10 Disappointing Things About the New Apple TV

Issues to think about before buying a fourth-generation Apple TV

In some ways the latest Apple TV box is an interesting, useful and innovative product. Certainly it shows much more ambition and innovation than any of its three predecessors. I’ve gone through some of the biggest strengths of the 4th-generation Apple TV in a companion article to this one you can find here. 

In this article, though, I’ll be looking at the other side of the Apple TV equation; the areas where Apple’s latest box doesn’t feel right or falls short.

 

1. No support for 4K

The latest Apple TV carries no support for 4K UHD video. It’s strictly an HD-only deal. 

How much this bothers you could depend, I guess, on whether you already have or intend to get a 4K TV. However, you’ll soon actually be hard pushed to buy a TV with a screen bigger than 40 inches that doesn’t have a 4K resolution, so it seems strange that Apple should release a media box at this point in time that doesn’t support at least video streaming in 4K.

This shortcoming is exacerbated by the fact that two of its key rivals - the Amazon Fire TV and latest Roku media box - do support 4K streaming. The Nvidia Shield is also capable of streaming 4K video.

 

2. Its gaming skills are limited

While Apple certainly sees Apple TV as a potential gaming machine (its remote even supports a horizontal mode for racing games, and tilt/motion controls), for now at least the level of the gaming available falls far short of the sort of experiences you can get with a proper gaming console like the Sony PS4 or Xbox One.

 

The console it most closely resembles in terms of its graphical abilities and the sort of play experiences the remote supports is the original Nintendo Wii. Though in truth, at the time of writing the gaming experience the Apple TV most closely resembles is the much shallower environment of the iPhone and iPad.

Not least because the vast majority of the games available for Apple TV are currently near ports of games originally created for Apple’s mobile devices.

It’s possible that games will become more sophisticated as more developers take the time to put potentially more sophisticated Apple TV-only games together. But the 200Mb app limit and the fact that everything will have to be designed to be controllable via the Apple TV remote could both ultimately limit the depth of games the Apple TV can deliver.

That’s not to say there won’t be any enjoyable Apple TV games; in fact there are already some out there. But currently they’re only enjoyable mostly in the sense of a few minutes play every now and then rather than the sort of games you’ll spend hours and hours on.

 

3. It doesn't suit Android fans

If all or even most of your other devices are running on the Android (or Windows, come to that) operating system, then you won’t get as much out of the Apple TV as someone who owns other Apple devices. Even set up will be harder because you won’t be able to transfer an existing Apple ID or your router set up information from your phone to the Apple TV. There’s also no way to use an Android device as a second remote control for any of the Apple TV’s games; no apps you buy for the Apple TV will also be usable for free on an Android device; and the slick but highly controlled world of the tvOS interface will likely soon find you heavily investing in iOS stuff alongside your existing Google Play account - like it or not.

It seems to me, too, that Apple will only introduce more cross-Apple-device functionality over the coming weeks and months, especially as the new Apple TV carries support for Apple’s HomeKit home automation technology.

 

4. There’s zero support for live TV

However much Tim Cook might want to claim that the future of TV is apps, the reality is that we’re all still spending a huge amount of time watching so-called ‘linear’ broadcast TV. Which makes it a shame that the new Apple TV - as with all the older ones - does not offer any support at all for live TV.

To be fair, nor do the vast majority of other media streaming boxes. However, the Apple TV is also to some extent in competition with games consoles that offer TV support via built-in loop-through tuners, as well as Smart TVs. 

In other words, while you can certainly see the Apple TV as a potentially content-rich addition to your home entertainment network, it’s unlikely to become the complete heart of your TV viewing life.

 

5. It's missing some key apps

Despite the fairly frenetic efforts of the Apple development community, Apple TV is still missing a few important apps. At the time of writing there’s no support for Amazon Prime video streaming, while different territories also lack support for many of their local catch-up TV services.

Of course, it’s still early days for the new app-driven Apple TV, so there’s every chance the missing apps will turn up eventually. In fact, rumour has it that the key Amazon app is fairly imminent. But at the same time, experience shows us that you can never guarantee an app’s going to be there until it actually appears.

 

6. It’s geared towards Apple content

Out of the box, three of the five apps on the main deck on the home page are for Apple content apps - iTunes Movies, iTunes TV shows and iTunes music. And these apps have been specially configured for the Apple TV interface, presenting high-res icons for the movies, TV shows and music they hold. 

You can, as discussed in the partner article to this one, change any of the apps that appear in the main deck of the home screen. But experience suggests many users will never do this, and also at the moment there aren’t many ‘rival’ apps out there that make such attractive, effective, well-integrated use of tvOS as those designed by Apple itself. 

In other words, there’s a sense that the Apple TV is as much a shop window for selling you other Apple products as it is a service to help you find content. This may not be a problem if you’re already heavily invested in Apple for your movie, TV and music needs - especially as the Apple TV syncs with your Apple ID and so automatically displays any video or music you already bought via Apple in the Apple TV’s menus. But it is an issue if you’ve already invested heavily in content on other platforms.

 

7. The amount of available memory can’t be upgraded

The Apple TV ships in two flavours: one version with 32GB of built-in memory, one with 64GB of built-in memory. Even the larger version doesn’t really give you that much memory by today’s standards, though. Which makes it a shame that you can’t add any external extra memory via something like an SD card or USB drive. 

Apple has, as discussed in the more positive partner article to this one, taken measures to limit the amount of memory individual apps can take up on your Apple TV. But with the Amazon Fire TV box, for instance, offering memory expansion up to 128GB, it’s still a shame Apple doesn’t give you at least the option of boosting its storage.

 

8. It’s not suited to homes with slow broadband

While in my partner article to this one I praised Apple for its innovative approach to memory management, whereby no app is allowed to store more than 200MB on the Apple TV at any one time, there is a downside to this too. Namely that you may find yourself quite regularly faced with having to download extra content for apps - especially games - as they write over part of their existing 200MB of content with something new. 

This could leave you at times faced with quite lengthy delays if your broadband isn’t especially fast. Also, of course, now that the Apple TV is fully app based you’ll routinely find yourself having to download new apps from scratch - which can again take quite some time if your broadband speed is limited.

Finally, part of Apple’s memory management system finds it auto-deleting old, lesser used apps to make room for new ones if your Apple TV runs out of memory. So you could find yourself having to re-download apps you’d already downloaded before quite regularly once you start running near the capacity of your Apple TV’s storage - which is once more not a pleasant prospect if you don’t have superfast broadband. 

 

9. There are cheaper alternatives

Apple is, of course, not known for selling its products on the cheap. And the Apple TV is no exception, with the $149 and $199 it’s asking for its 32GB and 64GB 4th-generation boxes comparing with $129 for the new Roku 4 and $100 for the new Amazon Fire TV box. There are also the $35 Google Chromecast and $40 Amazon Fire Stick - though I guess these don’t fall into quite the same category as the Apple TV.

 

10. Potential to succeed is also potential to fail

While the Apple TV certainly has the potential to develop in a positive way, there’s also room for things to go wrong down the line. Maybe the number of apps on offer will become so great the system becomes unwieldy to use. Maybe the box won’t sell as well as Apple hopes - or else people don’t buy as many apps as Apple hopes - and app developers stop supporting the platform. Maybe apps will simply prove not to be the future of TV. 

To be fair, Apple has a track record of developing products in a good rather than bad way, but experience with the smart TV world generally suggests that the ‘apps are king’ approach the Apple TV espouses might not be applicable to the TV world.

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