Your First Look at the Souped-Up, Siri-Powered Apple TV
The Apple TV isn’t really about TV. It’s not even really about what it can do right now, or what it’ll be able to do when it launches in October (which is, to be honest, not that much). But Tim Cook nailed it: It’s about the future of TV.
There are two new things about the Apple TV, which together may come to represent something big. The first is the remote. The small, black rectangle is about the size of an iPod Nano, and is so light it feels like it’s missing its battery. (It’s almost too light, honestly—I’d lose this thing everywhere.) Instead of the up-down-left-right buttons we’ve been used to, this one uses a clickable touchpad, like a Magic Trackpad on a Mac. You swipe-swipe-swipe to what you want, and then click on the trackpad to select. It’s crazy sensitive—for a while I was gliding 12 icons when I meant to move one, and I was always going places I didn’t mean to—but it’s a sensible and one-handed way to move through even pretty long lists of stuff. And, of course, wherever you are, a tap on the button with a TV icon takes you home.
When you fire up a game, the remote becomes a simple controller. You’re mostly supposed to use it as a motion sensor, swinging a bat or steering a car, but developers can also program the play/pause button to do…something. (In Asphalt 8, it’s turbo.) It’s responsive and fast, and I managed to figure out how to use it pretty quickly.
The second big thing is Siri, which powers almost everything about Apple TV. There are a lot of things you can’t do any other way. The microphone’s built into the remote, not the box, though you don’t have to hold it up to your mouth to speak. It’ll work, say, sitting on your couch. Siri recognized everything I said, even though a lot of the time it couldn’t find much—so far, there’s not a lot going on inside Apple TV.
The App Store, more than anything else, is today’s big TV announcement. Presumably it could be the source of all the content, all the apps, all the games anyone could ever want on their TV. But when you think about the fact that Apple spent a good deal of time showing a Gilt app on stage, it doesn’t seem so simple a victory. That app makes absolutely no logical sense—I can’t imagine anyone’s idea of a good time involves scrolling through dress listings on your 60-inch 4K set. The developer tools for the new tvOS operating system are available, and since the box isn’t coming until October there’s plenty of time left for updates. But there’s not a lot to watch here, yet, and there’s not a lot to do other than play a few games and shop for clothes.
There’s a lot of impressive technology happening inside the Apple TV. The search works really well, letting me narrow down from “find me science fiction movies” to the exact Star Trek episode I was looking for. It’s fast, it’s as straightforward as the last one (which is to say, straightforward enough but a little overly spartan), and the remote works well. As it stands, it doesn’t feel like much more than a souped-up Roku.
Luckily, there’s time left before the $149 box goes on sale in October. So I’m not giving up yet.