Archive for February 21, 2022

Monday, February 21, 2022

Apple TV’s “Universal Search” Is a Black Hole

Joe Rosensteel:

If a movie is located within a service that I’m already paying for, then I’d like to get that. I don’t want to browse all of the services, and I don’t use websites that claim to have a complete catalog of where movies are available because that’s not always true, and they also can’t take into account movies that I have already paid for in my library.

It’s not an easy problem to solve, but Apple at least seemed interested in solving it when they introduced Universal Search for Apple TV. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t seem so interested in this problem anymore—and Universal Search has become increasingly useless and frustrating.


Because of Apple’s infamous App Store rules, Hulu can’t actually tell me what I’m missing. Searching within the Hulu app on my iPhone will show “Dune,” which is why it’s being indexed for universal search… but tapping on it for more info only generates this error message: “Sorry, but your subscription doesn’t include that movie. You can manage your subscription from your account page.”

And it’s hard to imagine that this inaccurate data is really just there by mistake. It’s far more likely that this is an attempt to drive unsuspecting users into viewing their video ads, or inducing them to sign up for their add-on services (that can’t actually even be referenced on Apple’s platforms).

An Unsolicited Streaming App Spec

John Siracusa:

I subscribe to a lot of streaming video services, and that means I use a lot of streaming video apps. Most of them fall short of my expectations. Here, then, is a simple specification for a streaming video app. Follow it, and your app will be well on its way to not sucking.

This spec includes only the basics. It leaves plenty of room for apps to differentiate themselves by surprising and delighting their users with clever features not listed here. But to all the streaming app developers out there, please consider covering these fundamentals before working on your Unique Selling Proposition.


It’s a sad state of affairs when the original TiVo on-screen interface bests most modern streaming apps in terms of predictability, legibility, and consistency.

This is a really good list. It’s depressing how bad virtually all of these apps are at what seem like basic features.


As a former designer on one of these apps, these basic features will likely never arrive. Corporate incentives prioritize features that either make you watch more ads, or make you watch more content. If the feature doesn’t do that, it’s an internal uphill battle to get it built.

Alas, Apple in the services era is no longer in a position to swim against that tide.

Nick Heer:

We had just finished watching a recent Marvel movie in the Disney Plus app on our Apple TV, and were waiting for the post-credits scene to play. But midway through the credits, the screen changed to a view where the video was playing at a thumbnail size and there were a couple of onscreen buttons. We tried scrubbing over to the thumbnail to return it to a fullscreen view, but it was not selectable. One of the buttons was marked “Play Movie” or something similar, so we clicked on that one thinking it would let us play it from where we left off, but it restarted the movie. So we scrubbed to the very end where we could see the post-credit scene, pressed play, and it immediately shrank to that thumbnail screen with two buttons.

This is a Marvel movie — a movie where scenes in and after the credits are entirely normal — playing in the parent company’s app. And, as far as I can figure out, there is simply no way to watch the post-credit scene.

Dan Moren:

My personal addition to this list is better recognition of when you’ve finished an episode (I’m sorry, I’m not always going to watch all five minutes of credits—you should be able to figure that out).

Rui Carmo:

Although the Vodafone Portugal Android TV app does take me to the last channel I was watching when I launch it, it plays it in the background behind a “currently on” display that takes up the whole screen, and I have to do three clicks on the remote to make it go away.

John Siracusa:

The number one complaint, by far, was that streaming apps make it too difficult to resume watching whatever you were already watching. As I noted earlier, conflicting incentives easily explain this, but people still hate it. A reader who wished to remain anonymous sent this story of how customer satisfaction gets sacrificed on the altar of “engagement.”


People don’t feel like they are in control of their “data,” such as it is. The apps make bad guesses or forget things they should remember, and the user has no way to correct them. Some people told me they have simply given up. They now treat their streaming app as a glorified search box, hunting anew each time for the content they want to watch, and keeping track of what they’ve already watched using other means, sometimes even using other apps. (I imagine this flailing on each app launch may read as “increased engagement.”)

Finally, there was a long tail of basic usability complaints: text that’s too small; text that’s truncated, with no way to see more; non-obvious navigation; inscrutable icons and controls; and a general lack of preferences or settings, leaving everyone at the mercy of the defaults. Oh yeah, and don’t forget bugs, of course. Multiple people cited my personal most-hated bug: pausing and then resuming playback only to have it start playing from a position several minutes in the past. Have fun trying to fast-forward to where you actually left off without accidentally spoiling anything for yourself by over-shooting!

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.


Update (2022-03-09): Jesse Squires:

Notably, @plex checks off all these boxes.

Isaiah Carew:

fire tv is actually pretty good. and despite being related to amazon TV — this big is different.

usually it will display the movie/show so long as it’s available somewhere — even on a service you don’t subscribe to.

Andres Guadamuz:

Can we discuss again the brilliance of this meme?

Update (2022-09-14): Jezper Söderlund:

Today we wanted to see the next episode of The Americans on @DisneyPlus, continuing where we left off yesterday. It takes 13 clicks to get there in their Apple TV app. Not ok.

John Siracusa:

The “Continue watching” section was eleven rows of icons down from the top of the Disney+ Apple TV app the last time I tried to watch the latest episode of She-Hulk.

Time Machine Skips Some Files in iCloud Drive

Howard Oakley:

Documents stored in user folders created by the user in iCloud Drive appear to be backed up most reliably, and appear in both snapshots and backups. That assumes, of course, that they aren’t evicted and left as stub files.

Documents stored in folders created and maintained by apps are less reliable. Those of third-party apps appear to behave as user documents, in both snapshots and backups, so long as they aren’t evicted. However, documents in the folders managed by Apple’s ‘special’ apps using paths of the form com~apple~specialapp, including Numbers, Pages and Keynote, aren’t reliably backed up by Time Machine.


The third lesson, then, is that you can’t rely on Time Machine to back up documents stored in iCloud Drive. It might do a good job, or it could omit them completely from its backups.


Network Time Machine Backups

Ivan Drucker:

For desktop Macs, it’s easy to keep an external Time Machine drive permanently connected. But, speaking from my experience as a consultant, I find that the vast majority of laptop users, myself included, are unlikely to plug in a drive regularly.


The Time Capsule’s void has been filled by third-party NAS products, though I suspect many Mac users are generally unaware of this category of product. I have set up several NAS devices as Time Capsule replacements for clients, and while they do work, none are perfect, many are too complex or expensive, and some share problems (notably slow performance) with the Time Capsule while introducing a few of their own.

In this article, I will detail my quest to find or build a better Time Capsule and solicit the collective wisdom of the TidBITS community to further that quest. To the extent that I conclude anything, it is that when it comes to network backup for the Mac, there are many choices, each with tradeoffs, and you’ll need to decide what makes the most sense for your situation.

It seems like the easiest way is to use Share as a Time Machine backup destination with an old Mac.


Update (2023-09-05): Stephen Hackett:

Say you have a Mac mini on your network, and a MacBook Pro. You can hook up an external drive to that Mac mini, and within a few minutes, be backing your MacBook Pro up across your network using Time Machine.

Here’s how to do it.

Nick Heer (Mastodon):

Then I got to the part in the guide where it says I should be able to authenticate and mount the drive, and I hit a wall: I could not move past the user name and password dialog. It was not that my password was being interpreted as though it was incorrect — that comes later — but that it would accept it and then show the dialog again. I could not even mount the external drive in Finder, and sometimes it struggled to mount any drive on the host MacBook Air. I kept seeing errors like “The operation can’t be completed because the original item for ‘Remote Backup’ can’t be found”, and “There was a problem connecting to the server ‘Remote Backup’. You do not have permission to access this server.”


System370 on Reddit pointed out in a months-old thread that smbd needs to be granted Full Disk Access permissions in System Preferences on the host Mac. That is the SMB protocol daemon; SMB is the file sharing protocol used to mount the drive on a remote Mac. I enabled Full Disk Access for the daemon, completed Time Machine setup on my MacBook Pro, and it is now creating a Time Machine backup remotely.