Apps aren’t enough to make it great.

That first sentence could be my entire post. I have no idea how Nilay Patel at The Verge could give this a 9/10. Christina Warren at Mashable called it “fantastic” and a “huge improvement”. Was she using the same device I have in front of me today? My experience was the exact opposite of Nilay and Christina. Go ahead and call me a negative nancy, but too many long-standing issues remain for me to give this device a good rating. Unfortunately, there are so many negatives that I’m being lazy and moving to bullet form for the first part of this post. Please excuse the BuzzFeed format; at least it’s all on one page. I honestly couldn’t figure out an entertaining way to write this with full sentences. It would just be just me complaining paragraph after paragraph. So here’s a list of nine stupid things Apple just doesn’t get right with Apple TV 4th generation.

9 Things I Hate About Apple TV 4th Generation

  • The setup process still sucks.
    • I used the iPhone to setup my new Apple TV and still had to enter passwords at least 3 times.
      • I stopped counting.
    • tvOS text entry is still awful with the new remote.
      • I’m sorry if you have complicated passwords (I do).
      • Apple tried to fix this with dictation in tvOS 9.2. Still not a great solution.
    • TV provider sign in is *still* on a per-app basis.
      • Why isn’t this a single sign-in experience?
    • At least Comcast finally works like all other providers.
      • You don’t need the URL hack we shared previously.
    • You have to download every channel as an app now.
      • That takes a significant amount of time.
    • It seems like some of the channels are pre-cached on the device… others obviously aren’t.
  • The UI is still awful.
    • It got a weak visual refresh, but there’s nothing great about it.
    • The whole UI (user interface – what you see on the screen) is still based on a blob of tiles.
      • Apple added folders in 9.2, while an improvement, it’s still not awesome.
      • The folder names aren’t persistent and would be better with a category icon based on name.
    • Navigation sounds remind me the Wii or Xbox.
    • Apple’s interface isn’t consistent between apps.
      • Sometimes the menu goes away, sometimes it stays, etc.
    • Finding something specific is a nightmare of button presses.
    • Most providers didn’t update their app UIs.
    • I challenge anyone to quickly find something specific on the Red Bull app.
      • It can’t be done.
  • Siri is not yet a substitute for a crappy UI.
    • When Siri only works with a handful of apps, the novelty wears off quickly.
    • It doesn’t even work with Apple Music — Apple’s historical reason for existence.
      • Apple finally added music controls to Siri, but it’s still limited.
    • You can’t enter text, enter passwords, or enter the secret garden with Siri.
    • You can’t do anything with her but limited search.
    • There’s no personality here. No wit, no love, no fun.
    • Your iPhone Siri can’t do anything with your Apple TV either… *headdesk*
    • A Siri search API is coming, but we’ve been promised that for years now.
  • Where’s the 4K?
    • Really nice 4K televisions are selling for $500.
    • It’s 2016. If you just released a new device without 4K, you’re wrong.
  • The remote experience is worse than ever.
    • Navigation and entering text on the remote is still excruciating.
      • Possibly worse now.
    • New volume buttons are supposed to control the TV audio, but don’t work out of the box.
    • Volume has to be programmed, but it’s difficult to figure out.
    • Holding the Siri button to speak seems weird compared to the iPhone interaction (press and let go).
    • Up is down and down is up – no backlight means it’s hard to see the remote in a dark room.
    • You’ll certainly end up pressing the wrong button… a lot.
    • Sensitivity seems too high – I press buttons just trying to pick up the remote.
      • Apple claims to have fixed this with tvOS 9.2, but I’m still seeing random commands I didn’t intend.
  • Where is the iPhone remote app?
    • The new remote still sucks; the app makes navigation tolerable on the old Apple TV.
    • Unfortunately, the current app doesn’t work with the 4th generation.
      • So everything sucks again.
    • Ergo, give me an iPhone app… pretty please?
    • The iPhone app is finally back, but still can’t be used for the initial setup. It’s disconnects a lot too.
  • tvOS App Store is a mess.
    • Good luck finding anything.
    • If the app isn’t featured, you have to enter the name with the remote and search for it.
      • This has become a bit better, but the categories and lists they added are weak.
      • They finally added top charts with tvOS 9.2.
    • No app category lists at this point.
      • Apple did some work to fix this… but not enough.
    • Crappy, hurried ports from iPhone to the TV.
      • Mostly games. Still true.
    • No new app on the store has a TV-centric, well-implemented UI.
      • You could argue that this has changed in recent months, but good apps are rare.
  • Still no monthly TV package.
    • I was hoping for an a la carte subscription option.
    • It’s been rumored for years but never happened.
    • It looks like Apple finally decided to move on without it.
    • That means most TV apps won’t work without a cable subscription.
    • No real information on what it could be in the future.
  • Flickr screensaver is gone.
    • No seriously, I hate iCloud and love Flickr.
      • This was a huge disappointment for me.
    • I used the Flickr screensaver all the time.
      • People love it at parties.
    • Apple added a really cool flyover video screensaver… but it lacks a personal touch.
      • I’d rather see my flickr pics as my screensaver.

So how does Apple fix all of that? Well, do the exact opposite of everything I just mentioned. Unfortunately, some of those problems are hardware; Apple cannot fix the missing 4K and the lackluster Apple TV remote with a software update. They can, however, fix every other problem I mentioned with a software update. If they ever get to it. That means Apple TV 4th generation is — wait for it — yet another beta product they shouldn’t have shipped yet. Need I remind you of the Apple Watch launch?

There are a few good things though. The 4th generation is noticeably faster because of the processor upgrade. It seems like the Wi-Fi is more reliable too. Gaming on a TV is cool. It’s obviously not an Xbox One or a PS4, but there are plenty of casual games that look and play great on the device. That’s about it for the positives.

Ultimately, we’re looking at a product that never received Apple’s proper attention. It’s always been a hobby. This new version just continues that trend. Until Apple figures out how to bring a proper user interface to the TV, this will be a nightmare of button clicks on a crappy remote that’s hard to see in the dark. Don’t expect a great experience from most of the Apps on tvOS. Some day, a developer will figure out a good way to do an app UI on tvOS and the ecosystem will follow suit. It happened with Tweetbot on iOS. That hasn’t happened to tvOS yet. It probably won’t for months, maybe years.

Unless you’re really stoked about casual gaming on a 1080p television, I wouldn’t waste your money upgrading at this point. To me, nothing about this is fantastic. It’s a small step up from the old version. It will get better over time, but so will all the other options. I’d recommend a 4K device like Roku 4, Fire TV, or Shield TV. Realistically, Xbox One or PS4 are going to give you most, if not all, of the Apple TV features and a better gaming experience (they’re still not 4K though). With DVR software coming to Xbox next year, it could prove to be the overall feature winner. Otherwise, you could just do what I do: put a PC on your TV. There’s nothing more capable than that at this point.

Verdict: it’s a fun little toy, but it has done nothing to change the living room entertainment industry. You’ll get better capabilities elsewhere.

Josh Carr
Josh founded eciov in 2009 (it was originally an app review site called Cocoa Touch Apps). He wrote for TUAW (AOL) until it shut down in 2015. He's passionate and skilled in all things digital; especially websites. He can make anything with WordPress. He also loves art, music, creativity, bearding, and his wife, Laura... she's awesome.
Josh Carr on EmailJosh Carr on FacebookJosh Carr on GoogleJosh Carr on InstagramJosh Carr on LinkedinJosh Carr on TwitterJosh Carr on Youtube