One Home Screen on Apple TV – one big pain in the backside

When making major changes to how devices work, it’s important to not foist them on users – and to at least enable reversion should someone not like something. The new Apple TV OS, tvOS 11, failed for me on both counts.

I have two Apple TVs: one is in the office, used as a ‘review’ device for my app and game round-ups; the other’s in the living room, and used primarily for watching telly.

On turning on the living room Apple TV recently, I was surprised to see its intentionally stripped-down Home screen suddenly littered with dozens of games and apps. It turns out it had implemented One Home Screen, a new Apple TV feature that syncs Home screens across your devices.

This was mildly irritating. What pushed it over the edge into bafflingly stupid was when I turned this feature off, all the ‘new’ apps and games remained. And if you know how much of a pain in the backside it is to remove tvOS apps, you’ll know the next half hour wasn’t exactly a thrill ride.

Perhaps this was a glitch, but I’d have much preferred a dialog box to confirm the sync, rather than the Apple TV wrongly assuming I wanted One Home Screen on, and merrily doing what it wanted all by itself.

October 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Apple TV 4K and why Apple needs to realise some markets are a race to the bottom

Many people don’t get Apple pricing. They note rival devices are significantly cheaper, and so Apple should ‘compete’ by lowering prices accordingly. Instead, Apple shoots for the high end of the market, grabs most of the profits, and leaves everyone else fighting for scraps.

Mostly, this works. In tablets, there’s simply no competition if you want a device for more than the odd bit of gaming, Netflix and web browsing. Even premium Android tablets are hampered by an app ecosystem that rarely rises above mediocre.

In smartphones, desktops and notebooks, competition is stronger, but even there Apple often wins out through a combination of build quality, software, and services. For many people, for example, you’re only going to prise a device that supports Messages out of their cold, dead hands.

Television is different. Despite Apple’s hopes that the future of television would be apps, the reality is most people use their telly boxes to watch stuff. Although decent apps and games exist for Apple TV, what I hear from developers is sales aren’t stellar (to put it mildly), and most users are gawping at the latest shows and movies rather than battling it out in virtual worlds, or having their telly demand they do more sit-ups.

This presents a problem for Apple, because success in this area largely rests on TV networks and channels supporting your hardware – and that only comes when enough eyes are along for the ride. In the UK, the pickings are slim when it comes to major players. Beyond Netflix and YouTube, you’ve got a BBC iPlayer app that seems to have stumbled in from 2015, and that’s vastly under-featured compared to the app on Android and Amazon boxes. And then there’s the ongoing farce that is NOW TV, a third-generation Apple TV app that’s lurching about like a zombie, desperate to be put out of its misery. Amazon Video’s supposedly showing up at some point, but isn’t here yet. And other major broadcasters like Channel 4 and ITV are entirely absent despite releasing apps for rival boxes and smart TVs.

One strategy with Apple TV would have been – in an un-Apple manner – to go all-in for the mainstream. Fill that little black box full of amazing technology, and an interface far beyond the competition – but price it to grab marketshare.

Instead, Apple decided to be Apple. On stage at the most recent Apple event, execs talked about the benefits of the new Apple TV 4K: amazing picture quality (although The Verge took exception to that in certain circumstances), integration with Apple services (such as Photos), and support for Dolby Vision and HDR10. What they didn’t talk about was a price-point that shot it far beyond its contemporaries.

Amazon’s new Fire TV is now in pre-order, and the contrast is stark. The lack of Dolby Vision HDR support in Amazon’s box might be a red line for some, but the unit costs a penny under 70 quid. You could buy two and still have nine quid in change compared to the price of the old Apple TV (£149!), let alone the new one, which starts at £179. Even for a great many Apple fans, this is just too much to swallow. I can’t imagine many newcomers faced with these two options plumping for Apple. And if the user-base doesn’t grow, services will fade, leaving Apple TV an increasingly insular and limited experience.

I like Apple, and write about the company a lot. I also like Apple TV. It’s a solid unit, with a decent UI, and a ton of potential. But if none of that potential is going to be realised in terms of the unit’s primary purpose, what’s the point in buying Apple TV over an Amazon box? That’s what Apple needs to address, rather than beaming that you can rapidly get an iCloud photo gallery on your telly.

October 6, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Dear Apple: it’s time to steal an idea from Google for your iOS App Store

Apple says iTunes 12.7 has been “updated to focus on music, films, TV programmes, podcasts and audiobooks”. In other words, the iOS App Store is dead on desktop. The only remnants are iTunes Preview pages for apps, which can be viewed in a browser.

The lack of a desktop component for iOS apps means some things are now impossible. You cannot browse the iOS App Store on the desktop, download and manage local copies of apps (to, for example, later reinstall apps that are no longer available), redeem promo codes on a Mac, install apps to your devices from macOS, nor queue them for later if you’re tight for space.

Google Play’s approach at least manages to do some of these things. You can browse the entirety of Google Play from Safari, and buy/install apps, choosing which of your Android devices to send them to.

Google has always been more comfortable with the internet than Apple, and in this area Apple now falls short. If I’m reading about great iOS apps or games on my PC or Mac, I can no longer quickly grab them in iTunes, and later download them to my iOS devices. There’s not even a wish-list option. I now have to send myself a link, or switch to an iOS device. (Also, some apps are device-specific, and I still can’t buy an iPad app from an iPhone, which is absurd.)

Apple should steal an idea from Google. It should be possible to buy apps directly from iTunes Preview, and choose where to send them. Better: iTunes Preview should grow to become the entire iOS App Store online, giving greater visibility to apps, and freeing browsing and buying them from the confines of iOS.

The other downsides of iTunes losing the App Store are likely permanent losses. Apple doesn’t want you making local app archives. Apple doesn’t want you installing old apps that may have compatibility and security issues. Apple does, though, want your money – and having a web-based take on the App Store would further that goal.

September 18, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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New iPhone to be a load of old poomaji?

With MacRumors recently revealing the new iPhone will include Animoji, emoji that animate and respond to the user’s facial expressions, quite a few people have lost their minds. This, they say (once again) is proof Apple is doomed and cannot innovate. It’s a stupid feature that no-one needs. Apparently, it signifies that nothing of note will ever happen to the iPhone again.

The real problem is people don’t get excited about incremental upgrades, and therefore ignore the reality that smartphones are actually barrelling along in terms of upgrades and technology. Look at the quality of highish-end Android displays compared to what you got a few years back. Compare the camera hardware/software combination in the latest iPhone to anything that existed two generations back. These are big leaps but people just don’t see them, because they’re not the kind of quantum leap we saw with the original iPhone – which will never happen again (unless the iPhone 25 is injected directly into your cranium).

As for Animoji, I personally couldn’t give a fig about them. But this kind of humanisation of technology is popular. Quite a few apps already attempt to map things on to your face. ARKit on iOS will make that so much easier for developers, and enable much richer experiences. Will most of them end up being throwaway gimmicks? Probably. But some may turn out to be genuinely useful. Naturally, it still won’t be enough for people who can’t take a few steps back and see just how far technology has come over the past year, let alone the previous ten.

September 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Relying on smartphones is the opposite of future-proofing

I’ve written several times about the impending appocalypse. If you’ve not heard, 32-bit apps are dead as of iOS 11. They simply won’t open. This will consign many great iOS apps and games to oblivion.

Fortunately, many games have been updated since the issue became widely known, including Osmos, Beat Sneak Bandit, Mos Speedrun, and the original Reckless Racing, but a recent TidBITS piece by Marc Zeedar flagged another important issue regarding swathes of apps ceasing to function:

Worst of all, some of my obsolete apps are linked to hardware. For instance, years ago I bought a toy car that’s controlled via an app on my iPhone. That app is on my obsolete list. When it goes, the car is useless.

For Stuff magazine, I recently reviewed smart robot Cozmo and Sphero’s R2-D2. Both are very good – I was particularly taken by the former – but both are also totally reliant on smartphones to function, to the point that they stop working the second you close their controller apps.

It’s curious to think that as technology evolves, and companies furiously try to interlink everything, we’re setting ourselves up to make so much technology obsolete. At some point in the future, these controller apps will simply stop working, after an OS update. Then Artoo and Cozmo will be little more than paperweights.

You could of course keep an old device specifically as a controller for a favourite, but it’s sad to think we’re zooming away from electronic toys a child might one day be able to share with their own children. And that’s all before we start thinking about smartphones and apps being vital for critical aspects of a home, such as security, lighting, heating, and dealing with appliances.

Still, I’m sure it’s all worth it to not have to get off of your arse to turn on a light.

September 6, 2017. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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