Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Sad State of iOS 11’s TV App

Dan Masters:

Here’s an accessibility outcome Apple didn’t consider:

In iOS 11, TV replaced Videos, which was my autistic brother’s most-used app for 7 years.

Now he can’t access his synced videos because the horrible TV app buries it, and he doesn’t know how to use it.

It’s incredibly frustrating for him. It’s not exactly easy to unlearn 7 yrs of a workflow, and then re-learn a poorly designed app.

The only solution: signing into my New Zealand account (where TV app is unsupported), which restores Videos.

Zac Cichy:

My dad can’t find purchased movies either. The TV app is a disaster and Apple really needs to hear how bad it is.


It’s also slow and full of small UI bugs.

I have almost no good experiences with the TV app.

A few years ago, I lamented some problems with the iOS 9 Videos app. iOS 11 includes the TV app instead of Videos, and unfortunately it’s even worse.

It can now show the titles of the videos, but there’s still no list view or even a single-column view that can show the titles without truncation. There’s now a search field, but it searches the entire iTunes Store, not just what you’ve purchased. There’s now a side-scrolling list of what you’ve recently purchased. All the other issues that I mentioned still stand.

What’s worse is the way it manages downloads. There’s still no screen to show you downloads that are in progress. There’s still no way to see a list of the videos that have been downloaded. There’s not even a way to delete a downloaded video to free up space. With previous versions, you could go to the Settings app to see which videos were stored locally, and you could even delete them from within Settings. With iOS 11, Settings does not show any videos by name. It just shows the total amount of space consumed by all your videos and lets you delete the TV app itself.

Everything is pushing me away from Apple’s video ecosystem right now. My Apple TV 3’s networking remains buggy since the discoveryd fiasco and will likely never get an update. Apple didn’t even bother supporting it with iOS 11’s Control Center. Meanwhile, the Apple TV 4K does not impress. I’ve tried to avoid having more than one silo of videos, but at this point my iTunes video collection is a liability chaining me to bad software.

Amazon’s Prime Video app, though not perfect, is better on almost all the dimensions that I’ve discussed. And you can do a lot of the management from the Web, which is even better than an app. The main drawback is that it doesn’t support downloading videos to a Mac.

Update (2017-10-19): Ashley Bischoff says that on an iPad you can tap the “DOWNLOADED” text to access a popover with a “Remove Download” button. However, on my iPhone SE there is no such text. It turns out that you can long-press on the title of the video, and then you get a weird full-screen menu with a “Remove Download” button and a Back button.

Update (2017-10-20): Rosyna Keller points out that you can see the download status in the iTunes Store app. On my iPhone, the Downloads section was hidden behind the More tab. He also shows that I was wrong about no longer being able to delete videos from the Settings app. Before, tapping on Videos or TV in the list would immediately show the list of videos. Now, tapping on TV shows the standard Offload App and Delete App buttons, as with every other app, but below that is a Recommendations section with an option to Review iTunes Videos, and the list within that works as before. I should have seen that, but in my defense: the entire Recommendations section is hidden if you don’t have any fully downloaded videos, even when visible it’s below the fold on an iPhone SE, and if the Storage display is already open it doesn’t update to show the Recommendations after a download completes.

Update: I now see a Downloaded section on the main Library screen. It has sections for TV Shows, Movies, Downloaded, and Michael’s iTunes Library. I’m sure that when I wrote the post yesterday I had some fully downloaded videos and that this section was not there, because that’s where I expected it to be (by analogy with the Music app) and not finding it there was the reason I decided to write the post. In any case, it’s there now. And when I access videos from Downloaded (rather than other sections), I do get the DOWNLOADED button for deletion that Bischoff mentioned.

Update (2017-12-11): Martin Kopischke:

After a bit of usage, I’m rather underwhelmed by Apple’s “TV” app: it doesn’t know what iTunes rentals I already watched; on Apple TV, it misses everything else I watched and, to put the cherry on top, it injects an intermediate, not-quite-home home layer into the TV’s UI.

Update (2018-10-04): Dominik Wagner:

So even on iOS 12 the tv app still doesn’t have a skip x seconds back button, or any other significant improvement for watching the quite expensive tv shows (like auto play, or semi decent navigation). But it is now littering me with sports.

Update (2019-02-18): Ryan Grove:

My favorite feature of the iOS TV app is definitely the one where it pops up a modal alert for each movie you’ve rented on your Apple TV since you last opened it just to tell you that you can’t watch that movie anymore.

16 Comments RSS · Twitter

Michael, please look into Plex + Roku. I have never regretted either. I have a lifetime PlexPass (they sometimes go “on sale”) and it is well worth it.

Plex allows local storage on devices copied from your server. All Apps are free even to non-subscriber/pass users.

Roku pucks are quite cheap and are the glue to the TV(s) in the house when not using my other devices.

MoviesAnywhere allows you to get (most of) your purchased movies out of the iTunes ecosystem:

I also use Plex, with both Roku and AppleTV. It's great for ripped plastic disks and recordings from OTA TV, but unfortunately can't play iTunes or other similar content unless you have a way to strip the DRM.

"Amazon’s Prime Video ... doesn’t support downloading videos to a Mac."

Ever since Amazon killed downloads to all lean-back platforms a couple of years ago, I've thought the literally only rational reason for purchasing your video through Apple was if you didn't have a stable, reasonably speedy internet connection.

(Kirk McElhearn had a similar edge case back before he moved: his fast internet connection was satellite, and metered very expensively, while he also had unlimited slow ADSL. So he could download Apple video slowly overnight without paying for the bandwidth.)

@Chucky We like to bring videos with us when we travel, and downloading to the MacBook Pro seems like the best way. It has more storage than iOS devices and an HDMI port; I keep reading about problems with the Lightning video adapters.

"We like to bring videos with us when we travel"

Good point. If you don't have stable internet where you're vacationing, that's another sane edge case reason for doing video business with Apple. But you could just do Apple rentals, and thus avoid Apple video purchase insanity.

(We once brought our fully stocked TiVo with us on a month-long vacation. The internet connection was fine, but if you've got terabytes stored, why not?)

I was sorta surprised when Amazon killed lean-back video downloads. It goes against their corporate DNA of being wherever the customer might possibly be. But I guess they ran the numbers and figured it was a marginal enough edge case to not be worth the Rube Goldberg-esque aspect of the engineering.

"but unfortunately can't play iTunes or other similar content unless you have a way to strip the DRM."

There is nothing wrong with the Itunes video ecosystem that a VM with an old copy of Itunes and Requiem installed on it cannot solve.

FYI, I recently purchased a DRM'd ebook via Itunes 10.5 and stripped out the DRM with Requiem 3.3.6. I tend to rip DVDs for my video content, but if/when I need a title that isn't available on DVD, I plan to fire up the same VM and buy it in Itunes. AFAIK, Itunes is actually the only DRM'd video scheme that can be cracked for free and without re-encoding the video. The only caveat is that you have to mess around with an old version of Itunes.

Glaurung, unfortunately the older versions of iTunes can no longer download or open the 1080p video files, so they can only be used to strip the DRM on SD files.

I'm very happy to be corrected if there's some way around this.

I'm the same way in regards to being pushed out of Apples ecosystem. Luckily I don't have much there, but its still quite annoying that they are forcing me out. The new Apple TV is overpriced, and the removal of the Videos app is also terrible. That's just two things they are doing. I hate it.

[…] Palladino (via nolen, Joe […]

Yeah, definitely agree with some of the other posters, the Plex/Roku combo has been amazing for me. Haven't really looked back since I made the plunge. Think I started using my Plex setup in 2011, but I started ripping DVDs in 2009/2010 when I was still using iTunes as a media server.

Here's the thing, be ready to buy some nice sized drives, remember Plex requires a dedicated Server, and get familiar with stuff like MakeMKV, Handbrake, and similar tools. When all setup, which could take a while, lean back and enjoy your awesome DRM free digital collection. (Used DVDs and Blu-rays are pretty cheap, often much cheaper than digital content, and never expires.)

As far as Movies Anywhere, the service should be pretty good, but:
a. Every service I've linked is missing content (Vudu, Amazon, and Google)
b. I no longer run iTunes or own an iOS device, so I can't link my iTunes video content. I could load iTunes on my Surface, but sweet googly moogly iTunes is awful on Windows! I'm actually considering firing up a Windows VM in VirtualBox just so I can avoid tainting the Surface with iTunes.

@Nathan Plex sounds great, but I’d prefer not to invest the time/space/hardware/energy/noise in running a server and ripping discs.

"Plex sounds great, but I’d prefer not to invest the time/space/hardware/energy/noise in running a server and ripping discs."

Worth noting you can now actually stream (most) of your physical media discs to an Apple TV, since it recently gained a Vudu app. Vudu has long let you scan in the barcode of a DVD or Blu, and get a digital copy on Vudu.

I hear you. No worries. I definitely get the difference in perspectives. My media server setup was already something I'm years into, so it doesn't seem so bad to me to rip/transcode a disc or two here and there going forward. I already run a small Ivy Bridge Intel NUC as home server (rsync backups and Calibre eBook server in addition to the Plex Media Server), so again, not a huge problem for my personal circumstances.

I have considered switching away from the Plex server and just using my Asus router for backup and media sharing (DLNA). No on the fly transcoding this way, but I think my client devices can manage native playback of my DVD and Blu-ray rips. In fact, just set up an older Western Digital* router (N750 model with a pair of USB 2.0 ports and 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports) for a client and she loves using Windows File History for backups, file sharing, and media playback from a single network drive. It's not 100% transparent, but it's better than what she had before.

*Yes, remember when Western Digital briefly sold routers? They were okay. Not great, but the stock firmware is abandonware as the whole product line was rather quickly dropped. Luckily third party firmware has given these things a new lease on life. Too bad the N900 model never got such alternative support, it was a pretty nice setup, but the N750 was not a bad consolation prize. I'm less enthusiastic about the N600 model, but it too will work with OpenWRT, Gargoyle, etc. just like the N750.

"Yeah, definitely agree with some of the other posters, the Plex/Roku combo has been amazing for me"

I used to use Plex a lot, but now now I only use it a bit, and only for a few limited applications, namely:

- Physical media discs that aren't available on streaming. (A surprisingly large number of films I want to watch aren't streamable, but that may be because I have somewhat non-mainstream tastes.)

- Overflow / archived TiVo recording that are much more convenient to browse via Plex than finding on a HD and using pyTiVo to put back on the DVR.

- Out of print titles that I obtain illegally, since I don't have any personal ethical problems in pirating a title it's impossible to pay for.

But beyond that, streaming is just so much more convenient that Plex has lost its appeal to me. And for the physical discs I do buy that are also streamable, it's almost always for the extras, and the extras are a thousand times more convenient to access directly from the disc than from Plex.

(And you transcode, Nathan? For shame. Very noticeable PQ loss. Pick up a cheap used Mac Mini or similar Windows PC, and use that as your endpoint. No transcoding that way.)

No, I don't usually transcode, but older Rokus required it for my high bit rate MKV. Same with some older tablets too. Shoot, these older clients would choke on some DVD rips, let alone the MKV files. That's how old/weak some of the clients were. In fact, some were only compatible with Plex via DLNA, there was no native Plex solution.

These days, I'm not actually sure which, if any, clients are requiring transcoding. I'm guessing none of the Roku boxes.

[…] Previously: The Sad State of iOS 11’s TV App. […]

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