For a year or two after Steve’s death, analysts talked about a ‘lack of innovation’ as a risk for Cook’s Apple. At that time, I felt the criticism was unwarranted. My argument? The iPhone was enough innovation for a decade – and Cook’s steady execution refining existing products would provide ample room to harvest Jobs’ brilliant legacy.
In retrospect, it seems the real risk was the exact opposite – that Apple would try too hard to be innovative; that Steve’s death would unleash a mass of minions inside Apple trying to stretch their technical gadgetry far beyond usefulness; and that the disciplined focus on seamless user experiences would be overrun by buggy upgrades and clunky products.
You may have read my negative review of the Apple Watch. Apple Music is also not-insanely-great. (What with those AOL-style “free trial” pop-ups – I can’t imagine Steve Jobs at WWDC: “I’m so confident you’ll love Apple Music that – for a limited time only – we’re offering a free trial!” Thanks Apple. I’m fine with Pandora. I don’t need 3 months free. For crying out loud, these music services are already less than the cost of a single CD each month. If my premium subscription helps to keep even one talented singer-songwriter on the road, that’s good enough for me.)
When Steve Jobs launched Apple TV in 2007, he humbly billed it as a “hobby” product. And yet, it did an insanely great job of bringing movie & TV downloads to the masses, and for that we’ve purchased nearly 25 million of them.
But now, it’s 2015 – and as we know – something’s afoot in the TV business. Sadly, it’s not insanely-great user experiences. From authentication complexities to crashing, buffering Apps – let’s just say the Apple TV’s lost a bit of luster. So here are my greatest hopes and dreams for the next Apple TV.
- Open it up. Provide developers with an Apple TV SDK and an approval process akin to iOS. (Or maybe improved?) Even better if that process would automatically convert fully compliant HTML5 video websites into a tuned-up native app. Finally – I can find that insanely great Minecraft video channel my son’s always wanted. Finally – Seinfeld can distribute to the Seinfeld.TV channel instead of going through the Crackle Tile, which requires users to traverse a deeply plagued registration & back-end workflow. (Must’ve been built by Sony Picture’s IT department.) Finally – the ingenuity of the open web can be brought to the largest screen in the house. And my small collection of .tv domain names might be worth something.
- HDMI video switch. With an HDMI switch inside the Apple TV, you’ll never have to switch your TV input again. Just plug everything into your Apple TV. Your antenna, cable box – all of it. I spend too much energy trying to find the TV remote, pulling up the AV Input, remembering whether my cable box is on HDMI 1, 2 or 3, accidentally pressing the channel up button – and thus being forced to restart the workflow.If you think I’m being nitpicky, then maybe you don’t miss Steve Jobs. There’s a well-known book on UX design called “Don’t make me think.” With an HDMI switch inside the Apple TV, your TV stays set on HDMI 1 and your Apple TV acts a simplified control center, passing the cable video signal straight to your TV when needed. Your TV doesn’t have a great chipset in it. So let’s alleviate it from search & browse tasks if we can feasibly do so.
- OTA Tuner, DVR & a Streamer. If you know what OTA means, congratulations, you’re a certified TV geek. Feel free to skip this paragraph. If not: It means over-the-air, and it refers to the public airwaves through which the major broadcasters freely transmit their video signals to our rooftop TV antennas. Remember Aereo? Barry Diller backed Aereo because it solved a real problem: namely, for most folks, it’s a big pain to climb on your roof and mount an antenna. Worse, since there’s no magic box to plug that cord into, it’s not even worth trying.Apple TV could be that magic box. Imagine you’ve got the major broadcast networks and a few additional channels – along with some emerging niche subchannels – all free, all available from a local DVR to stream to any device you choose. I’m even OK with a premium package where I pay my local station additional fees to ad-skip to my heart’s content.Instead, I’m reading reports that the broadcasters are going to ask their affiliates for the rights to air local content on the Apple TV box. I suppose my OTA tuner with DVR would be too expensive. And it might be more work for consumers. But we’ve already negotiated the rights to receive these free signals by allowing them to pass through our airwaves. Let’s use them.
- Multiple Remote Controls Interface. The Remote Control needs a serious spit-shine. I love my TiVo remote. Roku’s is also a blast. So is casting content to Apple TV from an HTML5 mobile site like YouTube. I also love dialing Apple TV on my favorite Apps.The Apple iOS Remote App is not one of my favorites. Since the Remote App sits on the buttonless iPhone, they had no choice but to implement a buttonless controller. There are two ways to implement this – soft buttons & finger swiping. If you’re looking at the TV trying to move the cursor, finger swiping might work better than a soft button because you don’t have to look down. OK, but the fine muscle control is tougher. Why not include the soft buttons as an option? I know, I’m exposing myself as someone that’s growing old. Just saying, there’s a reason Staples called it the Easy button.Finally – the Apple physical remote also needs a re-do. Two reasons: It’s too small. Also, the battery is a hard-to-find watch battery – not your standard AAA.I hope Apple comes out with a new, bigger, Roku-like remote control. And I hope they also improve their App. I’d even like a few buttons on the Apple TV box itself, just in case. Like I said – Multiple Remote Controls Interface.
- A way to re-bundle! And an insanely great search, browse and buy experience. The Apple TV experience is starting to get as unwieldy as pay TV. The only point of unbundling TV is to enable consumers to re-bundle it in a customized fashion. But on Apple TV today, you can’t even organize tiles into folders in the same way that you can on the iPhone. Given Apple’s successful execution of such innovations as the App Store, Subscriptions and In-App purchasing, it seems like Apple, above all others, should be able to nail this one. A quikc Google search yields plenty of posts that describe the same 4 or 5 key missing features in this mission critical area. Single, authenticated log-on for TVE apps, universal search, previews, a better Siri.I’ll add one feature that I’ve not seen mentioned. I’d love a live/linear interactive barker channel – call it Apple TV 1 – that serves as an insanely great start page. This would be a fun, fast-paced linear TV guide with tickers and previews of featured content from across all Apps. Think of it as a SnapChat discover–like service – but with a quick and easy way to buy more.Owning that start page would be the Holy Grail for Apple TV – I hope there’s a bit of life left in the Steve Jobs legacy at Apple. TV needs it!