So we know that Apple is working on a new Apple TV, the streaming device that facilitates all Netflix binges and kills all productivity. However, we’re short on specifics: no release date, no feature details, and no word about price changes. This makes it difficult to get a sense of what’s going on with the project. We don’t even know if it will make it through Comcast’s recent acquisition of Time Warner Cable—with which Apple has been negotiating for content partnerships—if indeed the acquisition is completed barring anti-trust involvement.
But here’s something we do know: what we liked and disliked about the original Apple TV, and what we want from the new one. Here are our top 5 hopes and dreams:
Let’s start with the basics: Apple needs to fix the Apple TV’s fundamental problems. Obviously, that’s content, of which the original Apple TV had comparatively little. That partially had to do with being relatively new in the market at the time, but currently with Roku’s app dominance in sheer numbers and Google Chromecast’s recent opening up to 3rd party app developers, Apple needs to beef up its offerings if it wants remain in the conversation.
More fundamentally though, why else would we want a streaming device if not for its content? Right now, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and the iTunes store are my biggest use-cases, but I constantly find myself jumping out of the Apple TV experience to get my full content fix. It doesn’t have to be merely an increase in numbers – an equally valid option would be an emphasis on content curation. Just give me a reason not to switch to the cheaper Chromecast.
Here’s the other fundamental problem: just using the darn thing. The original Apple TV had a text-based user interface that befuddled easy navigation. Using it on a daily basis felt clunky and confusing, and moving through screens often takes a while. While later versions improved these problems – including tighter controls and bringing images into play – the entire user experience still feels cold and vaguely incomplete. In a way, it feels like a parody of the Apple design aesthetic: all the minimalistic cool without the technical tightness and/or humanity.
The remote control embodies this sense of parody. Too skinny to allow a good grip, and too basic to facilitate comprehensive control over the device, it seems like the product of a compromise in function for the benefit of aesthetics. What would be nice? Quicker flow, increased response rate, and a less pretentious remote control would be nice to start with. Or, you know, a complete overhaul.
Fixing core issues is one thing. Developing a differentiable edge is another. The Apple TV experience would be well served by capitalizing on the rapidly growing market and culture of console gaming. We’re at the beginning of historically particular gaming moments: second screen gaming, the establishment of casual game spectating (evidenced by Twitch TV’s incredible popularity), and a steadily growing demand for a stronger gaming presence in the cultural fabric. It’s a partnership that could be immensely fruitful for Apple as a company, and making in-roads into that community with the next Apple TV would be a great first step.
Here’s a vivid memory in my brain: I was watching TV in an airport lounge when I saw Bloomberg interview an analyst about Apple’s then-dominance. According to the analyst, a professorial and portly man, Apple’s strength came from their ability to build a total ecosystem—one that didn’t give you a reason to leave, because why would you? Everything you want can be found within its every nook and cranny.
To a large extent, this observation still makes sense. But the conditions have shifted, and as a consumer, the question is largely: Do I want to exclusively buy into this Apple ecosystem? As it stands, most of my stuff and pursuits lie across multiple ecosystems: Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Playstation, among others. So no, Apple, not really. With this in mind, the question shifts: Do you want to work with me or against me?
The difficulty of assembling a list like this lies in the presumption that I, as a consumer, know what I want and what’s best for my experience. However, as the old and often parodied Steve Jobs quote goes: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It’s a mentality that has come to pervade the tech startup world, often oriented the consumer in a vaguely antagonistic position and rendering lists like these petty.
I respect the quote, but I will also submit that I know what I don’t like as a consumer. And while I personally like my Apple TV, I also find it limited, inert, and uninspiring.
So I don’t know what I want. Give me something new and unexpected that I would, then. Surprise me and give me something to love.
Apple’s move with the next iteration of its streaming device can be read as a microcosm for the decisions it has to make as a company. It has yet to fully find itself in the post-Steve Jobs era, and this is the perfect opportunity for them to break into a new path – if indeed it chooses to break at all. The equally likely alternative scenario is that they pursue more of the same, and if there’s anything that this list advocates against, it’s more of the same.