced by the advancements of that software and its updates. The reason we can keep our current TVs for so long is because the software is already such complete and utter garbage and we avoid that portion of our TVs all that we can (at least I certainly do). And so we connect things like Apple TVs with better software and good outputs to our TVs so that we can improve our experience that way. Aside from the initial setup, I cannot recall the last time I made the trek into the barren wasteland of the menu structure of my TV’s software. I shudder to think that I might have to again sometime in the future.
But I connected a box with Good software to that TV and I’m happy. The picture quality is good enough for home viewing. And I can replace that box this year or next for $99 when the time comes and completely upgrade my experience. What do you do if you have a $1,000 TV from Apple?
Bonus Round: Gaming Remote
Sure, it’s kind of a cool idea, but it’s never going to happen so don’t hold your breath. Apple thinks this is the past, not the future.