New Apple TV First Impressions: Not a 'Revolution,' But Siri and tvOS Shine
One of the big announcements coming out of Apple's "Hey Siri" event in San Francisco today was the new and improved Apple TV, which aims to provide users with a far more robust and unified experience than its predecessor. As it did with the iPad Pro and iPhone 6s, Apple has allowed some journalists hands-on time with the new Apple TV after today's event and subsequently the first impressions of the device have been shared online.
The Verge went hands-on with the new Apple TV, and while they found the new remote to be "frenetic" at first, they noted the sensitive controls are easy to get used to, even in a brief demo environment. The site also liked the slight visual overhaul thanks to tvOS, and called the device a "meaningful" upgrade to the Apple TV line, but was left unsure whether it met Apple's massive vision detailed during today's conference.
Variety's brief demo with the new set-top box found that the overall experience has been uniquely tuned around Siri and Siri's in-depth search parameters. Specifically, the site was a fan of the device's "fast and fluid" interface, along with the new remote control and the possibility of future Apple Watch integration.
Using voice to control Apple TV worked fairly well during my brief hands-on test, which says something: My German accent tends to throw off voice recognition systems, but Siri had no problems searching for foreign comedies when asked to do so.
Apple TV is based on pretty powerful hardware, and that shows when you navigate the device’s home screen. Scrolling through apps with the remote control’s touchpad is fast and fluid, app icons are 3D-animated, and the interface looks a lot lighter than that of the previous-generation Apple TV.
On the downside, Variety noted that much of the in-video alternate functionality shown off by Apple during the media event -- like searching for actors while a movie plays -- is limited to iTunes videos for the time being. The site also found some roadblocks when continuing to inquire into specific categories with Siri, with the voice assistant sometimes stumbling over whether they were beginning a new query or continuing insight into a previous one. In the end, while they liked the brief experience, Variety wasn't sure Apple completely "changed the TV experience," as the company hoped to do.
Siri also stumbled when asked to show TV shows from ABC, something an Apple employee attributed to the fact that the demo was optimized for movies. Also notable: Siri wasn’t actually that smart about connecting the dots. Follow-up questions have to start with certain keywords, otherwise Siri thinks it’s a new question. Launching an app or game requires users to use the word "open," and not "go to." And the MLB app wouldn't open, just because I said "Open MLB.tv," not "Open At Bat."
Apple CEO Tim Cook said Wednesday that no one had changed the TV experience - and the new Apple TV doesn’t really change it either.
SlashGear said the physical Apple TV set-top box "isn't quite as aesthetically pleasing," as the existing version, but thought the brighter tvOS and slick menu controls were far ahead of the current Apple TV. The site also noted the accessibility of the remote's IR blaster -- which allows the small device to control a TV's volume -- and the ability to support MFI-certified controllers, like Bluetooth gamepads, is a plus for anyone looking into the new gaming App Store section of the Apple TV.
What you do engage with is the new remote control. It feels more like a mashup of a 1st-gen iPod nano and a MacBook trackpad, with the touch surface for navigation being very sensitive: at first, I skittered through the revamped interface, the icons tilting and bobbing as I went.
tvOS - built on top of iOS and with the primary changes being to how easily viewed the interface is from across the room - feels familiar, though the brighter color scheme is a little more engaging than the dour black of the current Apple TV. It also feels a little like Android TV at times.
The new Apple TV will be available in late October for $149 (32GB) and $199 (64GB). Besides TV and movie functionality, Apple introduced a few gaming-centric features today, including unique co-operative play for certain game titles and the announcement of the first gamepad for the new Apple TV.