The new Apple TV and the unbearable lightness of discovery - Make Helsinki

The new Apple TV and the unbearable lightness of discovery

by: Petteri Kolehmainen
  •   Technology •  3.12.2015   •  3 minute read

The new, fourth generation Apple TV has been available for over two months for developers, and now some weeks for the general public. During this time, we at Make Helsinki have been testing this new digital media player and prototyping some apps for it. And there is potential, but also hurdles to overcome.

The Apple TV itself is slightly taller than the previous generations, but still quite subtle in size. The optical audio output of previous models has been removed, but the device ships with a completely new remote control with a touch surface. In certain markets Siri can be used to control and search the device, but at the moment this is unavailable in most markets, like here in Finland. However, the biggest update in the new Apple TV is the support for 3rd party applications. Already now there are thousands of apps available in the Apple TV App Store, taking advantage of the renewed user interface and the new remote.

When using Apple TV, the first issues you stumble across are related to the new remote. As it’s almost symmetrical, you need to make sure you pick it up the right way around. If you’re watching a movie and pick it up the wrong way, you most probably accidentally fast forward or rewind the movie. When using the new remote, the on-screen keyboard is also annoyingly cumbersome and slow to use – and as the Remote app on iPhone isn’t supported yet, typing practically anything can be quite a pain in the ass. Swiping through the menus, controlling media and playing games usually works very well – though the 3rd party apps are limited to only a few buttons on the remote, which causes restrictions in especially games. 3rd party controllers are of course supported, but all apps also need to work with the Apple’s bundled remote.

For developers, the biggest problem is discovery of apps. This can be challenging with iPhone, iPad and Mac apps too, but it is especially emphasised on Apple TV. Apple recently updated the Apple TV’s App Store to support top charts, which helps the situation a bit, but top lists for categories are missing, and the featured apps are quite static and limited. Especially indie developers are struggling to find efficient ways to get visibility for their apps. Again, this is difficult for iPhone apps too, but even more difficult for Apple TV. There are already established marketing methods for iOS apps, but most of these do not work for Apple TV. It will be interesting to see how Apple and developers will tackle this in the future, as it affects the success and revenues of both parties.

Developing apps for Apple TV is done with familiar tools and technologies, and porting apps from e.g. iPhone is straightforward. If Apple improves the usability and app discovery in future software updates, the Apple TV can further strengthen its position in the digital media center playground.(

We’ll follow up on this subject with new projects and social media posts.

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