At Long Last: Apple TV Gets an Update

How Apple Is Finally Taking Its Set-Top Box to the Next Level

The following article is from the November/December 2015 issue of iPhone Life magazine. Learn how to get the most from your iPhone by clicking here to subscribe.

Apple TV has long been the Cinderella of the Apple family of products—neglected, underappreciated, and waiting for the right moment to shine. Steve Jobs famously referred to the Apple TV as a “hobby,” and Apple has always treated its set-top box as such. The last major Apple TV update came out in 2010, the same year that Apple announced the iPhone 4 and the original iPad. Since then, Apple has announced five iPhones and eight iPads, but no Apple TV. Despite Apple’s neglect, the Apple TV has steadily gained traction. It currently holds a beloved place in over 25 million living rooms. But with such a long wait comes high expectations. Both investors and consumers are hoping that Apple’s new TV (shipping the week of October 26) will revolutionize the television industry in the same way that the iPhone disrupted the phone industry. Let’s take a look at the features of the new Apple TV to see if it is the breakthrough everyone has been hoping for.

Universal Search

Movie and TV consumption have become increasingly fragmented. These days, you have to search a handful of different services every time you want to watch a movie.  The new Apple TV has a universal search feature that simplifies the process. When you search Apple TV, it will return results from iTunes, Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and Hulu. In addition to adding more content providers in the search, Apple TV now lets you perform more powerful searches. You can ask your Apple TV to “Find a funny movie,” or “Find movies directed by Steven Spielberg.”

While unified search has been available with competitors like Roku and Amazon Fire TV for some time, it’s an important addition to Apple TV that will save users time and money. That being said, it’s a little disappointing that Apple didn't add more services to it's search function, such as Amazon Prime.

Third-Party Apps

Apple has finally created an App Store for Apple TV that allows users to download third-party apps. While Apple has steadily added content partners to the Apple TV for years, it has never opened up the platform to all developers. Not only does this mean we’ll finally have access to apps from long-missing content providers such as Amazon and Vudu, but we’ll also have the ability to use the device for non-TV related activities such as games, music, and shopping. When Apple opened up the App Store on the iPhone, developers thought of thousands of uses for a smartphone that no one, including Apple, could have imagined.


The new Apple TV checked all the major boxes of what I was looking for in an update, with one major exception—content.

Siri Remote

TV remotes aren’t exactly the sexiest hardware out there, but they’re important nonetheless. The new Apple TV remote replaces the clunky arrow wheel with a sleek touchpad for faster navigation and uses Bluetooth instead of infrared so you can control your Apple TV even when your dog is standing in the way (am I the only one who has this problem?). The new Apple TV remote also has a built-in gyroscope that turns the remote into a motion-sensitive Wii-style video game controller. Apple also added a Siri button to the remote. While Siri comes in handy on the iPhone, it’s a lifesaver on devices that are more difficult to navigate, such as the Apple Watch and now the Apple TV. Siri lets you simply dictate commands rather than painstakingly type them out letter by letter. Siri is particularly handy with more complicated searches. Finding action movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger just got dramatically easier!

Gaming for Non-Gamers

Many critics have commented that the Apple TV can’t compete with the Xbox and PlayStation. To me, they’re missing the point, since not only is the Apple TV $200 cheaper than current consoles, but it also caters to a different audience. The Apple TV is the gaming device for non-gamers. The reason why early iPhone games such as Angry Birds and Doodle Jump captured the public’s interest was not because the games were better than current console games, but because they were cheap, easy to play, and didn’t require a console. The new Apple TV has a similar opportunity to create games for people who don’t want to buy a console but are all too happy to drop $0.99 on a little entertainment.

While rumor has it that Apple has made progress with the cable companies, it has yet to solidify a deal.

A Big Step in the Right Direction

The new Apple TV checked all the major boxes of what I was looking for in an update, with one major exception—content. In a 2011 interview, Steve Jobs described the reasons Apple TV and network television must be integrated, stating that until then, “You just end up with a table full of remotes, a cluster full of boxes, a bunch of different UIs,” said Jobs. “The only way that’s ever going to change is if you can really go back to square one and tear up the set-top box and redesign it from scratch, with a consistent UI, across all these different functions.”

For the past eight years, Apple has been trying to crack this nut by convincing the cable companies to stream network television through Apple’s set-top box. While rumor has it that Apple has made progress with the cable companies, it has yet to solidify a deal. The new Apple TV is a significant improvement to the existing platform. However, until Apple can convince the cable companies to partner with them, Apple TV will remain useful but limited in its functionality and market size. If Apple ever does manage to wrangle network TV providers to stream live content through Apple TV, only then will the tech giant have the opportunity to truly revolutionize the industry.