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What the next Apple TV needs to succeed

Dan Moren | Aug. 10, 2015
An Apple TV update has reportedly been in the cards for a few months now, and late last week, reports suggested that the much-awaited new version of the set-top box would arrive this fall.

Don't expect all of your favorite apps to make the jump, for the simple reason that many--probably most--iOS applications won't be useful on the Apple TV. Just as iOS required developers to change the way that they thought about apps--interacting directly with a touchscreen instead of an abstracted manner with a keyboard and mouse--the living room presents yet another distinct user experience.

Video apps are the most obvious candidate for translation the TV, so expect to see updates to the video services that are already there, from YouTube and Vimeo to Netflix and Hulu to ABC and FOX.

The big new opportunity, however, may be games. Amazon and Roku both offer game titles for their set-top boxes, in generally they haven't really caught on. There's a variety of reasons for that: many of the games, for example, are ports of smartphone titles, and what works great on a touchscreen may not be as fun on a big screen. Meanwhile, there's downward pressure from consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation, devices expressly designed for gaming.

As for exactly what an Apple TV App Store might look like, you don't have to look far: the iOS App Store and Mac App Store seem to present a pretty clear picture of how Apple wants its storefronts to look. Just imagine navigating it with a remote instead of your finger or a mouse--or searching via voice control--and you've got a pretty good idea.

You're in control

Speaking of remotes, how we're going to control the Apple TV is the $64,000 question. Apple has long favored a simple remote control with a directional pad and a few common buttons, even while allowing for alternatives like using the Remote app for iOS and the Apple Watch or pairing a Bluetooth keyboard--but none provides an ideal experience. Your iOS device requires too much attention, while a Bluetooth keyboard is awkward and feels too much like using a computer.

So I wonder if perhaps it's time to dust off a part of Apple's history. It wasn't so long ago that the paragon of Apple's interface design was the iPod's clickwheel. The benefits of the clickwheel were manifold: a simple, streamlined appearance; a touch-sensitive control that could be mediated by software (allowing, for example, faster scrolling when you moved your finger faster); and, most of all, the ability to easily use it without having to look. Plus, with the iPod Classic's demise last fall, it'd be nice to see the clickwheel live on--and Apple's certainly no stranger to reusing old intellectual property (iBooks, anyone?).

While they're at it, it'd be great if Apple could take advantage of some of the other improvements in remote controls ushered in by their competitors. Roku's, for example, has a headphone jack for private listening (I'd also accept allowing you to stream audio from your Apple TV directly to your iPhone, iPad, or Mac--a kind of reverse AirPlay); Amazon's includes a dedicated voice search button and microphone on the device; and both those companies, as well as others, use remotes that rely on Bluetooth or RF, which don't rely on line of sight, instead of the increasingly outdated infrared. (Given the preponderance of infrared universal remotes and solutions like IR blasters, however, that could be construed as more of a limitation.)


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