Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Why Does the Apple TV Still Exist?

Jason Snell (tweet, 2):

First, the arrival of the Movies Anywhere service has allowed most iTunes film (not television) purchases to migrate to other devices. Then in advance of the arrival of Apple’s TV streaming service, Apple made deals with the makers of TV sets and streaming boxes to add support for AirPlay, an Apple TV app, or both.


Gruber and Thompson suggest that perhaps the way forward is to lean into an identity as a low-end gaming console. Maybe amp up the processor power, bundle a controller, and try to use Apple Arcade to emphasize that this is a box that is for more than watching video.

The thing is, that’s really been the story of the Apple TV for the last few years, and so far as I can tell, it’s basically gone nowhere.

My Apple TV 3 is long in the tooth. Now we want to watch a show on HBO, which it no longer supports. But, and I’ve been thinking this for a year or two, this is not a good time to buy an Apple TV 4. It’s still got that awful remote, and surely version 5 will be out soon. I should probably just buy a Roku, now that they support AirPlay and iTunes content. I would miss the Flickr screensaver, though.

John Gruber (tweet):

Really, Apple Arcade is the only recent evidence that Apple remains strongly committed to the Apple TV platform. Every single Apple Arcade game is available on Apple TV — which is difficult for games designed for touchscreen phones. And I will bet that it’s been difficult for some games performance-wise to achieve 30+ FPS on Apple TV 4K. I think Apple’s requirement that Arcade games not just play but play well on Apple TV is a sign that they’re committed.

Cory Zanoni:

If my Apple TV 4K packed it in today, I’d buy a new one. Options are limited here in Australia and I’m not sold on Chromecasts or Fire Sticks. Asking Siri to jump through videos is just that good. The screensavers are incredible. tvOS, neglected as it is, is smooth. Then there are the services: Music and Fitness+ have their hooks in me.


Update (2021-02-22): John Gruber:

Also, Apple TV is the only box known to protect your privacy. I think Roku is pretty bad in that regard — that’s how they sell for such low prices.

Jason Snell:

I think this is overstated. Roku defaults to tracking, you can turn it off.


You can’t fully turn off Roku tracking. All you can do is turn off the most egregious kinds of profiling but Roku still tracks your usage patterns and what you watch / search for and there is NO WAY to turn that off.

John Gruber:

But even on an Apple TV box, you’re at the mercy of each app you use, and the major streaming services all collect information on everything you do.


But Roku (and similar boxes, and smart TVs) track you at the system level.

Benjamin Mayo:

What I want, what everyone wants, is a modern Apple TV with an updated processor. We will pay for the niceness. At $99, we’re sold. Like all of Apple’s products, the Apple TV should aim to fill the segment of the market that toes the line between being accessible to the masses and being aspirational luxury.

Mike Rockwell:

I’ve been a fan of the Siri Remote since day one. The ability to control HomeKit devices with my voice, being able to quickly swipe through lists, and essentially acting as a universal remote is just so nice. We don’t use any other remotes in our house. The Apple TV remote turns our TV on and off, controls the volume of our receiver, and interacts with the only non-game console connected to our television.

I would argue that it’s actually the best TV remote I’ve ever used.


If Apple wants to be in the living room, they need to make their own box to ensure a rock solid, predictable experience. I’m actually surprised that companies like Netflix and Hulu aren’t building their own boxes too.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

"Now we want to watch a show on HBO, which it no longer supports"


Does the HBO Max app not work?

Jon, 3rd gen and earlier Apple TVs don't even run tvOS, so anything in the App Store isn't going to work.

Why did Apple TV ever exist? It always seemed to be twice (or more) as expensive and less full featured as the competition (e.g. Roku for sure, and in many instances even a Fire would be suitable). Throughout its whole lifecycle ATV always seemed to be a step behind.

"why does AppleTV still exist?"

because I wouldn't trust a smart TV with AppleTV / Airplay functions built in not to spy on what I was watching. It's for people who have a dumb tv, or want to keep their "Smart" TV dumb.

BUT its weakness has always been that it hasn't done more - it SHOULD be as capable of doing anything a Mac Mini can do, just with a UI optimised for TV

"why does AppleTV still exist?"

Because this Apple is run by idiots? How else do you explain an anonymous black box that gets tucked out of sight behind your 60" Sony Bravia and Bang & Olufsen sound system? I mean, what does this picture say about Brand Apple?

My old folks’ home entertainment system has no less than 4 remotes and takes 5 minutes to boot up from power off. (It’s a running joke that the valves have to warm up.) Something like hundred buttons to control it, and that’s not even counting the on-screen interface. And theirs isn’t even a complicated setup (TV, DVD, cable box, stereo sound).

Apple should’ve made the TV—simple black glass rectangle that hangs on the wall with one button for power. Speaker set. All control through iPad or iPhone, with an equally simple interface there. Opinionated, prescriptive design. They could still sell the little black box, of course, but it would be clear that is only a stepping stone to the full Apple experience.


BUT its weakness has always been that it hasn't done more

Nope. That is nerd thinking, and it gets you “products” like VLC 4. Apply Steve Jobs (2.0) thinking: do one thing only, and do it fabulously. See: iPod. The man understood technology, sure, but crucially he knew the difference between a technology and a Product, and how to make the latter. So until you’ve successfully brought a product to market and achieved the sort of market growth that post-NeXT Jobs did, repeatedly, then you just don’t know what you’re talking about.†

Apple TV the box should’ve been a transitional product on the way to a fully unified exclusively Apple home lifestyle and entertainment system. It should’ve made itself extinct by now, in the same way that iPod did by being the transitional product to iPhone.

But it hangs around like the stink of a permanently blocked drain because Tim Cook and friends have zero imagination themselves, and don’t have the stones to raise up creative talent from the ranks below (because they know eventually that talent would take their own jobs). Meanwhile Apple growth is flat, Apple markets are mature, saturated, and flat; and it’s only a matter of time until they’re nibbled to death by aesthetically mediocre but lower-priced commoditization of the stuff they sell how. Tim can keep pumping up revenue to mask that until he can’t squeeze out any more cash through rent-seeking and staff cuts; and then what?


† Hell, I’ve been learning it for the last 20 years and I’ve still to crack it myself. But I am getting closer, precisely because I’ve learned what’s truly important and what only seems important to you because you don’t [yet] know any better. And honestly, the technology is the least important part. Nerds see technology, and they understand that part. What they don’t understand is markets, people, and selling; so they assume those things must not be as important as their beloved technology. And that is why they fail. Seen it, been it, done it; bought the shirt, lost the shirt, and still #KBO.

Related aside: Roku doesn't support the old HBO or HBOmax on Comcast networks (maybe others). Apple has at least been able to cut through some of that nonsense.

@ECW It matters who your Internet provider is? I haven’t seen that mentioned anywhere. Do you have a link?

"because Tim Cook and friends have zero imagination themselves, and don’t have the stones to raise up creative talent from the ranks below"

@has, I'll be the first to take a swing at Apple when the company does something stupid as an organization, but unless you've worked with someone personally, let's not attack individuals. Tech companies like Apple are enormous, and anyone who's worked in a large organization knows no complex product is ever the result of one individual's work, good or bad. That's not just tasteless but unfair.

It's awfully crude to go on someone else's personal blog and leave anonymous comments calling a successful person a loser.

@R: I’m happy to go with “the Apple board of directors”, if you find that more palatable. Although it’s the same thing: the people who are in charge of Apple have no imagination, and there’s no sign that they’re encouraging disruptive talent from the ranks below.

So where’s the next Scott Forstall? Forstall himself was fired for being a disruptive agent at a time when stabilizing Apple in the shockwave of Jobs’ death was the critical goal. But we’re well past that delicate period now, and Apple can more than afford to take some chances by Thinking a bit Different. Rent-seeking does not count. Headphones does not count.

The only thing Cook’s Apple’s done which might be considered breaking a “new market” [to them] is getting into media production. But, hardly “new” to the rest of the planet, most of whom were already there first, and Apple’s original TV shows are barely setting the world afire as the hot must-have new product. And when you do watch Apple shows, it’s either on your iPad while tucked up in bed (which is fine) or on the Sony Bravia in your living room (and you tell me what that picture does for the Apple Brand).


Anyway, your entre argument is fundamentally bull because the Apple board of directors does decide everything that Apple ultimately does, and doesn’t, do as a business. If bad products are going out the door, that’s not on the underlings who are only doing their jobs; it’s on the board: the people in charge. Stating this is neither tasteless nor unfair—it’s how business works.

Being in business—especially at the level the Apple board is playing the game at—is not a happy Kumbaya, it is a no-holds-barred knife fight to the death, between those who currently have the customers and those who intended to take them. Do you serious think Steve Jobs cared for Steve Ballmer’s delicate feels when he took the global “Personal Computing” market off Microsoft and left them gasping in his dust? Pleeease.

A board of directors is answerable only to the company’s owners—its shareholders—in case anyone is wondering, and to the civil and criminal laws of the land in instances where they act in defiance of that. They are not answerable to their underlings, not their suppliers, not their customers. If those groups disagree with the board’s choices, they are free to take their business elsewhere. Again, that is how business works.

But, I’m guessing you‘ve never run a business. I have; and I got royally rolled as a novice. I personally lost $100K and my company in learning how not to do it, and that’s nobody’s fault but my own and my fellow directors’. Again, being in business is a no-quarter war. And the blame for a business failure always stops at the top.


BTW, it’s not just me who calls Tim Cook on his lack of imagination. From Michael’s earlier post on Apple’s supply chain:

Unlike Jobs, [Cook] had no pretensions to being an artist. “Tim was always pure work: grind, grind, grind, grind,” says one former Apple executive who worked with Cook in his early years at the company and who, as with other sources in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements and fear of corporate reprisals. “I always found him exceptionally boring.”

So I’m not pulling that claim out my ass: I’m looking at the direction of the company he now leads and what other people are saying about that company and its leadership.

Tim Cook is a brilliant process guy, one of the best in the world, but he plain doesn’t have what it takes to deliver brilliant Products. Eventually Apple will have to pay that cost, just as Microsoft did after years of Ballmer’s equally unimaginative leadership. That decline just won’t be blazingly obvious to the general public until it’s way past the point where the smart money has already moved out.

The shareholders won’t kick Tim out today because right now he’s generating them mountains of cash, but you need to look at long-term prospects for growth, not short-term quarterly earnings, and Apple’s growth is stagnant. Hence rent-seeking as a way to squeeze more cash out of its existing markets in order to buoy profits; but that cannot last forever. If they don’t have stunning new markets in the wings ready to go before that spigot runs out then the only way they’ll stave off that crash a bit longer is by slashing their running costs; and there’s no way they can develop brand new markets once they’re cutting the company itself to the bone. It’s a vicious trap, is cashflow.

And once earnings start to fall, Apple shareholders probably still won’t kick Tim out. They’ll just move all their money to exciting new investments, selling their overpriced Apple shares to the next dumb schlub who thinks he’s buying into a bargain. And then Apple will be back to being industry’s Billy No-Mates and—unlike Microsoft—with no B-plan to turn itself into the next IBM.

It's awfully crude to go on someone else's personal blog and leave anonymous comments

My identity is hardly a secret, R. (Michael can tell you my full name if he likes.) I go by initials online because that’s a RL nick even older than the Web of which I am very fond. However, I’ve linked my GitHub and my name can also be found on a well-known AppleScript book; more than enough if you want to figure it out.

Oh, and as you say this is Michael’s blog, so if you’re going to tone-police then might I respectfully suggest that you #GetYourOwnBlog.

calling a successful person a loser

Uh-huh. And by your own logic nobody here is entitled to criticize President Trump, another “successful person” who got to the top primarily by riding on his predecessors’ cash. #GLWT

Sure I’m “crude”: I’m old and bad-tempered with a mountain of mistakes and zero patience for anyone’s BS, my own included. And pulling punches—as I’ve learned—is false kindness at best. You’ll also note that I’m punching up, not down—which when I were a lad was called “speaking truth to power”. So I’m quite sure Tim Cook’s delicate feels will quite surivive my pseudononymous criticisms (if not, he can always ban my Apple account as an act of petty revenge and there’s sod all I can do about it).


In summary then, the kindest words I can find to encapsulate your response are “painfully naive” and “obsequieous”, or possibly “toadying”, so I hope at least you can appreciate the effort I’ve put into being very nice to you.


TL;DR: AAPL has become a terminal snoozefest, and I’ve posited (to the best of my meagre ability) why and how that is. What you make of my opinion is entirely up to you. Just don’t whine to me about how it offends your personal feels, lest I show you just how hard your feelings don’t count.

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